The big comics media event this week in New York City was Marvel promoting the ASTONISHING X-MEN motion comic for the iPhone. It was a miserable rainy day but suddenly, the sky cleared and the sun broke just long enough for the outdoor event to take place as if God wanted the event to go ahead. I never expected God to care. Maybe She’s a Joss Whedon or John Cassaday fan. Then it got gloomy and rainy again well into the evening. I suppose the fans that turned up for the event at Union Square had a good time, though I’m not sure how many of them were actually interested in looking at the e-comic being projected onto the side of the former Virgin Megastore. It looked more like they were just there to hang out and have fun. Say what you will, at least Marvel made the effect to promote their e-comics, unlike DC. I didn’t even know, for instance, that Mark Millar’s RED SON had been turned into an e-comic until I was browsing through the Playstation Network Store a few days ago. You’d think DC would put some money in publicity after the motion comics for WATCHMEN started the current interest in the form when the WATCHMEN movie was released.
I’m not convinced about motion comics, though. I tend to think that if a comic moves and makes noises, it’s a cartoon, and one without much conviction at that, since it’s not fully animated. The characters remain completely still while their mouths might move or an arm might move, or they stiffly move like a paper cut-out being dragged across the screen. I also wonder how well motion comics are selling, whether on iPhones, the xbox, the Playstation 3, the PSP, the latter having announced a deal to feature Marvel comics.. No sales figures have been released. However, anyone with a brain considers the iPhone as a new market. Considering there are more iPhone owners than people who buy Marvel or DC c comics, it’s gold rush time. In fact, digital, or electronic comics are an emerging market, and it’s still a field so newe no one has the killer app for it yet. No one really knows how to do them, or how to market them. DC and Marvel, ever fearful of their comics being pirated and shared on peer-to-peer sites, have come late to the digital comics party with dubious approaches: subscription models and interfaces filled with DRM. Again, no figures have been announced on how successful they’ve been.
What I’d like to know is whether Marvel and DC are actively pursuing casual readers to buy the likes of ASTONISHING X-MEN or SPIDER-WOMAN or if they’re really just selling to their hardcore fans. Hardcore comics fans tend to prefer real, printed-on-paper comics. It’s the nature of comics fandom and ownership to want dead-tree, tangible editions of their favourite comics. Digital comics are intangible. Are there fans that would buy the iPhone versions of their favourite comics on top of the paper versions just for completion’s sake? Why would they want to buy a more awkward version of a comic whose print version they already bought before?
The advent of digital or e-comics, though, is that it might level the playing field for comics creators. Writers and artists now don’t need the middleman of a publisher to put out their comics on the internet or phones. In fact, the best webcomics now are all free to read and don’t have any DRM. They’re often just jpegs posted on sites with a simple interface for turning to a new page and simply reading. They don’t worry about someone stealing the pages or putting them on torrent sites because they’re already free, it removes the incentive or need to steal them and upload them. I admit that was what I liked about Big Head Press serializing my graphic novel LA MUSE. The first example I’ve heard of a free webcomic being pirated onto torrent sites has been of Warren Ellis’ FREAKANGELS, which just makes the pirates who grabbed and uploaded the comic look rather silly. I’d love to know why they bothered – do they just want to give the finger to the print version, which isn’t free? The downside of webcomics has been that there’s not much money for it, if any, and I suppose that’s why there are creators who give up a lot of rights and control of their comics in agreeing to be published by DC’s Zuda division, although I have no idea how high the readership for Zuda is considering its flash-based interface is horrendous and I can’t be bothered to read it because it takes forever for the pages to load properly. I can’t be alone in this sentiment.
So of course it makes sense for indie creators to think about doing comics for the iPhone. If they can offer their comics for sale at 99 cents per installment and enough people subscribe to it, that’s not a bad chunk of change. This does mean, though, that creators have to think differently about how to present the story: the 4-inch screen isn’t conducive to large panoramic panels or complex panel compositions, and every panel needs to be the same shape if not size. The smallness of the screen is more conducive more intimate stories and I think that might be where the real market for phone comics lies. Yet I’m not sure this is what’s being planned or considered by that many creators right now. It’s not just the interface that needs to be thought through, but the types of stories as well.
Here’s a thought: I don’t get the impression that Marvel and DC have done any proper market research in the phone comics market, and they’re just carrying on trying to sell the same old superhero comics to whoever has a phone. There’s a whole market that hasn’t been considered, and that’s women. So many women in the US alone own iPhones and Blackberries now, and I don’t think anyone has thought about creating comics to appeal to them. Marvel and DC aren’t going to do that anytime soon, and have never had a good track record for appealing to a female readership, but indie creators who are into telling stories about people instead of tights and capes have a much better chance.
Something to think about, guys.
Sticking to non-moving pictures at firstname.lastname@example.org
© Adisakdi Tantimedh