Self-publishing may be big news among book publishers, but it's a long-standing tradition in the comics world, where many a career has launched through handmade comics put together with the help of a photocopier and a stapler. Now, French company Aquafadas is at the head of a new wave of software developers who are providing the tools for comics creators to self-publish digitally, hopefully reaching a bigger audience than the people who pass their card table in the Artists Alley.
Aquafadas offers a suite of tools, one for each step of the publishing process. Its AppFactory is desktop software that allows the user to create their own custom apps. "An app is an empty container," explained general manager Rainer Heckmann, "so after we create an app, there is nothing in there -- at least, that's how we do our apps. That makes sense because you can fill an app with many publications. It could be books, and then you have a bookstore. It could be a magazine newsstand or a comic book store."
The company also makes a set of plugins for Adobe InDesign that allows designers to create digital content at the same time they are generating layouts for print and the web. (Quark Express offers similar tools, called AppStudio, as part of their software; Heckmann said both sets are Aquafada's technology.)
Finally, ComicComposer is a desktop application that lets the user create a panel-by-panel view for their digital comic, which can be PDF, JPG or PNG files. "People want to read comic books on tablets and smart phones, the small phones, and that is the origin for ComicComposer," Heckmann told CBR. "You may want to see the whole page on your smart phone screen, but you cannot read the comic book like that. You want to break the comic book down into scenes, little snippets of the comic book page, but you also want to create a nice reader experience. What ComicComposer enables you to do is create nice transitions and zoom effects. You can select how big the image is shown on the smart phone screen, and zoom in on text balloons, so it creates a very nice reading experience."
What's more, Heckmann said, "ComicComposer allows you to create two versions; one where the user moves on manually by swiping or tapping the screen, and another version that is an auto-åplay version: The designer sets the scene and the speed for each shot, so you as the reader don’t have to swipe or tap the screen, you just sit back and it plays like a little movie for you."
Creators can use ComicComposer to create a digital comic with panel-by-panel view, then make it into an app with AppFactory. The software is free, but there is a fee to publish the finished product.
"It's not just this desktop application, ComicComposer, it's this whole digital publishing system," Heckmann said. "ComicComposer is complemented by the AppFactory, so you can create your apps with that and you can combine that with our other publishing tools. That's what makes it very interesting: We give you the opportunity to create a whole comic bookshelf in the form of an app."
Aquafadas also has its own web distribution platform, AveComics, which includes a web-based reader. The app store was in its infancy when Aquafadas launched, in 2007, Heckmann explained, and iPhones were more popular in the U.S. than in Europe, so a web reader was important for European customers.
Although the company has only had a U.S. presence for a few months, Aquafadas is well established in France and has partnerships with a number of publishers there. "When we started with AveComics, we did the print comic book conversion into digital comics for our clients," Heckmann said. "We developed those tools years ago, but we only used them internally. In 2010, Aquafadas made the decision to use those tools as ComicComposer. We launched it in the second half of last year, but the tools are older because they were used as production tools."
In the U.S., Aquafadas plans to market their tools to large and small publishers as well as individual creators.
"At this time, the [AppFactory] apps only work on iOS," Heckmann explained, "but we will support Android apps very soon, so then you can go to the Kindle Fire and after that the Nook Color [both of which run on Android operating systems]. We do not support the normal Kindle -- first of all, it's a different format, and also, the e-ink screens are black and white." AveComics allows the user to publish to the web and Android and iOS apps, and in the longer term, Aquafadas has plans for Apple's newly-released iBooks Author.
Heckmann, who works from the company's New York office, said he has just begun talking to U.S. publishers about the product. "I attended Macworld, and we had a couple of discussions with comic book publishers," he said. "What I found out is they like ComicComposer, they find it a very easy to use tool, but I did not have any in depth conversations. We are just starting to build that business." The company recently held a launch party, and Heckmann said that reps from McGraw-Hill, Time Inc., Conde Nast, and Simon & Schuster attended.
What ultiamtely sets Aquafadas apart from the bigger digital publishers, according to Heckmann, is the variety of types of work it supports. "Look at the big guys, like Adobe. They do magazines and newspapers, but when it comes to specific things like children's books or comic books, they have nothing. When we enter into discussions with publishers who really do have a broad range of publications, they are interested because they can get it all from the same platform. That is a big strength of ours, that we provide a wide range of tools for different publications."