In July, Archaia Comics became the first comic book publisher to debut a new title on Amazon.com's Kindle e-book reader before releasing a print edition. "Tumor," by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Noel Tuazon, will be serialized in eight digital issues before being collected into hardcover edition. The first issue is available now at no charge, while the second chapter will be available next week for $.99. CBR News spoke with Fialkov about the series and its role in digital comics.
Fialkov described "Tumor" as "a Los Angeles Noir about a man who's past his usefulness in the world, getting a shot to prove himself useful one last time." The story's hero, Frank Armstrong, is fairly certain he's going to die—if not from a recently diagnosed brain tumor, then certainly at the hands of a local mob boss calling in a "favor." "Frank Armstrong is a private investigator in a city where being a private investigator tends to consist of following cheating husbands, or finding the identity and contact information of people in clips for TV shows. It's a useless profession for someone who likes to think of themselves as being Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe," Fialkov told CBR. "Frank's an anachronism, just like so much of the city of Los Angeles is. So, when he's given a case to handle that's actually meaningful, he throws himself into it whole hog. Of course, that's when the tumor in his head causes the very first seizure. So, now, Frank's got to find this missing girl and bring her to safety all while dealing with the side effects of having a brain tumor. Plus, having all of those side effects and being so close to death brings out a lot of old memories and things that Frank's spent much of his life running away from, and forces him to confront them all head on."
The symptoms that Frank experiences are based on Fialkov's research into brain tumors. "I spent a good amount of time reading medical text books, a few first hand accounts, and then spent a day with Dr. Arnold Schiebel, who's a Professor of Neurology at the UCLA School of Medicine running through all of the details," the writer told CBR. "I essentially pitched him my story, and we figured out together where the tumor would be located, what side effects would realistically occur, and so on. So all of the things you see in the book have a factual basis. The only thing's questionable is Frank's ability to keep moving after having one of his jaw-rattling seizures, but I figure that's just dramatic license.
"The amazing thing about the brain is that it's completely unpredictable," Fialkov continued. "The neural networks are a constantly changing highway that's always in a state of flux. While there're certain sections of the brain that control broad aspects of function (for example, the temporal lobe which controls the formation and understanding of memories), how they're perceived or how those functions interact with the rest of the brain can be radically different depending on the location of the problem."
One of Frank's chief obstacles is that his illness interferes with his linear perception of time. Frank's primary point of view seems to be rooted in searching for the mobster's daughter, but it's not certain from the first chapter whether this can objectively be called the present. "That mission is definitely what's keeping him going," Fialkov said. "As the story progresses, you start to see how time and his flashes are working together. There's a condition called Jamais Vu, which is like Deja Vu, only the other way around. You don't realize things have happened before. You can extend that to a condition that I was anecdotally told wherein a man with a brain tumor on his temporal lobe essentially lost twenty years worth of memories. He understood that he was the right age, but events that took place during a specific twenty-year window just didn't exist.
"So, with Frank, we're seeing something similar, which is how his mind is processing the things he's done. At first, his memories work the way everyone's memories work, where you know what's real and what's not and whether it happened now or then... As the story progresses, well, let's just say that doesn't work quite so well."
"Tumor" is the first graphic novel to debut on the Kindle before publication in print, though a hardcover edition is planned. "I'm a huge fan of digital comics," the writer said. "I think that, especially for independent comic creators, there's a real need to embrace them, because the traditional audience and market are just not there for us anymore. I can't expect a retailer to take a chance on my book when they can order an extra five to ten copies of a Marvel or DC book that's absolutely going to sell for them. I don't want my books when they are ordered to end up sitting on the shelf, unsold. Hell, with the experience of doing 'Elk's Run,' I end up feeling guiltier than hell whenever I see the individual issues, because we never completed the book in issues, instead moving straight to the trade." ("Elk's Run" was published by Speakeasy, which went out of business before the series was completed.)
"Here's my vision for how this all works," Fialkov continued. "We do the digital comic. We get the word of mouth going, positive reviews, good press, and all that stuff. Then, we put out the hardcover collection, and I can go to retailers and say, 'You're going to make a lot more money for each of these than you would've for the individual issues, and you don't have to worry about having eight different order codes, or keeping all the issues in stock, all of that stuff. The fans get something that's permanent and can sit on their shelf proudly, and they get it at a great price, thanks to the good folk at Archaia."
Fialkov said that he is a firm believer in Amazon's e-book reader hardware. "I just love the device to death," he said of the Kindle. "I spend at least a couple hours a day on mine, and it's an absolute pleasure to use. I think that as there are more and more comics on the device, you'll start to see improvements on how it handles our medium. But, I feel as it stands there's no other device that feels more like actually reading comics than the Kindle."
The response to "Tumor's" Kindle debut has been overwhelming, with the debut chapter topping out at #6 of all graphic novel sales on Amazon.com, a figure that includes physical copies of perennial bestsellers like "Watchmen" and recent bestsellers like Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert's "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" "I think that shows that the people with Kindles and iPhones want the material, and it's up to us creators to get it to them in a way that makes them happy," Fialkov said. "I love the Direct Market, and I love my local retailers. But, if we want to reach outside of the core audience of comics, we have no choice but to embrace these alternate forms of distribution, where suddenly costs are not completely prohibitive for everyone involved. I want the most people possible to read my books, so that means taking risks like doing the digital thing."
Future chapters of "Tumor" will be released every three weeks on Amazon, and may appear in other digital editions down the line. "I'm also going to be using the behind the scenes website I'm running at http://www.tumorthecomic.com as a secondary portal for the book, for those without Kindles or iPhones. I believe the plan is after a few weeks to get the book up on some of the other amazing services, like LongBox and Comixology."
To read the first chapter absolutely free, check out CBR's preview of "Tumor" Chapter 1 right here.