Three Questions With Gabe Bautista

GaboWe’re on a roll with our weekly THREE QUESTIONS interview series! This week we were lucky enough to grab some time with digital comics creator Gabe Bautista (a.k.a. Gabo).

You might be familiar with Gabo’s art from his work with Oni Press (THE LIFE AFTER), DC Comics (ALL STAR WESTERN, THE SPIRIT), his self-published webcomic (JESUS CHRIST: IN THE NAME OF THE GUN) or Image Comics (COMIC BOOK TATOO) – for which he won an Eisner Award. He’s currently working with digital comics collective Thrillbent on ALBERT THE ALIEN and, lest we forget, he’s the creator behind the comic book battling site Entervoid.’

With our THREE QUESTIONS series we presented the same three questions to different digital comics creators, innovators, and pioneers. The similarities (and differences) in their answers is often both interesting and enlightening.

ALBERT THE ALIEN by Gabe Bautista and Trevor Mueller

ALBERT THE ALIEN by Gabe Bautista and Trevor Mueller

CBTT: What is the best thing about comics specifically made for digital reading?

GABO: Innovation. The way that comics are read online, the pacing most importantly can now be dictated by the writer. A perfect example is this book I’m currently drawing for Trevor Mueller called ALBERT THE ALIEN, which is not only hosted as a webcomic but also on Mark Waid‘s Thrillbent website. At one point in the story when we reveal the identity of the mastermind behind a big mystery, in print form you turn the page and you are presented with a drawing of the character right? Well on Thrillbent, my writer Trevor, builds up the suspense by making each click of your mouse (clicks are used to progress the story forward or backward) reveals a new panel showing a different panel with a different character, each one reacting to the news differently. This new way of reading comics gives the creative team more control on how the story is paced, it’s really exciting to plan and imagine how to build up suspense that could never be achieved via print or even typical web comics.

PLANET PANIC by Gabe Bautista and Gene Goldstein

PLANET PANIC by Gabe Bautista and Gene Goldstein

One other amazing new frontier of digital comics is slightly animated webcomics. My buddy Gene Goldstein and I are working on a project that has the slightest of animations in each panel, like rain falling, a twinkle in a girls eye, smoke coming off a cigarette as the cherry pulses with a glow. Pretty amazing stuff you can’t otherwise do on paper!

CBTT: What is the worst thing about comics specifically made for digital reading?

GABO: One of the worst things about digital specific content is the idea that digital comics can’t be seen by people who live in towns with no internet, or electricity etc. I am a first generation Mexican, and when I was a kid my parents would drag us to their technology free hometowns. I distinctly remember my father’s town didn’t even have a phone. Not one. If someone wanted to call you, they would have to call the next town over (which was about a twenty minute drive away) and ask for you, then some kid on a motorbike would have to race to the town you’re in and try to find you. That’s rough.

THE LIFE AFTER by Gabe Bautista and Joshua Hale Fialkov

THE LIFE AFTER by Gabe Bautista and Joshua Hale Fialkov

CBTT: That’s a really great point. It’s easy to forget that not everywhere in the world is quite as wired as, say, New York City.

GABO: The town has since upgraded and acquired high speed internet and cell phones, and I know it’s a silly thing to worry about as communication technology is getting cheaper all the time, but still – there are some places out there that won’t get to see your product. Then again, on the print side of the issue, I remember bringing my print comics to Mexico and the kids out there would flip the hell out. It was tough trying to find comics out there, you could only really get them in the big cities, and even then they were a bit hard to find.

CBTT: What do you see in the future for digital comics?

GABO: Color e-paper. Where is my damn color e-paper!? I love reading comics on my iPad, but it gets a bit annoying at times. I’ve had a PaperWhite Kindle for a while now and I love reading novels on it, and even sometimes download a few comics that I know will look good in black and white. HELLBOY in particular looks pretty nice, and they’ve got that panel-to-panel system that ComiXology uses, so its not so hard to read it on the tiny device. But still, I’m scared that eInk might have lost the battle against tablets. Especially with how long batteries are lasting these days.

More realistically speaking though, the future for digital comics I feel will be download codes you get from print copies. I’ve seen Marvel and DC doing this as of late on select titles. I hope that someday it’ll be as common as you it is when buying Blurays, and getting a download code for iTunes. God knows I’m running out of room in my house for all these print books – how nice would it be to be able to get rid of the ones I probably won’t read again for ages, and keep them digitally?

CBTT: Pretty nice.

Gabo is currently hard at work Kickstarting a print volume of ALBERT THE ALIEN. You can find more of his work on his personal website or his DeviantArt page. You can also follow him directly on Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube.

Three Questions With Liam Sharp

Liam SharpOur weekly THREE QUESTION interview series with digital comics thinkers, creators, innovators, and pioneers continues this week with someone that is arguable all of the above – Liam Sharp.

Death's Head II by Liam Sharp & Ryan Brown.

Death’s Head II by Liam Sharp & Ryan Brown.

You might recognize Liam by his many comic credits, from his early illustration work with 2000 AD on JUDGE DREDD and DEATH’S HEAD II to his later work with Marvel and DC Comics where he contributed his unique style to the likes of THE X-MEN, SPIDER-MAN, THE HULK, BATMAN, SUPERMAN and others. In addition to his illustration work, Liam is also the founder of a critically acclaimed and award-winning publishing company, Mam Tor Publishing, showcasing a variety of independent, fantasy, and science fiction comics and prose. That’s not all! Liam is also the Chief Creative Officer and Co-Founder of Madefire, a pioneering digital comics storytelling platform whose motion books blend elements of comic storytelling, animation, audio, and even video game sensibilities for a wholly unique reading experience.

Liam was kind enough to take part in our three question interviews. His singular perspective with both print and digital publishing as an artist, writer, editor and innovator is a welcome addition to the series!

CBTT: What is the best thing about comics specifically made for digital reading?

Motion Books are short burst, episodic, digital reading experiences that combine audio and visual elements.

Motion Books are short burst, episodic, digital reading experiences that combine audio and visual elements.

SHARP: For me it’s the fact that it really is a new medium, so the old rules can be broken! It’s rare to get to use your skills – words and pictures – to create an entirely original experience. And the extent that creators choose to embrace the possibilities is wholly subjective. A digital comic can be completely authentic to the original medium, with no frills, or it can incorporate motion, sound, timing – new ways of revealing the imagery via masks, or fades or slide-ins. I also love how the aspect of time means you no longer have to establish a top left to bottom right reading standard. The eye is led by the next reveal, so you can take the reader wherever you want to go within the confines of the screen. And I think sound adds much more to the experience than we ever expected. The grammar for digital-first reading is just evolving!

CAPTAIN STONE by Liam Sharp, Christina McCormack, Cody Garcia, Joe Costello & Box Of Toys Audio

CAPTAIN STONE by Liam Sharp, Christina McCormack, Cody Garcia, Joe Costello & Box Of Toys Audio

We know, too, that people who find digital comics or motion books online are not all comic fans to start with, so it can lead them to print comics. I don’t believe the mediums are in any way mutually exclusive.

CBTT: What is the worst thing about comics specifically made for digital reading?

SHARP: I’m not really seeing a negative – other than iPads aren’t particularly great to read on in bright light!

CBTT: What do you see in the future for digital comics?

SHARP: It’s wide open. I hope people continue to explore the possibilities. I think a new wave of creators will burn down the established bastions of storytelling – all the stuff we old pen, ink and print guys have to unlearn – and they will build myriad digital constructions in bold and varied forms, far beyond the silent constraints of 22 pages.

CBTT: Exploration is the key!

Liam’s latest venture is Madefire. You can learn out more about Madefire from their website or the motion books section of DeviantArt. You can also find Madefire on Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube. Madefire motion books are available through a free iOS App.

You can find more of Liam’s personal work on his personal website, his DeviantArt page, or on the Mam Tor Publishing website. You can also follow Liam directly on Twitter and, of course, be sure to check out episodic his Motion Book – CAPTAIN STONE IS MISSING!

Three Questions With Steve Ellis

Steve Ellis Welcome back to THREE QUESTIONS our weekly conversation with digital comics creators and innovators. This week we’re talking to Steve Ellis. You might recognize Steve’s mainstream work for Marvel and DC Comics on characters like GREEN LANTERN, IRON MAN, and the WINTER GUARD but he’s also the Harvey Award winning creator behind ComiXology’s first digital original series BOX 13 and Zuda Comics’ debut series HIGH MOON. He’s currently partnered with writer David Gallaher for another digital original comic, winning critical praise from the likes of Boing Boing and The Hollywood Reporter, with THE ONLY LIVING BOY. As always, we’ve presented Steve with the identical question we’ve asked previous participants. Steve’s unique insight into the digital comics creative process is a welcome addition to the series.

CBTT: What is the best thing about comics specifically made for digital reading?

ELLIS: It allows you the ability to interface with the reader in a way that takes advantage of technology. For example, the way BOX 13 was created for the iPhone, we were able to consider the reader experience in an individual way; the pace of the story is dictated not only by panel changes, but more significantly by the speed by with the reader clicks through panel-to-panel and screen-to-screen.

BOX13 BY Steve Ellis & David Gallaher

BOX13 BY Steve Ellis & David Gallaher

It’s exciting because it can be a much more interactive experience. Digital also affords us the ability of being directly interactive between the creators and the readers. The feedback loop is immediate for the creator, and it makes the reader more invested in the project community.

CBTT: What is the worst thing about comics specifically made for digital reading?

ELLIS: From an artistic standpoint, it can be visually restricting on how you design a page. A lot of artists enjoy the freedom that comes with wacky panel design, but that’s restricted when you have to consider devices like a phone or iPad. It’s harder to do more intricate, fluid panel design when you feel restricted to the ratio of a smartphone screen. The rectangle can be oppressive!

THE ONLY LIVING BOY by Steve Ellis & David Gallaher

THE ONLY LIVING BOY by Steve Ellis & David Gallaher

CBTT: What do you see in the future for digital comics?

ELLIS: Hopefully, as more and more devices appear on the scene, I would like to see and create more projects that interact with the reader more. I think that rather than giving people an animated experience to watch like motion comics do, I would like to see something where the reading speed, flow, tempo and style is fitted more to an individual readers pace. The nice thing about digital with regard to comics is kind of like Scott McCloud said – the canvas is infinite! I think we’ll see more experimentation. There will always be conservatives who think paper first, and there will always be people trying to push the limits of technology. But I think we’re going to settle somewhere in-between flashy technology and a paper dominant model, in a place where the reader’s interactive experience is paramount to how the material is processed. Too often, the technology wants to move us toward animation, which leaves the readers as simply viewers, and therefore less engaged. I’d like to see comics that allow the reader to interact with the material in the same way that one might turn a page (flipping panels, choosing the direction of the image flow) without affecting the story.

CBTT: Fantastic and valuable insight. Thanks for playing along, Steve!

As the Chief Creative Officer behind Bottled Lightning, Steve is hard at work on THE ONLY LIVING BOY. However, if you’d like to see more of Steve’s work you can check out his personal website. You can also find Steve on Tumblr, DeviantArt, Facebook and Twitter.

Digital Creators React To ComiXology + Amazon

ComiXology IconThe digital comics industry is in the midst of a significant transition. Early in April digital comics distributor ComiXology announced that was to be acquired by the online retail giant Amazon. Within weeks of the announcement, while the full impact of the acquisition was still being debated, ComiXology made the controversial decision to reduce functionality and eliminate in-app purchases on their popular iOS app, forcing users to leave the app and buy comics through ComiXology’s web storefront (in a manner similar to Kindle purchases on iOS).

It should come as no surprise that the response from fans and creators has ranged from concerned to critical. At the time of this writing the new app has well over 1,500 reviews (and counting) and has managed only a 1.5 star rating.

“This feature removal isn’t going unnoticed; reviews of the app have plummeted with the new version…”TechCrunch

Chip Mosher, ComiXology’s Vice President of Marketing, has advanced the idea that publishers, creators, and fans could benefit from the move, citing the potential for diversity and savings. Certainly the elimination of Apple’s 30% channel fee opens up the potential for an increased share of the revenue paid directly to publishers and independent creators – that is, assuming the web store can compensate for the lost iOS sales.

“…shopping on the web provides even greater selection of comic books and graphic novels. iOS customers will now be able to save money with comiXology’s exclusive web-only bundles, take advantage of subscription features and enjoy eGift cards.” – Chip Mosher via Comic Book Resources

ComiXology’s acquisition potentially impacts every creator working on digital comics to one degree or another. With Comic Book Think Tank we’ve always tried to focus on progressive digital publishing and the digital comics creative process so we thought it might be a good idea to reach out to a few of our fellow digital comics creators, experts in their craft, who might be able to give valuable insight from their unique points of view.

Are these changes good news? Bad news? Will it have a significant impact on digital comics creators and publishers? This is an evolving issue and one that is sure to affect the digital comics marketplace for weeks and months to come. Do you agree with one of the creators below? Disagree? Feel free to leave your own opinion in the comments but first, read on…

John AllisonJOHN ALLISON (BOBBINS, SCARY GO ROUND, BAD MACHINERY)

Viewed from any angle, ComiXology/Amazon should give people pause.

The 30% pay-to-play on in-app purchases within the Apple store’s walled garden is obscene. Comixology Submit’s creator deal was an equitable 50/50 split – after a corporate giant took a vast cut. This inevitably pushed prices up.

A rump of entitled ComiXology users complaining that their method of reading comics just got *slightly less incredibly efficient* is laughable. One assumes that getting off one’s ass is still not part of the new way to buy titles through ComiXology.

Amazon’s ownership of ComiXology will have an immediate hammer-down on prices, just like every other sector they’ve been involved in. Amazon’s near-monopoly has sucked a greater part of the life, and money, out of working in books, music, film.

For the last 20 or so years, comic books have cost more than they were worth. Now get ready for them to cost much less than they’re worth. Get ready to lose your local comic shop, like you lost your local record store and your local bookshop.

Jared FletcherJARED K. FLETCHER (Marvel Comics, DC Comics, STRANGER FICTIONS)

ComiXology is the best chance of bringing in new comics readers right now. If the industry is going to grow, we need to get comics into the hands of new readers as cheaply and easily as humanly possible. So why do we continue to complicate the matter? This is another sad example of how comics generally, not just digitally, continues to put up these barriers between the reader and the product.

What’s bad for the readers of comics is bad for the creators of comics. I’ve already seen a few tweets from people who have already given up trying to switch over the new app because it was too complicated. And that’s just getting the app to work, not even buying or syncing comics yet. It’s a disappointing situation for everyone on all sides of it. It looked like ComiXology had a good thing going until this.

I understand Amazon not wanting to give Apple that extra dollar for every comic sold. But where does that dollar go now? Are the comics all one dollar cheaper now? Most of them should be anyway. Do the creators get that dollar? I would hope so. That would be a bright spot in this. Or does Amazon just take that dollar for themselves in exchange for removing the only feature of any significance in the ComiXology app?

PetzMATTHEW PETZ (WAR OF THE WOODS, LORDLESS)

As a creator, I can’t helped but feel this is a step backward. Discoverability is essentially gone. If it was hard to be seen before, I think unfortunately it’s harder now.

This idea that the savings will go towards the creators seems little dubious at this point. We’re talking about an extra 15 cents in most cases. Maybe it will add up? But if it’s at the cost of a lot of lost sales from inside the app then I’m not sure it’s worth it.

Joey EspositoJOEY ESPOSITO (Assemble After Dark, CAPTAIN ULTIMATE, FOOTPRINTS, PAWN SHOP)

I think people tend to go from zero to sixty in reaction to these types of things and the apocalyptic reaction it got was sort of unwarranted, nevermind it being unfairly directed at ComiXology instead of Amazon. And that’s the thing: Amazon acquiring ComiXology wasn’t done on a whim, and I would imagine that the removal of the in-app storefront on iOS was a calculated move rather than an arbitrary one. I doubt Amazon acquired ComiXology to lose money, therefore I’m willing to wait and see how this change pans out and see what the result is in terms of sales and money for creators.

It certainly makes discoverability a concern, particularly when it comes to getting under the eyes of new and/or casual readers, but at a certain point it falls on us, as creators, to find our books new venues to readership. We should never be relying on one platform; we should be using every platform available to us to get our work out there. We need to be nimble and be able to change with technology and with the market.

Ben BailyBENJAMIN BAILY (Assemble After Dark, CAPTAIN ULTIMATE)

It’s easy to call the removal of in-app purchases on iOS devices a misstep on ComiXology’s part, and maybe it is, but the folks there have proven one thing time and time again over the years: they love comic books. For our little all-ages title, the loss of easy and friendly browsing and shopping is a little painful; we’re a kid’s book starring a new, unknown character. It’s impossible to know how impulse purchases affected our sales, but I suspect it was significant. Time will tell on that one. For us, that extra 30% isn’t quite as important as selling an extra 30 copies. It’s about getting the title out there, getting the book into the (digital) hands of new, young readers. That said, we have faith in the folks over at ComiXology and they have always been supportive of us and our little book. Things might not be perfect right now, but we know they love comic books and that, ultimately, they want what we all want: to share that love with new readers.

Cameron StewartCAMERON STEWART (Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Vertigo, Dark Horse, SIN TITULO)

I’m trying these days to remain as positive as I can about most things (even though it’s extremely challenging at times), so despite the inconvenience of no longer having an easy and seamless shopping experience, my initial reaction to the change in the ComiXology app was to be happy that a) they’re no longer beholden to conform to Apple’s ludicrously inconsistent content restrictions, and b) the 30% of sales that they surrender to Apple is now able to be kept by the publisher & creators.

However, I’m very curious to see what kind of hit they take on sales, now that it’s impossible to make casual, impulse purchases within the app. Building an obstacle course in front of the cash register is sure to discourage a significant number of people from even bothering. I myself had this experience a couple of days ago – I downloaded the new app, synced some of my library to the iPad, and for a moment actually forgot that I was using the new non-retail app and went looking for some new issues of series I follow to purchase. When I remembered that I was using the new app, I was frustrated and closed it. I didn’t bother to go to the ComiXology website to download them. I still haven’t. Maybe I’ll get around to it at some point. They would have had a couple new sales, now they don’t.

I’ve bought comics through the website before, but generally when I’ve been at my desk, on my computer. There are many times when I’m browsing the ComiXology app while in bed, or in a cafe, and those are when the most impulse-purchases happen. I’m not sure I’ll buy as many now.

As for independent creators, we/they need every sale they can get so it’s a bit depressing that what was a promising new outlet for them seems to be radically compromised now.

It remains to be seen what Amazon’s plan is, and if they’ll be able to build some new method of sales that will be as convenient as what came before – I hope they can do it.

And then of course there’s that brief moment of clarity where you realize we’re all whining about how we can no longer purchase drawings on our luxury devices without going to a different website

Kevin ColdenKEVIN COLDEN (DC Comics, IDW, FISHTOWN, BABY WITH A MOHAWK)

In the short term this deal isn’t that great for anyone except Amazon – my wild speculation is that they purchased ComiXology primarily to a) Remove a potential competitor and acquire their existing interface and user base and b) take revenue from Apple by disallowing in-app purchases. I suspect the latter is the primary reason. But they may implement some new ideas that will change that in the future.

Due to the removal of in-app purchases, the big losers will be the independent creators with books on ComiXology, as their visibility and discoverability just dropped to zero, possibly lower.

Alex De CampiALEX DE CAMPI (Dark Horse, VALENTINE)

I think Amazon buying ComiXology was inevitable. While the elimination of in-app purchasing for iOS devices is frustrating from a user point of view, I’m hoping Amazon shoves enough money Comixology’s way that they can work on streamlining the mobile version of the site. My biggest concern is that the casual/non comic store going reader will be dissuaded from buying comics (or confused by the new iOS app) during the initial period of app downloading/investigating, and will do the app equivalent of abandoning their shopping cart… which is, in essence, abandoning digital comics. I emphasize again this is only users on iOS devices, but that’s still an important segment of users.

I also hope they integrate Amazon gift cards into ComiXology purchasing (as I know many friends, and children of friends, who bought comics on the app using iTunes gift cards/credits).

As a creator, I”m mostly concerned with, “can I still get my comics on the ComiXology platform?”. The answer is yes, and now if there is better integration onto Kindles / the app coming bundled onto new Kindles, that is one less formatting and submission job I have to do and, hallelujah. Seriously, if by having my comic on ComiXology Submit, it can also be available on Amazon for download via Kindle publishing/the main Amazon Kindle store? I’ll buy David Steinberger beers for the rest of his damn life. Verily, multiple formats and submission processes are a hobgoblin preying on creators’ time and sanity.

David GallaherDAVID GALLAHER (THE ONLY LIVING BOY)

It’s interesting because I believe the changes to the ComiXology app are really just small potatoes compared to the massive opportunities available to creators. How many resources will now be available to small publishers that were out of reach before? Amazon runs one of the largest order fulfillment services in the world, provides publishing services, and incredible recommendation engine that drives discoverablility on their website for physical and digital goods. I think the opportunities for creators is brighter now than it ever was before. ComiXology may have revolutionized digital comics, but I think it will be Amazon that liberates them.

RStevensRSTEVENS (DIESEL SWEETIES)

Good or bad, it’s really not surprising if you look at Amazon’s history of making things more efficient for the sake of Amazon. It’s no different than how they try to cut out other layers like UPS. Maybe the inconvenience of not being able to buy comics on iOS will be outweighed by the ease of doing so on amazon.com or a Kindle?

It’ll be interesting to see.

ANONYMOUS

As we reached out to different digital comics creators there were a few that had strong opinions but for various professional reasons asked us not to disclose their names. While we think context is important we also respect their right to privacy. We felt that the opinions expressed were informative and indicative of some of the general opinions on the evolving relationship between ComiXology, Amazon, and the publishers and creators that distribute through them. Presented here are a few comments from those that wished to remain anonymous.

Anonymous JANE DOE

Amazon buying ComiXology is, to quote the Vice President, a big f’ing deal. It’s validation – not just for ComiXology, but for the entire comics industry. The world’s biggest bookseller just bet big on comics, and that is an awesome thing.

In the long term, this will be a boon for publishers both great and small. It’s going to force other digital distribution outlets to step up their game and compete for both content and customers. It’s going to put comics in front of more potential buyers than ever before, and that means more sales and more revenue for everyone.

However in the short term, this is nothing but bad news for publishers and creators. In-app sales on iOS were the largest single largest source of ComiXology’s sales by far. The majority of ComiXology customers will (grudgingly) make the transition to making purchases on the web, but some will not. Those disgruntled customers may migrate to other channels (ComicsPlus, iBooks, etc.), but they may just as easily stop buying digital comics all together. And even for those customers who stay with ComiXology, ‘impulse purchasing’ will inevitably decrease since a purchase that once took a single step now takes three or four.

In summation: I believe that publishers will lose sales and customers will be dis-satisfied in the short term, but that the benefits to both will (eventually) outweigh the costs.

AnonymousJOHN DOE

This ComiXology/Amazon move is one of greed, pure and simple. It infuriates me to read the praise people give towards ComiXology/Amazon and how this will ultimately benefit the creator. This is a spin, pure and simple, and not a very clever one. Oh, and thanks for the five bucks! That will go a long way toward my comics ever regaining what little digital traction they once had in the crowded industry leader storefront.

The worst thing this move has done is lessened any chance of me or others buying digital comics in a casual/browsing way – similar to the experience of shelf buying. I wonder how long before the ComiXology-powered publisher apps will lose in-app purchasing?

ComiXology has taken what little trust, faith, and belief I had that they were honestly for a better digital comics marketplace, and sold it to the highest bidder. I sincerely hope those behind the app made a small fortune on the purchase. It only cost their fan base.

Three Questions With Alex De Campi

Alex De CampiWelcome back to THREE QUESTIONS – The Comic Book Think Tank ongoing series of questions and answers with digital comics creators, innovators, and storytellers. This week we’re thrilled to speak with filmmaker and Eisner-nominated comic creator Alex De Campi!

Alex has been on the leading edge of digital comics and is one of the original “turbomedia” storytellers, notably on ComiXology’s platform using their “Guided View” format as a creative tool instead of merely a way to help read print comics on small devices. With her original series VALENTINE, Alex didn’t just help popularize a method of storytelling but also experimented with the creative process itself, effectively crowd-sourcing the translation of the comic into multiple languages. She has recently migrated VALENTINE away from ComiXology and joined forces with the progressive digital comics collective Thrillbent where she continues to tell great stories.

VALENTINE by Alex De Campi & Christine Larsen

VALENTINE by Alex De Campi & Christine Larsen

As the headline states, we’ve asked Alex three questions; the very same three questions asked of other digital comics creators. We think the similarities (and the differences) in their answers is often enlightening.

CBTT: What is the best thing about comics specifically made for digital reading?

DE CAMPI: That any transition can be a page turn. That you can’t see ahead and take in the next four-to-ten panels at a glance, the way you do with a paper book. As a writer, I find my pacing is pretty consistent whether I’m writing for digital-first or dead tree, but the experience of digital-first is so heightened for the reader, especially with my style of writing, which is thriller/suspense.

SMOKE/ASH by Alex De Campi with gor Kordey, Carla Speed McNeil, Bill Sienkiewicz, Richard Pace, Colleen Doran & Dan McDaid

SMOKE/ASH by Alex De Campi with Igor Kordey, Carla Speed McNeil, Bill Sienkiewicz, Richard Pace, Colleen Doran & Dan McDaid

The writer also has a much greater control of the reader’s experience of time in a digital comic. Although you can slow a reader down or speed them up via the number of panels on a printed page, you have so many more tools to do this digitally, from having the reader tap to bring up dialogue, to adding in spacer panels or cutaways/reflective moments to drive home a character’s thought process or emotions.

CBTT: What is the worst thing about comics specifically made for digital reading?

DE CAMPI: I don’t see a lot of “worsts” with digital-first comics, except the badly-done ones, but hey, 70% of everything is badly done, isn’t it? Anything that overly invades on the reader’s control of time is problematic to me. Voiceovers, animation that’s not simple effect/atmosphere loops (eg. rain, fire, snow, etc). I talk in my “bests” about how digital comics give the creator more control of time, but you have to respect an ultimate line. The reader has to choose for the next thing to happen, and when it happens, by clicking/swiping. You can’t foist it on them – eg. by having an animation or voice dialogue just start five seconds in, unexpectedly. As a reader, that makes me so stabby.

GRINDHOUSE by Alex De Campi, Chris Peterson & Simon Fraser

GRINDHOUSE by Alex De Campi, Chris Peterson & Simon Fraser

CBTT: What do you see in the future for digital comics?

DE CAMPI: I think we’re going to see short, fully-animated trailers/intros. I think there will be a lot more borrowed from video games – not necessarily “Choose Your Own Adventure” (but I’d love to see that done really well. I fear the production of the redundant plot lines would make it financially unviable, though) – but, other video game tricks and tropes: looped atmosphere animations, looped music, SFX on transitions. I think digital comics have barely reached 15% of their potential. And if some nice entertainment company would just give me a good budget and a skilled coder, I will happily take that frontier and march it well forwards into the unknown. Ad astra!

CBTT: On est ad astra mollis e terris via!

If you’re interested in seeing Alex’s storytelling technique in action you should check out VALENTINE on Thrillbent. Alex is also the creator of SMOKE/ASHES and GRINDHOUSE, both available from Dark Horse Comics. Of course, for the social media minded, you can also follow Alex on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook.

Three Question With Matthew Petz

Matthew PetzOur regular series of THREE QUESTIONS continues this week with digital comic writer and artist Matthew Petz. Matt is most well known for his original digital comics series WAR OF THE WOODS, a former Zuda Comics winner about an alien invasion told from the point of view of the woodland creatures that try and defend their home. He’s just started work on LORDLESS, a fantasy series about a harsh, violent hero set in an bitter arctic wasteland. Matt’s also done extensive production work in the comic industry for companies like comics Madefire, Random House and GoManga that brings a unique perspective to his approach to digital publishing. As the name implies, we’ve asked Matt three questions; the same exact three questions we’ve asked other digital comics innovators. The similarities (and differences) in their answers is often enlightening.

CBTT: What is the best thing about comics specifically made for digital reading?

WAR OF THE WOODS by Matthew Petz

WAR OF THE WOODS by Matthew Petz

PETZ: I think comics that are made with digital delivery in mind feel more natural then something that’s simply repurposed. It can be as simple as drawing in landscape or as innovative as adding sound and animation. When you take advantage of the technology, you’ll always be ahead of the game.

CBTT: What is the worst thing about comics specifically made for digital reading?

PETZ: I still think some people think of digital comics as secondary to print. That’s changing, but it still feels slow.

CBTT: What do you see in the future for digital comics?

PETZ: As technology advances I only see things getting more innovative and exciting. We’ll probably have to redefine what a “comic” is. Paper books and pamphlets are great, but they are limited. I think we’ll see more creators taking advantage of the exciting storytelling opportunities digital allows!

LORDLESS by Matthew Petz and Ron Perazza

LORDLESS by Matthew Petz and Ron Perazza

CBTT: Just to follow up on what you said about digital being second to print, do you think that’s a general attitude for readers or do you think it’s something specific to comic book fans?

PETZ: I have a feeling this is probably a very specific view of comic fans. Whereas ebooks have been accepted as books, digital comics are still seen as lesser to some extent. They aren’t as “real” as print book. I’m pretty sure it’s a left-over collector’s mentality and culture. It’s probably generational and at some point barely anyone will care, but it’s not there yet.

If I was to guess, it’s going to take a massive IP along with superstar talent doing something only in the digital space to really destroy the perceived second class citizenship of digital comics.

CBTT: Thanks, Matt!

You can find more of Matt’s work on his website and his DeviantArt page. You can also follow him on Twitter and Tumblr. The first episode of LORDLESS can be read free online at Union Combine while WAR OF THE WOODS: Season One and WAR OF THE WOODS: Season Two are available through comiXology.

Three Questions with Dan Goldman

Dan GoldmanWith our THREE QUESTIONS series we ask different digital comics innovators the same three questions. The similarities (and differences) in their answers is often enlightening. This week we’re happy to continue the series with digital comics writer, artist, and speaker Dan Goldman!

Dan has been at the forefront of experimenting with progressive storytelling for years, first as a co-founder of the webcomics collective ACT-I-VATE, where he serialized KELLY, and then with the critically acclaimed webcomic SHOOTING WAR (with Anthony Lappé), originally published by Smith Magazine.

SHOOTING WAR by Dan Goldman and Anthony Lappé

SHOOTING WAR by Dan Goldman & Anthony Lappé

SHOOTING WAR was hailed as a “must read” by Entertainment Weekly, “a subversively buzz-worthy online comic” by USA Today and earned him an Eisner nomination for Best Digital Comic. He follow up with 08: A GRAPHIC DIARY OF THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL (with journalist Michael Crowley), an ambitious – and successful – long-form comics journalism project written and drawn in real-time during the historic 2008 Presidential election.

Dan was kind enough to take some time from his current project, RED LIGHT PROPERTIES, to answer our Three Questions. Here the are!

CBTT: What is the best thing about comics specifically made for digital reading?

DAN: Letting the storytelling be led by the capabilities of its medium is always the ideal situation, that’s why digital-first comics sound so sexy when you describe them like that. But there’s a huge problem already from that point: digital-first comics all seem to be designed for iPads by default, but “digital” doesn’t mean one screen-size (or even a standard resolution), so you get a range of varying results from beautiful to quite shitty. If you have the right device (read: the iPad), the reading experience is downright delicious.

But that lack of standards makes for an unevenness in a new medium that print simply doesn’t have to contend with, being a fixed-form medium. These are of course fits and starts as “comics” slow-morphs into its next evolutionary phase, but it’s hard to hold digital comics up as something revolutionary if they only look right on some devices, y’know?

CBTT: Absolutely. The freedom inherent in digital original work comes with it’s own challenges. So with that in mind, what is the worst thing about comics specifically made for digital reading?

DAN: The extra steps you take in innovating for digital are all storytelling beats you can lose going “backwards” to vanilla print pages… which unfortunately is where the majority of the comic-reading audience is.

The other worst thing about digital comics is the fact that they’re digital, which means a majority of the current US comics readership will simply not engage with them until they’re in print. I know that probably comes off bitchy, but I’ve seen a huge jump in the readers willing to give my RED LIGHT PROPERTIES a shot now that it’s available in book form. Like, it never even existed for them before.

RED LIGHT PROPERTIES by Dan Goldman

RED LIGHT PROPERTIES by Dan Goldman

Granted, any second chance to make your big debut is cool, but that doesn’t negate the hair-pulling freakouts trying to connect with that audience when you’re digital-only. RED LIGHT PROPERTIES lived digital-first in various formats/platforms for years, and it’s only now that there’s a book will most comic readers try it out. Obviously I find that thinking frustrating (even kinda neanderthal) after many years in the digital trenches, but that’s my recent experience in our #comicmarket right, having a book out for 29 days after it lived digitally for several years.

The saving grace here is that I deeply believe this is is already changing with the generation coming up now raised reading all kinds of digital media content on tablets, and Comixology/etc are instrumental in helping this shift happen, even if they’re feeding into a broken distribution system instead of creating a new and better one. We’re just part of the transitional generation, so it’s our hurdle to overcome for now.

CBTT: Speaking of that new generation, what do you see in the future for digital comics?

DAN: I see an actual functioning marketplace developed around digital comics that’s not just a direct market-dependent digital extension of a system that never really worked well. A true digital publishing system with new digital-first publishers with a business model that produces (i.e. pays) creators to develop a new digital medium that is the great-grandchild of what we now call “comics”. What that looks like, I’m not sure yet, but the screen-native stuff happening now that stems from Balak’s work is certainly the beginning of it.

And as much as comics’ jump to digital formats need mutation/evolution, the thinking of comics’ readership has to embrace digital as an end-point in and of itself before if it’s ever going to fully blossom. Comics’ roots in pulps/collectibles really is holding this generation of digital comics back, if only that it keeps creators reliant on other mediums just to make a living off stories we’re already producing fully-realized versions of. Sadly, that’s nothing new in comics… but it’s even sadder that this cycle perpetuates itself over and over again from newsstand to comic store to digital app and (hopefully not) beyond.

CBTT: Hopefully not.

Praise for RED LIGHT PROPERTIES by Dan Goldman

Praise for RED LIGHT PROPERTIES by Dan Goldman

Thanks to Dan for going above and beyond with his answers! Dan’s RED LIGHT PROPERTIES is published by Monkeybrain Comics and has been featured on Boing Boing, Nerdist, Wired and Publisher’s Weekly. You can find more works by Dan on Amazon, visit his website, follow him on Tumblr or follow both Dan and RED LIGHT PROPERTIES on Twitter.

A Case for Genre Diversity

For better or worse, comic books in the United States are almost synonymous with super heroes. While the idea that graphic fiction is so overwhelmingly focused on one particular genre is interesting in and of itself, it’s made even more fascinating because of its isolation. Whether you’re talking about French bande dessinée, Italian fumetti or Japanese manga, the international comic markets are far less hyper-focused.

“As to what kind of manga the Japanese people polled typically read, the most popular genres for men are sports, comedy, fantasy, and sci-fi. Women also enjoy comedy and fantasy, but enjoy love story and shojou manga even more.” – Kotaku

"The Comics Code"

The Comics Code

While there are a number of contributing factors, the singular popularity of super heroes in the United States is due in large part to the witch-hunt brought on by the publication of the anti-juvenile delinquency screed (and factually flawed) SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT and the creation of the censorious “Comics Code Authority.” One could argue that the code did it’s job too well. As it choked the life out of comic diversity it left itself with almost no purpose, becoming increasingly irrelevant. After atrophying for nearly fifty years the code finally rolled over and died. Interestingly, while super heroes became overwhelmingly dominant in comics, other forms of genre publishing weren’t so hobbled. Crime, Fantasy, Horror, Romance and other areas of fiction continued to grow and evolve outside of comic books.

ENTER WEBCOMICS

Like most “solutions” based on scapegoating, the ultimate failure of the comics code was inevitable. However there was another significant factor that played a critically important role in the reintroduction of genre diversity in comic publishing: the internet. The 1990s saw a surge in original digital comics created specifically for online reading and distribution, circumventing not just the established distribution system of the print comics Direct Market but also the conventions and audience it relied upon. Webcomics were able to connect directly with new audiences based on a wide variety of very specific genres; for example, video gaming, dark humor, relationships, sex (NSFW), or math.

“Webcomics are great because they create communities of like-minded people interested in similar topics and genres. Whatever you’re into, there’s a webcomic for you.” – Tim Gibson (MOTH CITY)

While not without problems of their own, chief among them discoverability in a vast sea of content, successful webcomics thrived, earning both industry and mainstream recognition.

Webcomic and New York Times Bestseller

Webcomic and New York Times Bestseller

While print comic publishers were experimenting with digital distribution of their backlist through platforms like comiXology webcomics were proving that original digital comics worked and they weren’t limited to super heroes.

THE SHIFT IN FOCUS

Meanwhile, an interesting thing started to happen in book publishing. As tablets and eReaders became more widely adopted a noticeable shift started to occur in the types of stories that were downloaded. According to a 2013 Book Industry Study Group report, genre preferences significantly differ when comparing print to digital.

Print and eBook Genre Preferences

Print and eBook Genre Preferences

While “comics” readers still seem to prefer print, readers of romance, erotica, thrillers, mystery, science-fiction and other forms of genre specific fiction are quick to adopt digital platforms. However, it could be argued that listing “comics” as a genre in an of itself is, at best, an oversimplification. While understandable from a book market perspective – most graphic novels are still grouped in a “graphic novel” section instead of being spread throughout the appropriate genre specific sections of the book store – it does cloud the data with regard to graphic fiction that falls solidly within the genre boundaries of its prose counterparts. Regardless, the digital boom of genre fiction is so apparent that traditional print publishing houses, like Random House and Harper Collins, have launched digital imprints focused specifically on genre fiction.

“Publishers have focused much of their attention on genres like sci-fi, fantasy, mystery and romance fiction – markets that have traditionally lagged behind “literary fiction” in terms of sales.” – Wired

IN CONCLUSION

The comic industry finds itself in a unique position; faced with a surge in mainstream interest for genre driven digital content fueled by the increased adoption of tablet, eReader and mobile devices but somewhat fragmented between genre rich independents that are primarily web based and larger print publishers that are, for the most part, invested heavily in a deep (and profitable) super hero catalogs. However, while the starting points may be different the ends are the same. Opportunity abounds. It’s a good time to be making comics and creators both large and small would be well served to avoid the trappings of nostalgia and take advantage of the growing trend toward diversity.

Three Questions With Geoffo & Mast

Geoffo Our series of Three Questions continues this week with two gentlemen on the leading edge of “turbomedia” – Geoffo and Mast. In fact you may remember Mast from an earlier Comic Book Think Tank post about the history of Turbomedia. In addition to chronicling digital comics Geoffo is also a prolific digital comics creator and winner the Reader’s Choice Award at the Stumptown Comicfest for his work on VIC BOONE with Shawn Aldridge. Mast is also a dedicated digital comics creator and one of the organizers of the Lille Comics Festival in Northern France. Mast Together they’ve collaborated on a number of progressive digital comics for Thrillbent in addition to working with Marvel on their Infinite Comics line. So, guys, Three Questions…

PAX ARENA by Geoffo, Mast, and Balak

PAX ARENA by Geoffo, Mast, and Balak

CBTT: What is the best thing about comics specifically made for digital reading?

GEOFFO & MAST: This is still unexplored territory, so it’s very exciting. Digital storytelling is so different, really, and not being limited to the classic physical canvas anymore is so liberating. We can create new things, push boundaries and sign our fan’s tablets with a knife!

CBTT: What is the worst thing about comics specifically made for digital reading?

GEOFFO & MAST: Stories that don’t use the format enough. Don’t play it safe! Don’t think “print”, think “screens.”

CBTT: What do you see in the future for digital comics?

THE PANDAS SHOW by Geoffo and Mast

THE PANDAS SHOW by Geoffo and Mast

GEOFFO & MAST: Well, we’re launching a company specialized in digital storytelling for the screen, so we kinda hope it’s gonna be a glorious and bright future! There’ll be more stories made specifically for digital reading. Technology will probably change, we’ll just have to adapt and evolve with it. The most important thing will always to make great stories first.

CBTT: I know this is technically a fourth question but you mentioned adapting to evolving technology and I think that’s has a big impact on the types of stories that can be told. I know you’ve done some work in Flash in the past. What are your current favorite tools to create comics?

MAST: We use HTML5 and JavaScript mostly, since you can get the same results as with Flash. It’s interesting because we had to learn how to program a bit, something we didn’t expect we’d have to do, back when we started doing comic books.

CBTT: How about during the creative process? Do you still create comics by hand?

GEOFFO: Photoshop and Manga Studio.

MAST: And Flash for PAX ARENA.

GEOFFO: Really?

MAST: Were doing way too many projects on different software!

CBTT: Ha! Thanks, guys.

GEOFFO & MAST: Merci!

If you’re interested in Geoffo and Mast’s digital comics and “turbomedia” work you should check out THE PANDAS SHOW and PAX ARENA from Thrillbent, BOUNCER: A GHOST STORY on L’Express with fellow creators François Boucq and Alejandro Jodorowsky (note: this is a French language comic), the later issues of IRON MAN: Fatal Frontier, and the upcoming AMAZING SPIDER-MAN Infinite Comics from Marvel. You can also follow both Geoffo and Mast on Twitter.

We’ll be back next week with an all new digital comics creator for another set of answers to the Three Questions. In the meantime, as always, feel free to leave your own answers in the comments.

Three Questions With Mark Waid

Earlier this week we announced the debut of a new feature on the Comic Book Think Tank blog aimed at offering different perspectives on creating comics specifically with digital reading and distribution in mind. Today we kick off that feature with none other than Mark Waid!

Mark Waid Not only is Mark a New York Times best-selling author and an Eisner award-winning writer with critically acclaimed runs on THE FLASH, IMPULSE, KINGDOM COME, CAPTAIN AMERICA, 52, DAREDEVIL, IRREDEEMABLE (and more) but he’s also the a tireless advocate for exploring digital storytelling and the founder of the progressive digital comics website Thrillbent. To say that Mark is passionate about comics, their history, and their potential as a medium is an understatement. So…

CBTT: What is the best thing about comics specifically made for digital reading?
Mark: Not reading them through a cardboard tube. In other words, being able to take in the whole page at once so the artist’s overall storytelling and design come through.

CBTT: What is the worst thing about comics specifically made for digital reading?
Mark: Tough one. Other than the nagging sense that they’re more “ephemeral” in a way because they’re not tactile, not tangible–a condition that causes me no lost sleep–I can’t think of any “worst.”

CBTT: What do you see in the future for digital comics?
Mark: A continuing broadening of genre and subject matter as comics once more becomes a mass medium.

INSUFFERABLE by Waid, Krause & Woodard

INSUFFERABLE by Waid, Krause & Woodard

There you have it! Short and sweet. You can find more of Mark’s digital comics work on Thrillbent; look for IN THE PI OF THE BEHOLDER, LUTHER, IF YOU’RE SO SMART (warning, this one is Flash), and INSUFFERABLE. He’s also working on DAREDEVIL: ROAD WARRIOR with INSUFFERABLE co-creator Peter Krause for Marvel’s digital original Infinite Comics line. And of course you can follow him on Twitter.

Don’t forget to come back next week for another set of answers to the Three Questions! In the meantime, feel free to leave answers of your own in the comments.