This week's news is dominated by the launch of Mark Waid's Thrillbent digital comics site, but there has been plenty of other activity as well: Valiant signed an exclusive with comiXology, Panelfly is back, and 215 Ink has an interesting marketing strategy -- selling both an Android tablet and the comics to read on it for just $99.
Digital Comics: After weeks of buildup, chronicled on his process blog, Mark Waid rolled out his Thrillbent digital comics site this week. Waid laid out his mission statement on the welcome page: "THRILLBENT was created because John Rogers and I believe strongly that comics can and will be a thriving mass medium in the digital age if–IF–they're created for modern media devices and not exclusively for printed pamphlets that are overpriced, uninviting to new readers, and abominably distributed in only a relative handful of storefronts nationwide." The launch title, "Insufferable," is, like Waid's earlier "Irredeemable" and "Incorruptible," a superhero story with a twist; in this case, the sidekick is a jerk. The first chapter illustrated many of the principles Waid has been discussing on his process blog, MarkWaid.com, including a horizontal layout (to fit the computer monitor), panels and text boxes that appear one at a time as the reader clicks through the comic and a final panel that makes the reader sit up and wonder what is going to happen next.
Overall, reaction on Twitter and the blogs was good, although initially, the site's design neglected something pretty basic: Clear navigation arrows. Thrillbent uses small, semi-transparent arrows on the sides of the image, which many readers managed to miss. (The left and right arrow keys will also do the job.) A day after the launch, Waid posted some of his thoughts on how it had gone so far.
Waid also talked to Alex Zalben about his process in creating the site, his plans for the comics that will be added next -- he plans to feature a number of different types of comics besides superheroes -- and his relationship with the brick-and-mortar retail sector.
Meanwhile, Waid's partner on the site, John Rogers, discussed the disadvantages of print comics (the economics, which don't work all that well) and the advantages of digital from a creator's point of view: "Once you turn the page in a physical comic, that page vomits up everything on it. Even now, I'll be writing something and I'll realize, 'Nah, that's an odd-numbers page; it's going to be sitting right there on the opposite side. I have to change this reveal over to an even-numbered page or else it's not a reveal.' There are certain storytelling advantages to this experiment that we think are going to be cool and exciting."
Digital Comics: At the Good E-Reader blog, Michael Kozlowski reviews another Mark Waid comic, Marvel's "Avengers vs. X-Men: Infinity 1." This comic is an iPad app and it appears more polished than "Insufferable"; it also makes greater use of full-page panels in which a swipe or tap brings up new text or slightly altered images without an actual page turn. The review includes a video demo.
There was some non-Mark Waid news this week:
Digital Comics: Valiant Entertainment has put some serious marketing muscle into its relaunch of four classic Valiant Comics titles, retooled for 21st century readers, so it's big news that . The deal includes same-day release of Valiant's new series, "X-O Manowar," "Harbinger," "Bloodshot," and "Archer & Armstrong," as well as digital editions of three classic story arcs from the 1990s, with more on the way.
Digital Comics: Dark Horse Digital celebrated its first birthday last week, and I checked in with marketing director Jeremy Atkins to see how things have changed since that much-delayed launch. Dark Horse is now releasing all its comics simultaneously in digital and print formats, although some of the digital comics are priced higher than the print versions due to Apple's pricing policies. (The price drops after a month.) "We have yet to see any evidence that digital comics, for us, are cannibalizing any sales on the direct market," Atkins told me. "If anything, some of our numbers are going up, and if you add digital to that, it means more people are reading our books." Still, digital remains a small part of their business, less than 10% of their overall sales, with the top digital sellers being licensed properties such as "Mass Effect" and "Star Wars."
Publishing: Jim Zubkavich has also been playing with digital distribution. His "Skullkickers" is, as he puts it, "a moderately successful Image Comics series," but it's a very successful webcomic as well, with about 20 times as many people reading the online serialization as the print version. While this may seem like madness, Zubkavich has found that his sales through the usual channels are up and sales at conventions are way up, and most of those buyers aren't aware of or don't care about the Image editions. Zubkavich's conclusion: "The comic shop audience is not the web audience. Those two audiences don't seem to mix much at all. They're two distinctive audiences and they're both valid, especially when they're both growing. One group spends money every month on issues and some in trade, the other is larger with patrons who almost exclusively spend money on collections over a longer period. Putting content out to both doesn't cannibalize either audience."
Apps: Panelfly was one of the original comics apps for the iPhone, and it started out with a strong catalog of indy comics, but then they seemed to fade away. It returned last year in a different incarnation, and now it is relaunching as a multiplatform comics app that will eventually incorporate social media as well. Here's co-founder and chief marketing officer Don McGuire's description of the company's plans: "The first iteration of the new PF platform will be the best of the apps that are currently out there in terms of functionality. However, within a few short months following this launch, we intend to evolve the overall Panelfly experience and reveal our platform -- enabling the most engaging, immersive, and social charged interface combined with the deepest content exploration, aggregation, and editorialization available and the the most intelligent and robust storefronts accessible. All deployed across multiple devices and OS platforms. Our new platform launch will be complimented with announcements regarding an expanded and more ubiquitous distribution strategy." Anyone playing digital comics buzzword bingo will have a full card by the end of that quote, but their "Burn Notice" app is pretty slick, so it will be interesting to see where this is going to go.
Marketing: The small comics publisher 215 Ink will offer a startling deal at Baltimore Comic Con: For $99, customers will be able to purchase an Android 4.0 tablet loaded with all the company's digital comics (63 at current count).