Friday, November 14, 2008

Hello tomorrow

Via Cult of Mac:

Fans of comics’ “Golden Age” now have a great way to feed that jones on the iPhone and iPod Touch with Comic Zeal from Bitolithic.

The $1.99 app lets you download an unlimited number of classic comics from the 1930s and 1940s, a period that saw the arrival of the comic book as a mainstream art form, when the medium’s artistic vocabulary and creative conventions were defined by its first generation of writers, artists, and editors.

The app downloads full comics to store locally on your device for easy access offline, and takes full advantage of the iPhone platform’s pinch-zoom and fingertip scrolling so you can move around pages quickly and zoom in to detail as you wish. A recent update makes turning pages with the swipe gesture a breeze and counts as an excellent improvement to the original released version.

The Comic Zeal developer site is here. Now, compare and contrast Sean Kleefeld on the economics of current comics production:

Marvel has hired Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch to create The Fantastic Four. Hitch receives an electronic script from Millar and begins drawing an issue. But he doesn't make his drawing paper himself; he buys it. Some company had to chop down a tree, convert it to wood pulp, press that into paper, and ship that to wherever he bought it from. Looking at just the gas consumption alone, the paper costs more to make. So they pass those charges on to Hitch in the form of a price increase. Maybe one or two cents a sheet.

Marvel receives all the material electronically. It gets reviewed, approved, and then sent (again, electronically) over to their printer in Canada. That printer needs paper to print the books on, so they have that shipped in not unlike the way Hitch does. Except Marvel needs around 60,000 comics at 32 pages each. Even at only one mil (one one-thousandth of a cent) per page, that amounts to an additional $1,920 every month. Sure, Marvel has deeper pockets than I do, but I don't mind saying that's a fair sight more than my monthly mortgage payment!

But now that printer needs to move those 60,000 comics. They get shipped out to regional Diamond warehouses. Again, increased gas prices impact how much that will cost. And from those warehouses, the books will then be distributed (i.e. shipped by a gas-guzzling truck) to your Local Comic Shop.

The above quote comes from an outstanding series of posts by Sean on the economics of comics, starting here. I'm quoting him out of context to make a rhetorical point he was not trying to make and may not agree with at all, but that's what happens when you say stuff on the Internet.

One place you can get your feet wet in the search for Golden Age comics in public domain available for free download in .cbr format is here. (The same site also offers original and equally free comic stories by some outstanding creators just waiting to be discovered by the world at large.)

This is not an endorsement of Comic Zeal in particular; it will be some time before I'll have any chance to try this particular app out for myself. But the work going in this direction is promising. The absence of those printing and shipping costs (and the oil they consume) is going to make an even bigger difference to the general public in the coming year. That, combined with the popularity and glamor of the iPhone platform, may even be enough to override the major publishers' pyhrric insistence on digital copy protection, which is seriously hampering their thinking about digital comics; if not, other publishers will step in to fill the gap.

Update: John Rogers of Blue Beetle fame weighs in.


  1. Maybe it's just because I'm a grouchy ol' book editor, but I like PAPER, darn it!

  2. Yes, of course, but.

    I loved comics as a mass medium and they cannot be a mass medium at the prices we're seeing. There will always be a place for printed paper stuff -- and comic shops will turn into shops selling graphic novels, archival collections, and fine art volumes, or they'll die -- but you have to be able to reach a wider audience who aren't already us. If people don't have easy access to comics they'll never start reading them. Comics aren't coming back to the newsstand; they have to go where the people are now.

    We don't blog on paper and mail it out to everyone, do we? We use this worldwide computer hookup thing we've got here. Decades ago, I did blog on paper and mail it out to people, in something called APAs. But this new way is a lot more sustainable and practical. Kinder to the environment and my wallet.

    I miss record album artwork and cover design; lyric sheets with an album; liner notes. But I didn't refuse to buy a CD player saying, "it isn't real music" (as some people actually said!) and I didn't refuse to listen to mp3s. A record company that sniffs disdainfully at people who own iPods and only releases records on archival quality vinyl because "that's the way music was distributed when I was a kid" can't complain if it doesn't have a lot of customers; it isn't doing any favor to its artists in terms of getting their music heard. Right now the comics business is doing exactly that.

    When I was a kid, comics were on paper, and I liked that. But back then, they also sold a million copies, and I liked that too.

  3. Apologies if the above reply came across in a sharper tone than I intended. Obviously I had a rant pent up inside and it burst out at the first opportunity!


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