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: â€œWhat do you think of digital distribution of comics? Is it a viable additional outlet to print comics?â€?
â€¨Mark Waid: No. Itâ€™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 Iâ€™m not necessarily advocating itâ€“Iâ€™m just being realistic.â€¨
But then I read this, and my heart sank.
Mark Waid: Paul Levitz had a great quote about digital comics, though. If I may paraphraseâ€“ the reason weâ€™re not â€œthereâ€? 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 didnâ€™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.
â€¨Mark Waid: And thatâ€™s what weâ€™re waiting for vis-a-vis cybercomics. That â€˜xâ€™ factor that turns it into its own medium and not just pictures of comic books.
â€¨Brian Cronin: Right.â€¨
Mark Waid: Thatâ€™s one of the smartest things Iâ€™ve ever heard, but then, Paulâ€™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. Homestarrunner.com 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 Marvel.com, 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.