Last Friday, the news broke that Marvel Comics had partnered with four different iPhone application developers to offer their comics on the popular device. "We want to give the consumers the choice to decide what's best for them," said Ira Rubenstein Marvel's executive vice president of digital media. "Each software has a world of difference, and each company has a different approach. By going with multiple companies, we're letting the consumer decide."
One of those companies is Panelfly, which is now offering issues of "Amazing Spider-Man," "Astonishing X-Men" and other Marvel titles on their free-to-download application. When approached on Friday, Panelfly CEO Wade Slitkin told CBR, "We will have more details regarding the relationship soon, but cannot comment at this time."
But Marvel is far from the only publisher on Panelfly. The application also offers titles from SLG Publishing, NBM, Stanger, Picturebox, Sterling, American Tradition and more. Prior to the Marvel news, CBR had reached out to Slitkin to learn more about Panelfly and its place in the ever-growing digital comics market.
CBR News: I was hoping you could provide CBR readers with a little bit of background on your company. Who, or what, exactly is Panelfly?
Wade Slitkin: I grew up going to Forbidden Planet and St. Marks Comics [in New York City], and as a result, I became an avid reader of all things visual. My first publishing job was doing Special Sales at Abrams Books. They weren't comic books, but the marriage of text and image was still the name of the game, so I was quite happy. I also had the pleasure of working with the amazing editor Charlie Kochman, who is now running their ComicArts imprint, so I wasn't far away from my real interests. I then moved to Welcome Books, and while working for the brilliant Lena Tabori, I began to keep a very close eye on the early stages of books going digital. The initial buzz was about standard text based titles being available on multiple platforms, including early grumblings of mobile devices.
I kept waiting to see an article on CBR or PW about "a new device that reads comics on the go..." but it never came. I called my friend (almost a year ago now), Stephen Lynch, who is an incredible artist, designer, and tech guru. He suggested that the iPhone and iPod Touch would be great platforms, and made much more sense than trying to figure out how to create some sort of new hardware. He and I then sat down for several months and discussed how the application would have to be organized, how it would look, and how it would feel. After having a solid blueprint, we brought in another friend, Brett Dovman, who is not an artist, tech guy, or fanboy. We needed a smart, objective, business oriented mind to balance us out, as Stephen and I could easily get carried away in our respective fields.
Finally pulling together, we flew out to San Francisco to meet with the development team, Sugarcube. They are all ex-Apple employees, and as far as we are concerned, are the very best in the business. They loved our idea, and we then began to hammer it out.
So, what do we hope to accomplish? We are positioning ourselves to be able to deliver comics and graphic novels anytime, anywhere, when someone feels like reading.
How is the Panelfly app different from all the other comics apps for the iPhone?
Panelfly has an incredible UI that puts the artwork on a pedestal. We've pushed the boundaries of how apps should look and feel, making it comfortable and visually pleasing to begin digital collecting. Using this as framework, upgrading and adding features will be icing on the cake. There are a few new features that will be in the upcoming version that are unique to us as well.
I noticed you offer a mix of both single issues and graphic novels. How have the longer works been doing for you?
The longer offerings have been doing very well for us and are a significant part of the store sales. We think that the larger titles are a great value. Yes, they are a little more than the single issues, but you obviously get a longer read, and that means people have the app open longer and more frequently. Which is great, because it means people are comfortable with the app, with the store, and with reading.
What sort of process do you have to go through to format a comic for your application? How long does it typically take?
The formatting process is very quick. When a publisher delivers their titles, we can have them ready by the end of the day (schedule permitting of course). The publishers delivers pdfs to us, the same ones that they would send to a printer, and we handle the rest. The actual process I can't give specifics on as its obviously proprietary and part of our patent pending system.
When formatting a comic for the app, do you try to emulate the print reading experience as much as possible, or do you approach it as its own separate thing?
We are attempting to emulate the reading process exactly. In fact, the panel navigation engine is programmed to mimic normal sequential reading patterns. Users still have the ability to zoom and troll around as much as they please - the engine is only there if they want to use it.
One of the benefits of being on iTunes and the iPhone is that your app is putting comics in front of people who might not have even considered buying them before. Have you seen a lot of usage from non-traditional comic fans (i.e. folks who probably never go into comic shops?)
That is most fantastic part of this platform. As comic culture becomes more and more prevalent in mainstream channels, there are loads of people out there who see comic movies, TV shows, artwork, but who have never picked up an issue. The iPhone and iPod Touch have the ability to reach an audience who might not browse the graphic novel section at a B&N, or even feel comfortable going to a comic shop because they don't want to be made fun of by Comic Book Guy. I'm convinced that there is a graphic novel out there for everyone. On this platform, we can harness that curiosity and reach thousands and thousands of new fans. For example, my father probably hasn't read a comic since 1967. I put NBM's "Brownsville" in front of him, and he loved it! This is exactly what we're looking for. We're always talking about history repeating itself, and I think that its significant that the first major boom for comics came during the depression. Now, as we are faced with a similar (granted not quite as dire) situation, comics are seeing a new boom and this platform will help keep that rolling.
Do you have plans to offer your application and library on other devices, like the PSP, other phones, etc.?
Most certainly - the iPhone and iPod touch are simply a place to start. As the technological landscape changes so rapidly, we're being careful when picking our next platform. But as I mentioned earlier, this is just the beginning.
Does Panelfly have any plans for original or new licensed content?
We do have plans for original content, in fact we are hammering out some details soon.
We are finishing up a handful of other contracts and have at least six more publishers to announce in the coming months. The new [version 1.1] build will also feature performance upgrades, a news section and a few more surprises that will have people really excited.