Archive for Digital Comic News
Kodansha’s Morning magazine is one of the most interesting manga magazines in the Japanese marketplace. It’s pitched at young adults, and the stories tend to be somewhat more sophisticated than the genre magazines aimed at young teens and pre-teens (Shonen Jump, Ribon, etc.) Many of the Morning series that have been licensed in English have been critically acclaimed, if not top sellers: Planetes, the story of junk collectors in outer space; What’s Michael? a crazy cat manga that won the Kodansha Manga Award; and Masashi Tanaka’s wordless dinosaur manga Gon, which has been picked up by three different publishers in the U.S. at different times.
So it’s big news that Morning is getting its own digital edition, D Morning. It would be bigger news if the app was available in the U.S., but sadly, it is not; it is only available via the Japanese iTunes store (and the only language seems to be Japanese). What’s more, the two really outstanding series, Naoki Urasawa’s Billy Bat and Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond, won’t be in the digital edition.
Urasawa is on record as not liking digital media; in an interview last year, he remarked, “None of my works are [legally] available digitally. I prefer physical books.” Apparently his stance hasn’t changed on that.
Inoue isn’t quite as doctrinaire; his Smile, a collection of drawings that he did on an iPad and first shared via Twitter, is available as an app for iOS or Android. Still, none of his manga are available digitally, at least in English.
Despite the many omissions, the app is an important step forward for Japanese manga. Each new issue of D Morning comes out the same day as print, at a very reasonable price of 5,000 yen (about $5) per month; since it’s a weekly, there are four issues per month, for a total of about 1,200 pages. This is the first real attempt by a major Japanese publisher to do same-day print and digital releases; while Americans are enjoying their digital copies of Shonen Jump, their Japanese counterparts are reading the exact same material on paper. It works because Japan, unlike the U.S., still has newsstand distribution of comics on a mass scale, so there hasn’t been much of an incentive to go digital. But digital is still more convenient than print (comments on the app mention how much easier it is to read digitally on the train), and if Kodansha were to open up the D Morning app to markets outside Japan, they would probably find plenty of readers.
Three years ago, the Archie Comics folks startled the world by introducing the first openly gay character in Riverdale, Kevin Keller. Kevin made his debut in Veronica #202 and soon got his own mini-series.
This week, Kevin’s creator, Dan Parent, accepted the Outstanding Comic Book award at the GLAAD Media Awards, saying, “Many people thought it would be a challenge to introduce a gay character into a comic book primarily produced for children, but that was really our saving grace. Because as most of you know, the people who have the most progressive minds are really our kids [...] Kids like to read stories about characters they care about, characters they want to be friends, characters with a strong moral compass like Kevin Keller. Many LGBT people of my generation have told me about the lack of any gay characters they had to look to in pop culture, especially in the world of comic books. It’s a very lonely place to be. These fans had to live vicariously through the straight romantic adventures of Archie, Betty and Veronica. Well, LGBT kids of this generation won’t have to worry about that. You have a place in Riverdale now and the fun is just starting.”
To celebrate, the Archie folks are slashing prices on Kevin Keller comics in their digital store, offering Kevin Keller #1 for free and the other issues for 99 cents. Actually, my favorite Kevin Keller comic is the very first one, Veronica #202, because it’s so true to the Archie characters—Veronica, who doesn’t realize Kevin is gay, keeps trying to snare him, and Jughead encourages him to keep it a secret just to annoy her. The sale lasts through May 31.
If Archie is a bit too young for your tastes, check out this weekend’s other big sale: IDW is slashing prices on its Star Trek digital comics at comiXology and its Star Trek app. Graphic novels and single-issue comics alike are all half price, so the comics are 99 cents each and graphic novels are $2.99 to $5.99. Stock up now and spend all summer aboard the Enterprise, but do it fast, as this sale only lasts through Sunday, May 19.
Barnes and Noble announced a major upgrade to its Nook app for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch this week, bringing the full range of digital comics capabilities to the app for the first time. Previously, many comics in the Nook store were available only on Nook devices, not on the associated apps. With the upgrade, iOS users can now access any of the 8,000 comics titles in the Nook store.
The Nook folks are also giving new readers an incentive to set up an account now: They are giving away a free Superman sampler comic to anyone who downloads the upgraded app and sets up a new account.
Why would you bother? The Nook app is not as convenient as the comiXology, Comics Plus, or Dark Horse apps, because you cannot buy comics in-app; as is the case with Amazon Kindle, you have to buy the comics in the web store or on a non-iOS device. On the other hand, if you’re the type to shop around, and you don’t mind having your comics in several different apps, the Nook Store sometimes offers lower prices. Also, there are some titles available for Nook that you can’t find on Amazon, such as most Viz manga (although Viz manga are available in the Viz app).
In terms of usability, the app works just fine, but it’s not quite on a par with the otehrs. The Zoom View, which is touted in the press release as an enhancement for comics readers, is somewhat less than comiXology’s Guided View: A double tap enlarges the panel, and you can then drag the enlarged page around so you can see the whole thing. Unlike Guided View, it does not bring you from one panel to the next; all navigation must be done by dragging, which is a less elegant solution. And the navigation bar at the bottom of the screen, which lets you move from one section of the book to another, uses thumbnail pages, which take up a lot of space; a simple slider bar would do just fine without covering up part of the page.
The bottom line is that if you are a B&N shopper already, if you don’t mind switching apps to save a few bucks, or if you want to read the digital comics not available on Kindle, this new app is probably worth a look. Check out the Nook Comics Store to see if anything piques your interest.
Writer Ian Sharman wants readers to buy his new book Hero: 9 to 5 – Quietus, but he realizes some folks haven’t read the first volume, which comprises issues #1-#4.
So he’s making the first collection available digitally, for free, but he’s letting others do the work: On his Tumblr, Sharman posted a link to a downloadable copy on what is obviously a pirate site.
Yup, I’m giving you a link to illegally download my work. Shocking, eh? But, hey, you have Google, you could find it anyway if you really wanted. And if it persuades just one of you to pre-order the new book then I think it’ll be more than worth it. And, hey, maybe some of you will love it so much you’ll want to own a copy.
If you look at it one way, his logic is pretty solid. The book has been out since 2010, so it’s probably hard to find in a comics shop. He’s using the pirate site as a way to provide digital samples, which saves him the trouble of hosting it himself.
It seems like a missed opportunity, though. If he were to host the download himself, he could add a promo for the second book as the last page. That’s what Mark Waid is doing with his comic Insufferable, which also is available on the Thrillbent website and via comiXology. Waid says he is thrilled that people are downloading his comic (which is free on the web anyway) because that means more people are reading it–and the information at the end is leading more people to Thrillbent.
And there’s something else. Maybe it’s not good to lead your readers to a pirate site. The site Sharman links to has a number of other comics visible on the page, including the first two issues of Heroes: 9 to 5 – Quietus, the very book he wants readers to buy. It seems a bit chancy to show them a page where they can get it for free.
On the other had, perhaps readers will use that to sample the new comic and the pre-order it, which is exactly what Sharman wants at the end of the day.
(Via Down the Tubes.)
In late April, comics publisher Dark Horse announced it was celebrating its two year digital anniversary. The company made available 50 free #1 issues during a 48 hour window period, allowing customers to check out the various properties. Free is often a very compelling reason to read, and Dark Horse proclaimed that over one million comics were downloaded.
Dark Horse currently publishes Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Serenity, Hellboy, Avatar, and Mass Effect, as well as exclusive digital-first series, such as Falling Skies, Prototype 2, and Dragon Age. The main intention behind the two year anniversary free comic program was to draw attention to its iOS and Android apps as a way to buy and read comics.
“The success of our digital promotion illustrates the growing reach of digital comics, which we believe are an important element in the recent resurgence of physical comic book and graphic novel sales,” said Dark Horse’s president and founder, Mike Richardson.
Tintin, the plucky little reporter who spent more time investigating mysteries and running away from bad guys than doing any actual reporting, has made it to the small screen: Idboox reports that Moulinsart, the company that controls the rights to the works of Herge, Tintin’s creator, has released an iPad app that contains all 24 of the Tintin graphic novels. The app is free, and the graphic novels are reasonably priced at $5.99 each; the catch is that they are all in French, although the settings include English and Dutch options that are greyed out and marked “soon.”
So why bother? If you read French, it’s a great deal, but even if you don’t, the navigation is in English (at least if you buy it from a U.S. account, as I did) and there are a few cool extras—a gallery of photos of Herge and of the Tintin movie, with some captions in English and some in French, and wallpapers.
There’s a lot more to love if you read French, though. The app is beautifully designed with an almost-full-screen display of eac cover; touch “infos” and you get background information on the book plus a couple of sample pages. Herge’s clean-lined style (called “ligne claire”) and flat areas of bright color work particularly well on the iPad. The app also includes a bio of Herge and an article about the Tintin Museum, both in French.
According to idboox, there are plans to incorporate more features into the app, including audio in different languages.
The app also allows the user to view Tintin.com from within the app, rather than popping out to a browser. This site is available in a number of languages, although the only English books available are print editions. Hopefully this will change and soon and fans will be able to read Tintin in many languages.
Marvel Unlimited is an “all-you-can-eat” subscription service that allows readers access to Marvel’s enormous back catalog, starting with their first-ever comic, Marvel Comics #1. For $9.99 per month, or $59.88 per year, you can dip into their library of over 13,000 comics and read as much as you like.
There are two drawbacks to Marvel Unlimited, although they are really marketing choices more than drawbacks. One is that it’s streaming, so you have to have an internet connection to read the comics, although the iPad app does allow a small number of downloads. When your subscription ends, the comics go away, although you are always offered the opportunity to buy them via Marvel’s web store. The other problem is that the comics are not super fresh; nothing is less than six months old, and the vast majority of the collection is much older. If you’re OK with that, though, Marvel Unlimited does offer really good value for the money.
Unfortunately, reading comics on a computer isn’t very comfortable, and when Marvel brought Marvel Unlimited to iOS, I thought it was a huge improvement. So when they announced an Android version, available on Google Play, that was even better news.
I tested out the app on my Nexus 7 tablet, and it worked fine—as long as I was reading in single-page mode in the portrait format. Double-page spreads were too small to be read, and Marvel’s “Smart Panels” are anything but—this attempt at a panel-by-panel view fails miserably, from sheer carelessness. The panels are poorly cropped; often parts of the panel are chopped off and bits of other panels intrude. It’s a shame, because good panel-by-panel view would add a lot to this app; the reading surface on the Nexus 7 is rather small. However, the resolution on the Nexus 7 is good enough that the full-page view works fine. Also, an annoying feature from the iOS app, giant “left” and “right” arrows that don’t disappear until you tap twice, have been eliminated from the Android version. The screen isn’t as sensitive as I would like—sometimes I had to swipe two or three times to get the page to turn—and the comics are a little slow to load. Aside from that, it’s a very nice comics app.
My other complaint still stands, though: The app is poorly organized. You can search by series, character, creator, or release date, and there’s a keyword search, but with this many comics, it’s often hard to find what you are looking for. After all, there hae been a lot of series named “Daredevil” over the years. Making it harder is the fact that the browse function won’t let you jump to a particular letter of the alphabet; you have to start with “A” and scroll down through a lot of comics each time. And since the app is organized around single-issue comics, one feature that would be really nice would be a pointer to the next issue on the last page. Instead, the reader is prompted to buy the comic and then sent back to the main page for the series, which interrupts the flow of reading.
The app is free and offers a good selection of free comics to non-subscribers. Not surprisingly, this week’s selections are heavy on Iron Man, with a lot of issue #1s, but they also offer a six-issue story arc to read straight through. This service definitely works better as a mobile app than a website—it’s more comfortable to read on a tablet, and the higher-resolution screen makes it easy to read comics even at a smaller size. The Android app makes it even more convenient and portable. Download it today from the Good e-Reader App Store!
Publishers Weekly’s Heidi MacDonald has done a comprehensive overview of graphic novels and libraries, and she includes a discussion of digital library programs, which are still evolving even as we speak.
OverDrive, the biggest vendor of e-books for libraries, gets no love in this article. The prices are too high and the graphic-novel catalogue is too limited. Librarian Robin Brenner would like to see comiXology offer library services, and indeed, their competitor Comics Plus is developing a library service that will roll out this summer.
According to Elder, Comics Plus, which launches in beta this summer, will offer a broad-based subscription model—libraries spend a certain amount of money and are charged for each check out, a digital file that self-deletes in two weeks. Advantages over print are discoverability and range of material. “The number of titles in your catalogue increases by an order of magnitude, and the efficiency goes way up. If a book is circulating a lot, you buy the print edition, too,” Elder says. Elder’s research included number-crunching to show that the digital lending system is profitable for all. The cost is about 50¢ per checkout, comparable to the cost of print comics; and it’s actually more profitable for publishers. “On a typical checkout a publisher makes 9¢ to 15¢. With our system, [the publisher] gets 30¢—literally everybody wins.”
Some publishers have balked at signing on, perhaps for fear of piracy, MacDonald speculates, but they might be getting it exactly wrong: Brenner thinks readers aren’t demanding digital comics from libraries because they are going to pirate sites instead. For a publisher like Viz, whose series can run for many volumes, it makes sense to participate in a system that gives them something for each checkout, rather than have readers go to pirate sites for their fix.
One thing to keep in mind with regard to all this is how digital services regard e-books. My local library has OverDrive, and I never use it, because they treat e-books like print books: The library buys a limited number of copies, and each book can only be checked out by one patron at a time, so when I go to look for a book, it’s never available. iVerse’s system, as it was explained to me, allows unlimited checkouts, and charges the library for each one. When the library reaches its spending limit, the comics disappear, although Elder told me there would always be a selection of comics available for free. So what iVerse is selling is really access to a real digital library, rather than single e-books. Instead of hedging their bets and only getting digital editions of the most popular titles (which are then always unavailable to most patrons), they can offer access to an entire library and not only allow multiple people to read the same book at once but also avoid paying for unpopular titles.
This past Saturday was Free Comic Book Day, the biggest day of the year for comics shops. But in case you missed it, digital has got your back.
All the major digital comics distributors have a special page set aside for free comics. ComiXology always has an assortment of free comics, mostly issue #1s, and they also have 14 of this year’s FCBD comics. Like comiXology, Dark Horse puts a link to their entire catalog of free comics right on the front page. You have to dig a bit deeper on the Comics Plus site to find their collection of free comics, but I’ll save you the trouble: Here’s a direct link. It’s worth taking a look at the individual publisher apps supported by comiXology and Comics Plus, as they may feature free comics that aren’t in the main app.
If you’re thinking about getting Marvel Unlimited, check out their free selection before you buy.
Drive Thru Comics claims they have over 800 free comics on their site. If you hate DRM, this is the place for you, as the comics are downloadable as watermarked PDFs.
For manga lovers, Viz Manga offers a lot of free previews, usually the first chapter of each volume 1. That’s about 60 pages, or about two issues of a Western comic. Just sayin’.
The folks at CO2 Comics are so serious about making sure you get your free comics that they bought the domain freecomicseveryday.com (which links to their site). Some are old, some are new; the comic I particularly enjoyed on this site is The World of Ginger Fox, Mike Baron and Mitch O’Connell’s over-the-top tale of a professional woman trying to save a Hollywood studio, first published in 1986.
Look for the “Read Comics for Free” tab on the ComicMix home page and you will see a menu of interesting choices, including Grimjack, Jon Sable Freelance, and The Original Johnson.
If you want to sample some classic Golden Age comics, go to The Digital Comic Museum to download older comics that are in the public domain. The selection covers a lot of genres—romance, sci-fi, war comics, Westerns, even superheroes—but the offerings tend to be on the lesser-known side of the comics spectrum. Comic Bin will let you read its Golden Age comics for free if you sign up for an account. Archive.org also has a good-sized selection of comics, mostly older titles from Dell and the like.
And going all the way back to the roots of comics in North America, the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum has some interesting digital albums and exhibits, including the comics of Lyonel Feininger and Nell Brinkley, and some of the original Yellow Kid cartoons.
To find free graphic novels in the Kindle and Nook stores, simply do a search on “graphic novel” and then sort by price, from lowest to highest. All the free graphic novels will pop up at the top of the list.
That should be enough to keep your e-reader filled for a while, but if you have another site that I have missed here (legal sites only, please!), feel free to share the love in the comments section.
Either way it’s a good deal, but if you’re seeing this on Sunday, May 5, don’t waste any time: Nao Yazawa, the creator of Wedding Peach and Moon and Blood, is offering her 77-page manga Go Go Nao-p! for free on Kindle today; at midnight (Pacific Standard Time) the price goes up to $2.99, which is still pretty reasonable for a 77-page graphic novel.
Go Go Nao-P! is a 4-koma (four-panel) gag manga about Yazawa’s life as a manga artist and slave to three cats: Moki, Chibi, and Kochibi. Although the cats are adorable, this is not a cute-cat manga like Chi’s Sweet Home. Instead, it’s an affectionate but unvarnished look at life with three aging cats, complete with discussions of trips to the vet, cat food preferences, poop and litter boxes, and the disruptive effect that lounging cats have on the work life of an overworked manga artist. The comics are funny and touching but may elicit the occasional “Eeeeeeww!” from more squeamish readers who don’t have cats.
Even if you aren’t a cat-lover, though, this comic is fascinating for the glimpses it provides into the life of a manga creator. We get to spy on Yazawa as she meets with her editors and hunches over her drawing board. There are also some very Japanese moments in the book, as when one of the cats makes a hole in her paper-screen door and uses it as a cat door.
Yazawa speaks English, and she translated and lettered the comics herself. The translation is rather rough, with misspellings and malapropisms, but somehow she gets her point across. Her drawings are loose and cartoony.
The comics read from top to bottom and right to left. Even if you’re not used to that, it’s fairly easy with a 4-koma manga because the panels are arranged in a vertical column so you only read one at a time. The pages also turn from right to left. I read this in the Kindle app on my iPad and it worked very nicely. On her blog, Yazawa explains (in English) that she used the Kindle Comics Creator tool to make the comics into an e-book. The strips originally appeared as a webcomic on her blog, where they are still available in Japanese.
Yesterday, Yazawa revealed that the book had been downloaded 57 times in English and 318 times in Japanese. She also announced that she will publish another manga, Nozomi, via Kindle in the near future.
SuBLime is an imprint of Viz Media that publishes yaoi manga (love stories between two men). When they publish digitally, it is usually in the form of a PDF download, which means that is it basically DRM-free—it can be readily moved from one device to another and won’t disappear if the publisher or the app does. It’s the digital comics format that a lot of fans want (and some demand).
The problem with PDFs is exactly the same as their strong point: They can be readily moved from one device to another, so they are prime material for pirates.
The SuBLime folks decided to take that chance, although I believe they watermark their PDFs, so if one escapes into the wild they will know immediately who owns it. The other thing they have going in their favor is the strong sense of community among yaoi readers. That’s why, when one of their manga showed up on a pirate site, the fans immediately let them know. The SuBLime staff addressed this in a post on their website, saying:
I have made it very clear from the start that if fans abuse the system and do this that we would stop making this available. Please understand the consequences of this. This doesn’t just prevent us from doing it, it also makes the Japanese publishers less interesting in letting any manga publisher do this. Do not punish the fans of this genre or any genre through your actions.
If you do this, we will suspend your account and you will lose all access to your purchased books.
What other consequences? If you like visiting your scanlation aggregator sites and wish to see them continue, bringing them to the attention of a publisher that has a legal department is not a good idea. We can go after the entire site for illegal content. Do we want to do this? No. We want to publish our books for our fans and not deal with this at all, but in order to do that we have to make money from the sales of our books to pay for the licensing, the printing, and not to mention to provide financial support to the many employees and freelancers who work so hard to bring these books to you.
SuBLime allows both streaming access and downloads, so presumably what they are cutting off with the first measure is just streaming. It’s not clear whether the pirate site took the illegal manga down, but SuBLime readers took to the forums to denounce the upload.
This seems like an excellent alternative to the type of DRM that makes you hate the publisher so much you want to pirate their stuff just for spite. SuBLime’s copyright protection system has two parts: An invisible watermark and a loyal community of readers. There’s nothing to get in your way—unless you try to steal the content.
(Hat tip: The Fandom Post)
The purpose of Free Comic Book Day is to raise awareness of comics, and that has certainly been accomplished this year; big-city newspapers and small-town Patch sites alike were abuzz with interviews with creators and retailers and advice on how to approach the big day. The flagship article, though, was this piece by Matt Moore of the Associated Press that looked at the big picture and summoned up some possible explanations as to why print comics sales have grown, rather than shrunk, since the advent of digital comics.
It’s a conundrum, for sure, but the numbers don’t lie: Print comic sales were up $60 million in 2012, and in that same year, digital comics sales tripled from $25 million to $75 million.
“Since the launch of the New 52, we’ve made a very strong effort to embrace the digital market as well as the print market,” said DC’s Dan DiDio. Before the New 52 launch, in September 2011, only a handful of DC comics were released in digital the same day as print; starting with the New 52, all their titles went to same-day digital release. DiDio’s explanation for the tandem growth of the two formats is that readers start with the comic that inspired a favorite movie or TV show, find it digitally, and then go to the comics shop for a fuller experience. Marvel’s Dan Buckley reasoned along similar lines, calling the relationship between digital and print comics “symbiotic.”
Moore also queried some readers about their preferences; one pointed to the convenience of being able to carry around hundreds of comics, but John Signer-Romero had his own reason for preferring print:
“There is just something wonderful about the thrill one gets when you have just read a particularly awesome scene and you know something big is going to happen on the next page,” he said. “Comics are filled with wonderful moments and the thrill one gets from turning that page slowly and having a whole world unfold in front of (you) is brilliant.”
That’s true, but it’s also true that a digital comic can give that feeling more often per comic, as every swipe is a possible reveal. Print comics creators know that when the reader turns the page, he or she will see everything in the two-page spread, while in a digital comic creators can spring as many surprises as they dare.
The fact is that in a very short time, digital has become so integral a part of the comics market that readers took to Twitter in confusion when they couldn’t find the first issue of Mark Millar’s Jupiter’s Legacy on comiXology the day it came out. The fact is, Millar has chosen to delay digital release of his creator-owned work for three months in order to protect comics shops. This did not go over well with fans, and at least one comics retailer was dismayed that he couldn’t get it digitally. The fact is that markets are complex, and although Millar’s intentions are noble—he wants to protect brick-and-mortar comics shops—there is no evidence at all right now that digital is hurting them and, paradoxically, they seem to be helping.