I’ve been a comic-book reader since way back — I used to own the first Mike Grell issue of “Legion of Super Heroes”, for example (and no, my Mom didn’t throw it out — it’s all my own stupid fault), and am old enough to have been around to get hooked on the X-Men right when they were rebooted with Wolverine, Storm, et. alia. (Not old enough for the original run in the early 60s, though!) I’m the kind of guy who watches “Arrow” on The CW and thinks, “Ah, yeah; definitely lots of ‘Longbow Hunters’ influence in this sucker!” (And I’ve wanted to go to SDCC for, literally, decades, and now that it’s hella popular, I’m basically too late.) So as you might imagine, I was an early adopter in the tablet comics world, and so was quite interested to listen to the panel by the folks at ComiXology, a widely used mobile device comics reader app. (I have it installed myself, for example.)
The Gaming site at SXSWi where the ComiXology talk was being held was “free to the public”, and as you might imagine it was pandemonium. Lots of families there with their kids — I later took my son Joseph, in fact — and loud as you might expect. But hey, what can you expect from a “Gaming Expo”?
Over the course of SXSWi, one of the things I found the most fun was the serendipitous happenings. Getting invited to go out to drink with a guy whose work you’ve read and enjoyed for years, for example. Going to “the wrong” panel because the panel you wanted to see was full and you didn’t want to lose the time, and finding it to be totally fascinating. And so it was for this event, as one of the folks on the panel was the creator, writer, and artist of Too Much Coffee Man, Shannon Wheeler, of which I am a huge fan. (I even went to a panel on serendipity at one point, in fact!)
Brief background: ComiXology is a mobile device comics reading app that uses what they call “guided view” technology. The way this works is, if you don’t want to look at entire pages at a time–which you really can’t on a small iPhone or Android phone screen–you double tap a panel and it zooms in. Swiping causes you to move to the next “view” of the comic, which may be another section of the same panel, another entire panel, or whatever the “guided view” has been set to. The idea is, you get a “view” that is enough for you to see on your mobile device, while not breaking up the flow of the story. It’s a pretty good idea, and in the main works pretty well.
ComiXology launched their app at the same time as the iPad in 2010, and they’ve had amazing growth since then. While not everyone uses their tech, they got a big break in the last several years, and they are now the engine behind some of the big comics apps like Marvel and DC. (Although if you get the ComiXology app you can download comics from either of those onto that one app, so why you would want separate apps is a bit of a mystery to me. It strikes me as sort of like if someone came out with an iOS eBook app that allowed you to read Kindle, B&N, and iBooks content, why would you keep those other three apps on your device? But I digress.)
ComiXology’s big news for SXSWi was to announce a new ComiXology submission capability – where instead of going through some other publisher, you can submit your work directly to them in an online format for distribution. ComiXology takes a split of your sales, but (and for a writer this is a huge point in their favor) they do not own an exclusive copyright. I find this both enlightened and wonderful; in many ways the online comics market is much, much more enlightened than that of the online book world, in my view.
Why do this instead of going straight to a publisher? As a maker of independent comics, Shannon Wheeler pointed out that you have access to a much, much bigger potential audience this way. In the past, Wheeler said, to get your little independent comic out there, you would draw up your comic, and then make a bunch of copies, staple them together, and distribute them around to various local comics stores (and coffee shops and book stores and wherever else you think you might get some sold), and hope for the best. Now you scan in your images and submit to comiXology and get much more chance at sales. (Or so one hopes!)
Wheeler also noted–and this goes hand-in-hand with a similar comment by Neil Gaiman from his SXSWi appearance–that his hardcopy sales increases when a comic is released in electronic form as well, and that this is not uncommon.
A few other notes from the ComiXology talk:
- When asked by the audience, the ComiXology guys said that they would like to bring their app to any other platforms they can, including gaming platforms.
- They would love to do comics with enhancements–video clips, or sound clips, or other things you can do on a mobile platform you can’t on paper. Nothing they were ready to speak about yet, though.
- When asked if they like comics okay online, Wheeler said that he actually prefers some comics that way. He though Alan Moore’s “From Hell” was a superior experience online than in hard copy!
- And the most interest comment to me: Their “guided view” tech is all done by hand. That is, instead of scanning in images and then cranking them through some software algorithm, an actual human being reads through the comic and marks the guided view windows by hand. I found that both astonishing and wonderful. Astonishing, because it’s so work-intensive. But wonderful, because I would have a hard time trusting a piece of software to actually understand the flow of a story and make critical viewing decisions about it. (And I’m a software guy!)
So there you have it. If you’re into comics and have an iPad, or even an iPhone, you might want to check out the ComiXology app. I have it on both my iDevices, and quite like it (although if this were a review I would relay some quibbles about it–like, why is the “Search” functionality hidden under the “Browse” button?). But comics might have been designed with tablets in mind, so you should check it out Google Play. The apps themselves are free; you only pay for the comics.or
So that’s what I thought about ComiXology and their presentation at SXSWi; what about you? Share your thoughts below!