Usually, things start slowing down before the holidays, as folks wrap up and head home to spend time with family and friends This week, however, has been as busy as ever in the world of digital comics, with two big upgrades, new products and platforms and lots of holiday sales.
Digital Comics: ComiXology launched a beta version of its digital store using HTML5, although the original Flash-based storefront is still live, at least for now. The upgraded version not only functions better, it has a sleeker, less crowded design than the old store. The reader is still Flash, however. ComiXology is kicking off the new store with big sales on selected Marvel, DC and indy books that will last through December 29.
Digital Comics: Meanwhile, competitor iVerse has launched a major upgrade to its Comics + app. The new Comics + 4.0 features a redesigned storefront and bookshelf, improved searching and more ways to organize purchased comics. It's also added a "Keep reading" pop-up -- when you finish a comic, the app automatically guides you to the next issue. The upgraded app is pretty peppy, with the covers of featured comics popping up on the screen and fast loading of previews and comics.
Digital Comics: Are comics subscriptions the way of the future? Graphicly has been offering a few via the iOS5 Newsstand app, and this week they added two more titles -- Top Cow's "The Darkness" and Robert Kirkman and Jason Howard's all-ages "Super Dinosaur."
Free comics: Digital Manga is releasing vol. 6 of "Vampire Hunter D" in print on December 28, so from December 24 to January 8 they are offering the first five volumes on their eManga site for free. This is a staggeringly good deal, as the manga is $12.95 per volume in print. It's also a beautifully drawn story that has a lot of crossover appeal for non-manga readers who just like a good supernatural yarn. eManga is a streaming site, so you have to have an internet connection to read the books and you don't get to keep them, but still -- free is free!
Bargains: Here's one for Buffy fans: Dark Horse Digital is pricing their "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" comics at 99 cents through December 25.
Platforms: Viz Media, which launched its iOS app about a year ago and has been aggressively expanding ever since, announced this week that it is making its manga available on Barnes & Noble's Nook Color and Nook Tablet e-readers. The prices are comparable, and the selection starts out at 100 volumes but will expand to over 500. Viz actually lent me a Nook so I could try this for myself, and I have to say that it works pretty well as a manga platform. The screen size is only slightly smaller than printed manga, and the resolution is decent. Navigation is intuitive and the Nook can handle the right-to-left orientation of most manga. The iPad is a more luxurious manga reading experience -- its screen size is larger than most printed manga, and the resolution is better -- but if you'd rather spend money on comics than hardware, the Nook looks like a good alternative.
Publishing: At Comics Worth Reading, Johanna Draper Carlson names Viz the Digital Pubisher of the Year, noting that their books are available on multiple platforms, sometimes ahead of print, and at a lower price to boot. Viz has been aggressive about expanding their digital list, and they have frequent sales (currently, they are offering 20% off every volume in their digital store through January 8). Next month, they will launch the digital version of their "Shonen Jump" magazine, which will make new chapters of six of their most popular series available within two weeks of their Japanese publication, and later next year, their SuBLime boys-love imprint will begin publishing yaoi manga, with some titles digital-only.
Platforms: The Canadian indy comics publisher Drawn and Quarterly has released its first two digital graphic novels as e-books for the Kobo Vox, one of the lower-profile e-readers. Both books, "Paying for It" and "Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography," are by Chester Brown, and both have appeared in print before. While going with a lesser-known e-reader like Kobo may seem like a risky choice, the deal is nonexclusive, and D+Q associate publisher Peggy Burns says more titles on more platforms will be on the way in the next year. One aspect of the D+Q announcement that has attracted some buzz is that the proceeds will be split 50-50 between the creators and the publisher; as Tom Spurgeon notes, Michael Chabon recently got that deal with some of his prose books, but the standard e-book royalty seems to be 25%.
Digital Comics: John Gallaher has been self-publishing his all-ages comic Buzzboy for over ten years, and he just produced a handsome graphic novel, "Buzzboy: Sidekicks Rule." Gallaher has an interesting approach: He is releasing the story as a free webcomic, via Keenspot, and in single issues (at $2.99 each) on the iPad as part of the Comics Jukebox kids-comics app.
Apps: Ape Entertainment, which has made a killing (heh) on the children's comic app "Pocket God," launched two new comics apps this week. Its "Richie Rich" app features both classic Richie Rich comics, priced at 99 cents each, and Ape's new, more action-oriented "Rich Rescue" comics for $1.99 each. Oddly, the "Richie Rich Classics" comics are mostly in black and white, although I remember reading the originals in full color. The other comics app is "Cut the Rope," which is based on the game of the same name and pairs up a 13-year-old boy with the star of the game, the candy-loving monster Om Nom. Ape CEO David Hedgecock told Marcy Pilkington of Good E-Reader that he approached the comic the same way he did "Pocket God": By playing the game with his five-year-old nephew and watching what he liked.
Digital Comics: Stan Lee is developing an Indian superhero, aimed at an Indian audience, for Liquid Comics, the latest incarnation of what started as Virgin Comics. Here's the elevator pitch: "Chakra tells the story of the young Indian teenager, Raju Rai, a technological genius living in Mumbai. Determined to use science to unlock the secrets of human potential, Raju develops a technically-enhanced suit that activates the mystical Chakras of the body, unleashing newfound abilities and powers." Lee is working with a team of (unnamed) local artists and writers on the comic; the first issue will be available via Liquid's Graphic India website in April 2012.