More Than Storyboards: Comics & Film #5 – Digital Comics Publishing

By Tyler Weaver

Since this series began, I haven’t been talking about comic books, the format, necessarily. I’ve been talking about comics, the medium. With the advent of digital publishing, the floodgates of the medium have been opened to near-limitless possibility.

digital comicsIn conversation with the great Will Eisner (The Spirit, A Contract with God, Into the Heart of the Storm), Frank Miller (Batman Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, 300, Sin City (we’ll forgive him his own abysmal film adaptation of Eisner’s The Spirit—for the moment)) remarked on the nature of creating comics in a collector’s world:

“Essentially, we are slaves to people’s Mylar plastic bags. And that’s insane!”

I have boxes of comics in those bags. Some even have the boards (though I mostly use those now for note-taking and doodling). For years, the comics format has been set: 32 pages and dwindling; vertical orientation (as one would read prose). But with the advent of self-publishing and especially digital comics, the format is freed from those constraints. The language used (nine elements) remains the same… sort of.

This poses a question: with your burgeoning knowledge of comics storytelling and ideas on how to implement comics storytelling as part of a transmedia experience with your film, how do you get those comics into the eyes of your audience?

Let’s look at a few case studies to discuss the various methods available to you.

As with anything digital, this isn’t an exhaustive list, just the ones I find the most fascinating. I encourage you to do your own digging.

THE OATMEAL

Matthew Inman’s The Oatmeal is a perfect collection of comics for the digital age: hysterical comics free of the constraints of print with a massive following that inspires readers to share.  Can you get your files into JPG format and upload them to your blog? Absolutely. Inman embraces a comics/infographic hybrid that has served him insanely well in the past few years.

THE PRIVATE EYE

If you have a storefront, consider embracing the “pay what you want” model. It works wonders for Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin’s brilliant The Private Eye. Each issue ranges in page count from 27 to 32 widescreen-formatted pages. Vaughan and Martin offer The Private Eye in a variety of formats including PDF, CBR or CBZ (comic book archive formats).

Of course, the issue here is do you want to offer your work for free, or do you want to charge for it? An issue for deeper exploration in another installment, perhaps.

SCATTERLANDS

Warren Ellis and Jason Howard’s “largely improvised” sci-fi digital comics series Scatterlands makes for a fascinating online reading experience that makes the most of the constant updates that people are now used to: the single panel-at-a-time release.

While Scatterlands initially ran on Ellis’ own site with simultaneous release to Ellis’ Tumblr, it has since moved to scatterlands.com, a Tumblr site with a custom URL. Tumblr is by far my favorite social site, filled with all sorts of creative posting options (text, quote, audio, video, photo, and the now-ubiquitous GIF). When you create on Tumblr, you’re offering two views: the standard blog view that non-Tumblr users will see and the dashboard view that Tumblr users will see. The dashboard view gives the sharing options: like and reblog, and it’s a tremendously powerful tool for the sharing of creative expression.

As a side note, I’ve had my own personal interesting Tumblr experience. I posted a quote from a book about the history of profanity two months ago. It’s had 12,000+ notes since then. I’m at a loss for its modicum of virality, except for that it’s a wonderful quote and has history and “fucking” in it.

Tumblr is, in my opinion, the second best option for sharing digital comics, especially for the one-panel-at-a-time release schedule. The first, best option, is of course, your own website. One last thing about your own website: please, please, please make sure it’s mobile-friendly. It’s a growing market and comics are a perfect mobile reading entertainment. Make sure you’re not left in the dust.

Digital Comics Providers

The next option for getting your comics out there is one of the self-publishing options: Comixology, Graphicly, iBooks and Amazon’s Kindle Comics Creator. All three have their quirks, but also enable you to get your work on to a variety of reading devices in a multitude of formats (except for Amazon, of course).

While this article has focused on self-publishing digital comics, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the inroads into digital publishing made by the major publishers. DC Comics, for all of their shortcomings in their New 52 relaunch, have made some excellent moves with their DC Digital imprint, including Jeff Parker’s Batman ’66, the outside-of-continuity anthologies Legends of the Dark Knight and Adventures of Superman (the Orson Scott Card controversy notwithstanding), their continuation of Smallville in digital comics and the transmedia integration of digital comics with their new television series, Arrow (which I wrote about at my book’s companion website, Comicstoryworld) as well as the transmedia integration of comics with video games in Batman: Arkham Unhinged (to which I devote a large portion of my book).

Image Comics has made waves recently with their DRM-free digital publishing, allowing readers to download their comics and share freely, a move not so far replicated by their competition. Of note to this article, collected editions of Ellis and Howard’s Scatterlands are available from Image Comics in digital, DRM-free format.

For a fantastic look at the business of digital comics publishing, a still- burgeoning business model rife with growing pains, I recommend this article, by Bruce Lidl, at Publisher’s Weekly.

As with anything in the digital realm, things change at the drop of a hat. While this article doesn’t pretend to be exhaustive, I hope it’s given you an idea of the near-limitless potential offered by digital comics storytelling, and I haven’t even talked about the options for self-publishing print comics. That’s for next time.

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