Digital comics work it in San Diego
Artist Dave Gibbons signed autographs and promoted his digital comic book at San Diego Comic-Con in the Madefire booth.
July 19th, 2012
01:48 PM ET

Digital comics work it in San Diego

Editor's note: Rob Salkowitz is a business analyst and consultant specializing in the future of entertainment, media and technology. His latest book, "Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture" (McGraw-Hill, 2012) focuses on the nerdy audience at the largest comic book trade show in the Western Hemisphere. Follow him @robsalk.

Last year at Comic-Con, digital comics were the headlight approaching in the dark tunnel. This year they are the train bearing down on the industry at full steam. Amid estimates that nearly 30 million Americans now use iPads or tablet devices of some kind, comics and graphic novels have emerged as the killer app for this hot new platform and everyone from the industry’s top publishers to feisty startups and independents are looking for a way to get in on the action.

Against that backdrop, even with all the various entertainment, movie and videogame news pouring out of San Diego this year, it was the announcements coming from digital publishers and platforms that has the greatest potential to shape how we enjoy the stories and characters we love in the months and years to come. Here’s a roundup of some of the top stories in digital from this year’s show:

Numbers, numbers, numbers!
To date, many publishers and distributors have been fairly close-mouthed about actual sales of digital comics. At the “Digital Comics – Expanding the Market” panel I moderated on Friday, IDW Publishing announced for the first time that their top-selling "Transformers: Autocracy" title had debuted at 10,000 paid downloads and was now running at an impressive 50,000. comiXology, which has become the highest-grossing app on the iOS platform, increased its gross merchandise value estimate from $19 million in 2011 to over $70 million projected in 2012. The site now claims more than 75 million comic downloads in the three years since the Comics by comiXology app launched.

New media experiences
While some publishers are simply bringing comics and graphic novels to digital devices in basically the same format as the books, others are pushing the envelope by integrating motion, sound, layered graphics, bonus content and 3-D effects. Just prior to Comic-Con, a new company called Madefire launched with some eye-popping original comics from master creators like Dave Gibbons (“Watchmen”) and Bill Sienkiewicz (“Electra: Assassin”) as well as company founders Liam Sharpe and Ben Wolstonholme.  Madefire not only offers new stories optimized for the iPad hi-res display, but also allows independent creators access to the platform to author their own digital originals.

Apps that push the envelope
One of the more electrifying digital media panels took place Sunday morning, when Cognito’s Daniel Burwen pulled back the curtain on the “Future of the Graphic Novel on the iPad.” Using his own Operation Ajax app as a case study, Burwen took the audience through the challenges of creating a long-form graphic novel specifically for the iPad environment. Burwen showed how creative teams need to rethink both their craft and their creative approach, taking care to deploy technology only in support of great storytelling. Another highly-buzzed app, Ryan Woodward’s Bottom of the Ninth, also demonstrated some cool extensions of traditional comics techniques in the digital realm using selective animation and sound design to draw readers through the story.

More content for digital
comiXology’s other big announcement at the show was a long-awaited deal with Fantagraphics to bring Los Bros Hernandez beloved alt-comics classic Love and Rockets to digital format. Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth announced that the ongoing Love and Rockets New Stories will begin same-day digital distribution with issue No. 5, and issues 1-4 are already up and available on the comiXology storefront.

Crowdfunding as a way of life
Perhaps the most far-reaching announcement in terms of industry impact came from digital publisher iVerse Media, the partner of comics’ virtual-monopoly print distributor Diamond. Noting the success of Kickstarter as a crowd-funding platform for all manner of creative projects, iVerse announced the launch of Comics Accelerator, a system designed specifically for comics creators and graphic novelists to pre-fund their ventures and directly target readers at reduced cost and risk.

Set to launch later this month, Comics Accelerator features ways to provide digital incentives for donors using the iVerse ComicsPlus platform, publisher hubs to manage multiple proposals, and a more advantageous cost structure that caps fees at $2,500 regardless of how much money the project raises. If it is successful, Comics Accelerator could take us a step closer to institutionalizing the crowd-funding model and bringing some much-needed stability and predictability to the publishing industry.

These announcements around digital comics might not pack the same buzz-appeal as news from the next "Iron Man" or "Superman" movie, but remember that those great properties and many more first emerged issue by issue from the pages of comics. These exciting innovations are helping to keep that storytelling format alive and relevant to a new generation of readers, and helping to open the magical world of comics to an audience who might not even realize comics are still being produced.

soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. free

    You realize therefore significantly in relation to this matter, produced me in my opinion believe it from numerous numerous angles. Its like women and men are not fascinated unless it's something to do with Girl gaga! Your own stuffs nice. Always care for it up!

    September 9, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  2. Creaks

    Comic books, in all forms, should be banned. They are the tool of the devil.

    July 24, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Robert Grimshaw

      I read " Creaks " posting that all comic books should be banned because they are evil. How about Self Help books or Cook Books? I think those " Dummy guides are pretty nasty... just what shouldn't be banned? Or Yeah .... we don't ban books.
      How about if we ban idiots like Creaks from making stupid comments.

      March 14, 2013 at 10:53 pm |
  3. JohnCRoberts

    oops spell check off (self deprecating OH SHINOLA!)

    July 23, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  4. Comic book guy

    Worst idea EVER.

    July 23, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  5. Julie S. Anaheim, CA

    Digital comics are SAVING us creators.

    July 20, 2012 at 1:31 am |
    • Ricky

      Wow! So many comments!Mike At first I wasn't sure what you meant by the exact same boat, since I motnien about three different boats in this comic, but I'm guessing you're talking about trying to get better at the business side of comics.Jon I also want to focus on being a better artist and storyteller, but I don't really compartmentalize it from the business side. Getting it out there is part of the process for me.Vas I'll do what I can. Comics is a notoriously rough business, so even if I eke out a profit of $11 it will be worth trying.Bobby Glad to have you back!Lance If I was just doing this for financial gain, I would have quit years ago. I don't even know if I'll ever break even on this. Although I'm not sure if being a cartoonist and making money need to be mutually exclusive.I kind of want to make another comic about this to go into further detail about what I meant.

      September 12, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  6. Chewies Hairball

    To this I say "hooray!" The Mom and Pops all died in the mid nineties. Any survivors thrive primarily on toys, games and cards. The comics are there but few bills get paid by selling them. Paper copies will be around forever if people chose to keep buying them....only they haven't done that much since the bubble burst.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  7. Victor Valentin

    This is the way we kill off the guys doing all the leg work, investing all the money, and paying the rent in america.
    no more mom and pop stores, no paper copies to collect, and pass down. relationships out the door, built on weeky
    releases. Stores are buying comics, and having the same companies selling direct to the end buyers.
    We want and need our paper comics! Just Say No! go down to your comic store, and get some human contact, or super human if you like.

    July 19, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Paul

      Speak for yourself. I want digital comics.

      July 19, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Steve

      Sorry Victor, but my wife forbids filling our house up with stacks of paper comics. I love digital! The3rd Gen iPad screen is vibrant and about the same size as a regular comic. I can carry a broad assortment with me as I travel all over the country for work, and the ones I've read and deleted remain available online for re-download if I want to re-read them. I also have a subscription to Marvel's wonderful digital comics website, where I can read hudnreds of classics on a large HD monitor for $70 per year.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Mat

      I had a chance to check out Madefire's booth at this years San Diego Comic Con and I was blown away. I can see their app totally changing the way people read comics. I've always been about reading paper books my whole life, but seeing how sharp and crisp pages look on a screen and add to that sound and motion, I'm hooked.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  8. narcocomix

    Before we dip into the mainstream digital comic craze. Let's take a moment an acknowledge if it weren't for all the indie webcomics there wouldn't be such a digital land grave from the comic industry. Oh and read ElPesoHero.com !

    July 19, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
  9. Skeletor

    I hate those transformers IDW comics.It messes too much with the cartoon's mythos.And it exposes new fans to the 'wrong' transformers.PLUS,it looks too much like the movie characters.I hate it so much!!!

    July 19, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Random Erratic

      How about starting a new mythos and exploring that? Don't be such closed-minded snob. Complain to someone who cares, if you find anyone who does.

      July 21, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
      • JohnCRoberts

        Well let's ese, how about everyone who made Marvel and DC famous. And everyone who thanked Dark Horse for reviving a genre of literature.

        You tools love digital, hate anything permanent, and deserve the lacking stories you recieve.

        What a Maroon! Nuff Said.

        July 23, 2012 at 6:45 pm |