Yet More Thoughts On Digital Comics

The other day, whilst reading through the epic Mark Waid interview over at Comics Should Be Good, I was momentarily stoked when I read the following:

Brian Cronin: “What do you think of digital distribution of comics? Is it a viable additional outlet to print comics?�

Mark Waid: No. It’s the future outlet for comics, period. Not tomorrow, not next week, but soon. Which is a shame, and the end of an era, and I’m not necessarily advocating it–I’m just being realistic.

But then I read this, and my heart sank.

Mark Waid: Paul Levitz had a great quote about digital comics, though. If I may paraphrase– the reason we’re not “there� yet has a lot to do with trying to find the right synthesis of format and delivery. For the first decade of its existence, television was really nothing more than radio with pictures. Everything was still dialogue driven, and you didn’t really have to WATCH it. You could just listen. But then Lucille Ball came along and wedded the visual comedy of vaudeville to the structure of radio comedy, and the whole medium transformed.

Mark Waid: And that’s what we’re waiting for vis-a-vis cybercomics. That ‘x’ factor that turns it into its own medium and not just pictures of comic books.

Brian Cronin: Right.

Mark Waid: That’s one of the smartest things I’ve ever heard, but then, Paul’s really smart.

People are not waiting for webcomics to become limited animation cartoons. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have web strips like Penny Arcade or Achewood or PvP or Diesel Sweeties being read by people in numbers that DC and Marvel would kill their collective grandmothers for. isn’t popular because it’s an animated webcomic – it’s popular because it’s a site with a ton of funny cartoons. Anyone who truly believes that animated word balloons, pulsating sound effects and swiveling arms, legs and torsos are the way to bigger success with digital comics is completely missing the point of them.

People want to be able to read comics, at a reasonable price, wherever they go, at any time. They don’t want the Zuda-esque flash interface or the need for a special browser plug-in to read a daily strip. They don’t want to be able to have access to 20,000 comics on, but only when you have a net connection and only once the newest comics are 6 months old. They want to be able to download their comics the week they come out and be able to use one of the pre-existing comic book reader programs already out there.

The “x-factor” is already in existence – it’s the ability to capture a worldwide audience at a fraction of the overhead of print comics. It’s the ability to charge so little – in many cases nothing – in order to draw in more fans than you ever would at $2.99-plus a book. It’s the ability to get back to the days when if one person read a comic, they could easily and without regret pass it on to their friends, and so on and so on. I said it before, and I’m more convinced of it now than ever, DC screwed the pooch by not converting Blue Beetle into their first print-to-web Zuda comic. They could still reap the rewards of such a move, but the longer they wait, the lesser the benefits will be.

People download comics illegally for free right now, but if the comic companies would develop some sort of fair and equitable subscription program, it would be a almost overnight success. I’d gladly pay $9.99 a month for access to Marvel or DC’s complete catalog, and I would still continue to buy the TPB editions of series I really like. Believe me, once the first full-color e-book reader comes to market, DC, Marvel, Image and the rest had best get themselves correct, because as soon as it hits a reasonable price, it’s gonna be game over, and no amount of animation, sound or any other bell or whistle is gonna help.

EDIT: Mark Waid responds in the comments, and corrects my misunderstanding about what he was saying.

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5 Responses to Yet More Thoughts On Digital Comics
  1. Anthony Kingdom James
    December 16, 2008 | 8:49 pm

    Well blogged, sir. Very well blogged indeed.

  2. T Unit
    December 16, 2008 | 9:21 pm

    I don’t think it has to mean animation. It’s just adapting to a new delivery format. Like Kirby and Eisner did, creating the language of sequential art in the 8.5 x 11-ish format.

  3. Mark Waid
    December 16, 2008 | 10:54 pm

    Sorry to disappoint you, but you made a leap. Nowhere did I say or even imply “animation.” In fact, I agree that “motion comics,” by and large, are unimpressive and the opposite of what we need. I’m not sure I agree that your definition of the missing x-factor is accurate, and I think you might be taking for granted that all potential readers are as comfortable with reading vertical content in a horizontal medium as you seem to be–but I could be mistaken. Nonetheless, you read something into my words that clearly isn’t there.

  4. Stephen Gerding
    December 17, 2008 | 8:26 am

    I apologize, Mark – I wasn\’t trying to be disingenuous and I\’m glad you were able to clarify that for me. I guess I\’m just so used to seeing comic book companies make mistakes when it comes to dealing with the inevitable digitization of the medium that I tend to lean towards the worst when I\’m not sure what thy mean. I know Levitz is a smart dude and all, but DC\’s whole Zuda experiment really should be so much more successful than it is…except they hobbled it with a poor interface that\’s completely user unfriendly. I\’m still, to this day, unable to register to vote for any of their comics, and repeated emails to their tech support have remained 100% unanswered!

    I\’m actually quite interested in what BOOM! will be doing in the future to further the whole move into digital comics. I was impressed with the whole \”North Wind\”/MySpace deal, and I expect it won\’t be your company\’s last foray into the computer world.

  5. RegalSin
    August 4, 2009 | 6:21 pm

    Okay for starters a digital comic is called a web comic. Another thing to remember is that, if data is on a computer that is connected to the internet, then it is on everybodys computer unless unshared. Meaning that all music, video, and images on the web is already shared. Lastly people die and there websites get taken down or uncared for. Meaning if you do not buy etc print then it will be lost forever. More importantly there signature and etc work.

    Take the webcomic errantstory of the beloveable Poe. I would buy a print but I am too broke to do so. Then Poe drops dead and I will never get a print ever that is of his own doing. Maybe a copy of it but never the real deal.

    About Radio Comics ( comics with sounds and animations ) this has been done for years with reading tape books like the Tape version of “Mario Brothers the movie” but then again most you here don’t remember those books from scholastic. Also in Japan there is tons of these Radio Comics. I myself is working on a couple. Nowadays it is called a flash cartoon or movie AKA power point.

    Moving a comic book from the stores to the web is the most dumbest idea ever. Why? THE HARD BOOK IS THE COLLECTABLE. We also need to presever the book format itself or we lose out in
    many ways.

    Also downloading comic books ( and uploading them ) allows word of the comics to spread. It will even increase want in the real product. I have my comics in nicely sealed format and read there scanned flmsly brothers in a file format.

    DC screwed up when they never gave respect to animation. Everything they make is a cheap shot into the wallets of regular Amerikans everywhere.

    Speaking of sound effects why not watch that movie

    “HUNG FU” AKA “Evil Toons”

    You know the one where West David Carradine hangs himself to kill the evil book then comes back only to haunt a slumber party of fun girls. Her hair sticks up with sound effects, HA HA HA

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