COMICS AND THE iPAD
As someone who's followed the tech industry as much as the comics industry in recent years, reading some of the comics world reportage of the iPad has driven me to drink (more Diet Pepsi.) There are obvious holes in the coverage, so let me plug a couple right now.
Apple (iPad maker) and Adobe (Flash maker) don't get along too well these days. Yes, Adobe Photoshop and its Creative Suite of programs are must-have programs on the Mac platform for a lot of creative professionals, but there's still an antagonism between the two companies. Apple offers a competing product or two to Adobe's line-up, so the two are never going to be completely buddy-buddy.
But it's this Flash thing that has most people hand-wringing and declaring death on the platform. Get over it, folks, because it isn't going to get better any time soon. John Gruber, noted Apple pundit, wrote a detailed and informative post on his Daring Fireball blog a couple of weeks ago to help explain it all. (His follow-up post is even more enlightening.) From a technical point of view, Flash on the Mac is antiquated. It is buggy as hell. It's a crappy plug-in to Safari. It's not an open standard.
It crashed my browsers twice while I was trying to get the latest information on the iPad announcement last week. That's why I laughed when people complained about the lack of Flash on the iPad. Do they know what they'd be in for?
Also, there's no Flash on the iPhone, and it's sold something like 75 million units in the last three years. Hasn't held it back at all.
On top of that, Flash is still stuck in 32-bit land, while Apple is moving everything 64-bit. That becomes a problem, and it's a bottleneck Apple has no control over. Apple has control over everything else on the platform. They made their own processor chip, for goodness sake. They made the device. They created the operating system, the interface guidelines, and the code that runs it all. Apple doesn't control Flash, and so doesn't want to rely on it.
The future is open standards, hopefully including H.264 and HTML5.
If you need Flash that badly, go ahead and buy one of those crappy little netbooks and wait for their fans to speed up to max as soon as you start your next Farmville game.
The other big thing you need to think about is getting comics onto the iPad. People are already excited to publish their books digitally through this system. It's early days for the iBookstore, so we don't know how it's going to pan out. (In point of fact, nobody has seen any more of that than what we all saw in Steve Jobs' demo. During the demo time the press had afterwards, the iBookstore was not available.) But right now, let me temper some of your enthusiasm. First, as Ron Richards points out on iFanboy, Steve Jobs never mentioned or showed a comic book on the iPad during the hour and a half presentation. There was no Longbox presence on stage, and it's not built into the iPad software. (People seriously believed that rumor? It was practically reported as fact on some blogs. I still don't get it.)
Second, look at iTunes. You cannot, as an independent musician, record a song or an album and sell it on iTunes. You still need to go through an established publisher. There are one or two such publishers who will basically take any and all independent artists to sell their albums on iTunes, but it's still not a democratized process. You, as an independent web cartoonist, may not going to be able to publish your strip collection on the iBookstore instantly. I doubt Apple is going to want to clog up their new bookstore by turning it into Lulu or Blurb. Even with the App Store, they control which programs become available, and filter out the pornographic, the senseless, and the buggy.
It looks to me like your best bet to get your comics on the iPad is through the App Store, perhaps through a pre-existing bookstore service like Comixology. When I reviewed Comixology last year, I said its biggest problem was in the way you had to view comics one panel at a time. That doesn't work for me, nor does it make any sense from the higher level of the unique reading experience that comics provide. (Space = Time, etc.) But with a Comixology app that displays a full readable page at a time? I'm sold.
This doesn't eliminate all the barriers we've always wanted gone. The concept of an "iTunes for Comics" still relies on one central distributor for comics. One platform, one reseller. Right now, there's a whole series of apps you need to download to pick up digital comics on your iPod Touch or iPhone. Unless Diamond gets listed as a "Publisher" in the iBookstore, we're still stuck with owning multiple apps with slightly different controls to read the same type of content. I don't see Marvel and DC coming together these days to pay a third party to create The Ultimate Comic Book App, through which they'd both sell their comics. Besides, could you smell the lawsuits on unfair trade practices on that one?
An "iTunes for Comics" is likely a pipe dream. The reality might just be that we need a series of apps on our mobile devices to handle all the comics we want to download. In a way, that's not a bad thing. Competition would drive them to make better comic readers, after all.
Or, Marvel and DC could become publishers on the iBookstore and you'd get your "iTunes for Comics" overnight, if only from The Big Two. But, really, where those two go, everyone else will follow, if Apple will bother with them.
The last barrier is strictly a time one. How long will it be before digital is day and date with print release? It hasn't happened in the movie industry with DVDs, as many thought might someday happen. (Though Soderbergh experimented with that, once.) But, then, Hollywood doesn't have nearly the problems that print publishing has. They can still afford to do business the old way, to a certain degree. The Direct Market is still the bread and butter of these publishing houses, and they're still willing to protect that. Until someone has success outside the DM to the degree that there is inside the DM, don't expect that to change. The question is, who's going to stick their neck out first to give it a try.
The other question, of course, is "Is the iPad the new iPhone? Or the next Segway?" If people don't want to pay another $500 for a device in their homes, then it's all for naught. If magazine and newspaper and book sales are dimming because people just don't want them, not because their form factor and timeliness is doubted, then the iPad's mission is cut out at the knees.
The first device isn't out yet. It will sell millions in its first couple of years, so it shouldn't be underestimated. And as we get closer to that, we'll see how the public reacts to the iPad and, perhaps even more importantly, how the developers do. It's the developers who will drive the software solutions that will bring people to the iPad. And they'll be well-rewarded for it, as they are on the iPhone now. It's a nice eco-system.
It's going to be an interesting couple of years, that's for sure.
WIZARD: CRAZY LIKE A FOX?
Yes, it does seem ludicrous for Gareb Shamus to schedule a three day comic book convention on this side of the Hudson just a week after the New York Comic Con and the Big Apple Comic Con happen across the way the week before.
Or does it?
Wizard isn't in the business of putting on comic book shows anymore. There's no worry about exhausting a finite group of comic book creators by putting on two shows on consecutive weekends. No, the name of the game now is putting an inexhaustible list of nostalgic fan favorite D-list Hollywood stars on parade in a series of conventions that form a whole new circuit. And, hey, while you have them in town for New York, why not keep them over for a week for Edison, NJ? I'm sure they could hit some auditions in the city while they're in town, or maybe catch a show or two. It's only four days of down time compared to six days of convention time over the span of 10 days.
And since many comic book creators live within a short driving distance of Edison, I'm sure they'll pick up the bare minimum of guests they need to claim a comic presence at the show.
I'm torn. I loathe Wizard and don't want to give them a dollar of my money. On the other hand, I'm not doing a single other convention this year, and I can't go to the conventions the week before because it's my daughter's birthday. Maybe, for the sake of journalism, I should go to Edison? Just for a day? Strictly for reportage value, of course. I do have some "Silver Surfer" back issues I need to dig up, too...
ONLY TOOK FIVE YEARS
Quoting from Pipeline #471, on June 7, 2005:
Word came down this week that Image's FLIGHT anthology is moving to a mainstream book publisher. I'd be shocked if one of those book publishers doesn't make TenNapel an offer on his growing library of books and his future stories. These things are primed for a broader audience than perhaps a comics company can offer.
Today, over on Amazon, there's a listing for the next TenNapel graphic novel:
"Ghostopolis:" Imagine Garth Hale's surprise when he's accidentally zapped to the spirit world by Frank Gallows, a washed-out ghost wrangler. Suddenly Garth finds he has powers the ghosts don't have, and he's stuck in a world run by the evil ruler of Ghostopolis, who would use Garth's newfound abilities to rule the ghostly kingdom. When Garth meets Cecil, his grandfather's ghost, the two search for a way to get Garth back home, and nearly lose hope until Frank Gallows shows up to fix his mistake.
The publisher is GRAPHIX, an imprint of Scholastic. The book is due out in July.
It was only a matter of time. . .