A group of comic creators have a brand new model for how to make a comic book and get it to a mainstream audience.
And along the way, they ended up influencing the future of digital comics.
Comic creators Tim Seeley, Josh Emmons, Sean Dove and Mike Norton put together a comic book app for iPad called Double Feature, which debuted this year.
Earlier this month, comic distributor GraphicLy announced that it had acquired the app, intending to not only distribute the content, but also incorporate its technology into its own apps.
The whole thing started when the four creators were frustrated with the approach they'd seen to digital comics. Not only did they feel like there was a dearth of original content created for digital devices, but they saw publishers were making the mistakes that print comics had already made, like high prices and continuity-heavy stories.
The group decided to develop its own digital comic, but do it in a way that not only controlled the content, but also the way it was presented.What resulted was Double Feature, the comic book app that debuted earlier this year.
And wow, did it get good reviews. Why? Because it abandoned much of the "norms" of comic book publishing, instead formatting the approach toward new, mainstream readers.
There are no superheroes. Stories are marketed and collected by genre. The 22-page format isn't a priority. And Double Feature has several extras -- like commentary and production art -- that take advantage of the technology behind digital comics.
Plus, each issue is only 99 cents.
Now that the Double Feature app has been acquired by GraphicLy, Newsarama talked with the creators to find out their thoughts behind what made Double Feature work so well, and where they hope to see digital comics evolve.
Newsarama: What does it mean to have Double Feature on GraphicLy?
Joshua Emmons: The Double Feature app is still the same. We're still publishing the content. And it's always creator-owned. And the creators still own their content.What it will mean down the road is that the GraphicLy app will become more like the Double Feature app. And the Double Feature app will become more like the GraphicLy stuff.
In particular, GraphicLy is interested in the extra features we have in the Double Feature app, like the commentary and the production art and that kind of thing.
So once that transition is complete, and we bring the two things together, it's great for us. We get a lot more distribution that way because GraphicLy has developers that work on Android versions, and they have a fantastic web app and Facebook app, whereas, for us, it was really taxing all of our resources just to keep this one iPad app going.
So down the road, it gives us a lot of benefits in distribution, and it gives GraphicLy benefits in functionality and features.
Nrama: Tim, why do you think this venture got the attention of GraphicLy, and why has this app has emerged as such a critical darling?
Tim Seeley: When this all started, we put in all the features that we thought were missing from all the other digital comics apps. I think everyone else approached their comics app by taking print comics and making them readable on digital devices. But they didn't treat them as anything other than a copy of the existing comic.The approach we wanted to take was, how can we make this its own experience? How can we make this stand out? How do we utilize the fact that it's digital and not print? How do we make it its own experience and, you know, I think that really stood out to people as being a unique way of reading a comic book. And sequential being outside of the realm of print comics, really utilizing the extra features that you can do when you're dealing with digital.
Mike Norton: The digital features was what immediately sold me on the idea when I first saw what Josh was doing. I knew that was the thing everyone was going to cling to. That's the thing everybody likes so much.
Nrama: Did you also put a priority on new readers?
Seeley: Yeah, that was a big part of our thinking as we developed this. We thought, if we're going to get a bigger audience for sequential art in comics, we can't try to hook people with the same things that scares the mainstream away anyway.You know what I mean. One of the complaints you hear is that it's only 22 pages and it costs $3.99, and you have to know a whole bunch of stuff to understand what's going on. And it's only a lot of guys in tights punching each other.
In Double Feature, we're trying to go the opposite tact. We're saying, look, there are other genres out there that people enjoy. And there's a whole world of people who might read a comic who would never walk into a comic book store, and who couldn't care less about Fear Itself or Flashpoint or something like that. They just want a one-and-done, read-on-the-train, relaxation kind of comic.
That's what drives the content of Double Feature.
And then having those extra features just helps to bring new readers even more into how comics are made, and what makes them special. I think it works even better for people outside of the fan community. It really appeals to process geeks and tech nerds, you know?
Nrama: Sure. But you mentioned the price point of regular comics being too high. Double Feature is only 99 cents. Now that it's part of GraphicLy, will it continue to be 99 cents?
Seeley: Yes. That's something we're going to keep going with. And I think that really appeals to people.The price point, I think, helped get attention for this app more than anything else, probably. It definitely does a better job of attracting a new audience to comics.
Digital comics are too expensive. They should be 99 cents. They should be the cost of a song on iTunes.
Nrama: As a creator, what does this represent to you that you could help other creators release their original content on Double Feature?
Seeley: The best thing, I think, is that allows people to come up with something of their own and do whatever they want, with the guidance from us that it has to be appropriate for all audiences. But that also means they get to do something, they get to own it, it gets to be seen by people, and there's less of a barrier to entry when you're doing digital comics.
The cost of doing the product is lower. You're not reliant upon orders from Diamond. We're giving people that we respect the chance to do books that they normally wouldn't think would be viable. It's actually a good way to test out a new property, or just do something that they've really wanted to do.We're able to exist in that world outside of the continuity-porn, crossover, mainstream, superhero, comic book stores stuff.
Norton: Yeah, when we started it, we didn't have all the overhead and stuff that the big companies have. And we still don't. We did this with the thought in mind that we were going to put our own ideas out there, and digital seemed like a great way to do it.
So if Tim has an idea this week, he can have it out on the app next month, you know? It's that easy. It's not like we have to find a team to put it together, and six months down the line, maybe you'll see it solicited in Diamond or something like that.
Nrama: Do you see digital as a new frontier for comics?
Seeley: I see it as a new outlet that opens the door to a different audience than what we've traditionally had by using only the direct market. I think going through comic stores -- although we love comic stores -- readers want the same thing they've always wanted, and we don't necessarily want to only have to go after those people.
The current readers like what they like. The ones that are left, that's what they care about. And understandably so.
But we're trying to do something that will transcend the distribution model of comics, which has become the whole business of comics. The way their sold drives their audience. And that's just not where we're doing with Double Feature.
Nrama: What do you have coming up in Double Feature?
Seeley: The next book we're releasing is "Fantasy 2." That will be our eighth publication. That has a story called "Skyward" by Jeremy Dale. And a "Colt Noble" story by me and Mike Dimayuga, which is a sequel to the Image one-shot that I did last year.
Norton: We have a lot of different guys and girls coming up. Steve Bryant is going to do his Athena Voltaire in there.
Seeley: James Asmus, who currently writes Generation Hope, and some other stuff, is doing a story for us.
Norton: Phil Hester's got a story coming up. Colleen Coover is going to do one.
Seeley: And those are just all the new stuff. There are a lot of stories that we've already published that will probably have sequels soon.
Norton: Absolutely. Gabe Hardman and Corinna Bechko are going to do more Liar stuff, 'cause that was a really popular one.
Nrama: Any changes in features? Or more genres being added?
Norton: Not right away, but we're cooking some things up. We're keeping the status quo for a little while until we get a good customer base. But in the future, we're hoping to be able to put together a romance issue. Maybe for February? And some other things.
We've also got a couple of friends who want to talk to us about putting their own creator-owned book out through the Double Feature app. So there's a possibility that we'll have content on there that will be outside the Double Feature comic itself. We might delve into that.
Seeley: Which would make us a full publisher, which might be a little bit scary.
Norton: Well, we're a publisher now, technically. We don't want to admit it, but we are.
Nrama: Now that you're part of GraphicLy, does it change your plans for the app?
Seeley: No. This was kind of our thinking from the beginning.
Nrama: You planned for this?
Seeley: Well, we thought we'd make something that we could shape to our will, then if other people ended up wanting to work with us, they could utilize what we've developed, and we could utilize them for distribution. Josh's original idea was that we could do an iPad app. We never intended to have Josh program an Android app or all that stuff. But the content was always intended to find other people want to make deals with us.
Emmons: And I think the GraphicLy deal is just fantastic for us because, at the end of the day, we don't want to be in the business of writing a bunch of programs for people to view comics. We want to be in the business of writing comics. That's what we love. And so, with GraphicLy, the one of us who does do a lot of programming stuff -- me -- I get to work with GraphicLy, and we get to take advantage of all their talent, who are super into making digital comic readers. And we get to focus on what we truly want to do, and that is make great stories.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!