• Longform 

    Multiversity 101: Digital Comics State of the Union

    By | February 28th, 2011
    Posted in Longform | % Comments

    Article originally written by Ryan Closs

    Please welcome into the Multiversity fold our newest contributor Ryan Closs, who will be joining us for Multiversity 101!

    Back in 2009 digital comics were primarily an illegal collection of scans you could read on your computers. 2010 brought us the iPad and a handful of apps to buy and read digital comics legitimately and now 2011 has kicked off with a flurry of activity and a bunch of digital related announcements. Archie Comics going entirely “Same-Day” (I refuse to say Day-and-Date), Diamond beginning to offer digital comics from your local comic shop and Graphic.ly pushing out press release after press release. I’m fairly well-versed in the digital comics landscape right now so I figured I’d give sort of a state of the union. I’m not going to be talking about webcomics (a topic for another day), this will focus on digital comic stores and applications for the most part.

    Let’s start with who I would say is the current digital comics leader: Comixology, the company powering Marvel, DC, Image and Boom’s iOS offerings and the current leader in “Same-Day” comics. Want to buy Justice League: Generation Lost, Atomic Robo or any of Robert Kirkman’s books on your preferred digital platform the same day they’re at the comic shop? This is where you’ve got to go. They have iOS and Android apps for your mobile needs, there’s also a web app that will give you access to (almost) any book they have on your PCs. They also have (in my opinion) the best “panel view” system and they do a really good job leading you through the page on smaller screens like on an iPhone. That all said, there are some problems with their system that may or may not be their fault. First off, you can’t read Marvel comics on their Android or web apps. I assume this is because Marvel has their own web based and Chrome based apps that cut out any middlemen. Secondly if you’re not reading on their web app there are sometimes delays for “Same-Day” books, Apple has to approve every in-app purchase which can cause delays in getting them on your iPhone/iPad. UPDATE: Comixology will also be carrying the Same-Day Archie comics.

    It’s only appropriate that I follow up with the second place digital comics platform, Graphic.ly. Like Comixology they have apps on all the major platforms and if you buy on one you can read it anywhere.Their selection isn’t currently as good as Comixology and unless they step up the pace will likely always remain in second place, then again they’re trying to be more than just a comic reader. Their apps have all sorts of social features that let you comment on pages, make friends with other readers, see what friends are saying about books and other standard Social Networking features. They also have some comics with bonus features which I think could be what really ends up setting digital comics apart from their paper cousins. They’re also going to be one of the outlets offering the entire Archie line “Same-Day” starting in April.

    The last of the Big 3 digital comics providers is the strangest one, iVerse. They are currently iOS exclusive with no Android or desktop/web-based applications so if you don’t have an iDevice you’re out of luck.They also have no panel-view for reading on your phone so you have to zoom in on the page and pan around on your own which makes reading difficult. That said, they have the best selection of IDW books of all three, so if G.I. Joe or Transformers are your thing, they’re your best bet. The really strange thing about iVerse is they are partnering with Diamond to bring digital comics to… your LCS. To be fair you’ll also be able to buy the books online either via your LCS’s website or some portal Diamond/iVerse sets up themselves. If you really WANT to go buy a digital comic at your local store though, you’ll have that ability as well. You’ll buy it at your shop and your local store owner will print out a code that you can enter in to view digitally. They’re also going to apparently have a lot of exclusives, or at least temporary exclusives that will only end up on other platforms a month or more later. If you shop at a comic shop like mine that doesn’t have much non-Marvel/DC and you forgot to pre-order I guess this could be good for you. UPDATE: Comics+ does have panel view, if you rotate your phone sideways, also an Android app coming soon

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    Those are the Big 3 digital comic “shops” right now, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a few alternatives though. First off, creators like Skottie Young, Ryan Ottley and Chris Eliopolous have begun releasing $2 DRM free PDF copies of some of their independent work. Eagle eyed fans have set up a convenient Tumblr site that attempts to keep a record of them all in one place: http://2dollar.tumblr.com/

    Discount Comic Book Services, the preeminent mail-order comics giant also has a digital arm at http://www.mydigitalcomics.com/, which for the most only releases their books in “Page-Flip” format for companies like Top Cow or Boom! Studios. When it comes to smaller publishers many are releasing their books in DRM free CBR/CBZ/PDF formats, including the much acclaimed Duncan The Wonder Dog (397 pages for $9.99)

    There’s also the trail-blazer of digital comics, Longbox first announcing their plans way back at Heroes Con in 2009. They were a big proponent of things being as open as possible and would even let you read your own legally (or illegally) acquired CBR/CBZ/PDFs through their engine. Now that we’re in 2011, their servers have been down for almost 2 months so actually buying comics through them is currently impossible. They had some great ideas that either never quite materialized or failed to meet expectations and now seem like an also-ran. I hope they can make a comeback since their more open technology is much more appealing to me than the walled gardens of the Big 3, but it’s not looking promising.

    Now that you know where you can get your digital comics, we should look at some of the current faults (as I see them) with the system. First up, if you buy a comic from one of the Big 3 you can currently only read it in their family of apps. I bought 28 Days Later on Graphic.ly with some promo codes but I bought later ones from my preferred provider Comixology, so I have to remember 1-6 are in one app and later ones are in another. There’s also the dilemma of having all your digital comic “eggs” in one basket. If one company folds then you’ll likely lose all the comics you bought from them. That’s never going to happen at your local store, if it closes, you can still read all your old comics as much as you want. There’s also some confusion about where to buy, especially around Marvel, they have so many different platforms that it’s unclear how well they all work together. Lots of people also have issues with the pricing, most “Same-Day” comics are $2.99 (which is the same or more as your local store) and older ones are mostly $1.99, this seems to be where prices have settled right now. While the price point doesn’t bother me much, I still hope for everyone involved that more will come down to that sweet “impulse buy” level of $0.99

    Those are some significant disadvantages and will probably scare a lot of people away from reading digital comics right now, so let’s try and finish things up with some of the positives. First, most monthly comics I buy will be read once and then stuck into a box never to be seen again, slowly taking up more and more space. Sure we all say we’re going to read them again but most people I’ve talked to almost never do since trades are the preferred form of re-reading or getting old stories these days. Digital Comics solve both of these problems: firstly, they take up no physical space, which is great for those that would love to never have to buy another longbox to store their books again. Having all of your comics readily available in the app also makes it easy to go back and re-read something. What happened in Walking Dead 80 again? I could go find the box it’s in and dig it out, or just click “Previous Issue” and read it right away. Other advantages include no sell-outs, no pre-orders, no direct market at all. Morning Glories, Chew or whatever hot title is always going to be there, no more calling around the city looking for a copy or waiting for a new printing. These digital comics services also help promote more diversity in comics; there’s no more relying on a comic shop to stock non-superhero books since they all have more or less equal footing in these apps. Fans of slice of life, horror or just books from a non-Marvel and DC publisher will find Red5 and Top Shelf right next to Marvel and DC on these digital shelves.

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    Call me an idealist but I’ve got high hopes that, as more creators and publishers release their books digitally, they can get their comics in front of more eyes at significantly reduced costs per issue (no printing!). The popularity of books like The Walking Dead (available via Comixology) will hopefully show that comic books aren’t just Spider-Man and Batman and sales charts seem to be showing that. Digital comics sales numbers come out every month and are very different from the Diamond Top 10. Creator owned books reign over company owned books, which is pleasant to see. I think we’ll always have a reason for paper comics to exist, but I think I’ll always prefer reading physical comics in trade form. For those monthly 20-22 page books, digital may be the way to go.

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