“Say hello to comics on your iPhone” is the message atop iVerse Comics’ website, and it’s a statement that will surely ring true for users of the company’s new iVerse Comics Reader. Developed by Michael Murphey, iVerse has adapted existing stories to a clean and intuitive format that makes reading comics on Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch devices almost as natural as turning a page. CBR News spoke with Murphey about the iVerse Comics Reader to find out more about the technology and what titles comics fans can expect to find right now in the iTunes App Store.
“I've been obsessed with the idea of digital comics since I read ‘Reinventing Comics’ when it was first published in 2000 or so,” Michael Murphey told CBR. “I'm a big fan of Scott McCloud's work, and I loved the idea of the infinite canvas and micro-payments. I've also watched the web comics movement grow to this fantastic industry, but comics on portable devices has never really been the success that I think it could be here in the U.S. “
iVerse is looking into developing for other platforms including Windows Mobile and Google’s Android, but for now the company is focusing on Apple’s extremely popular devices. “People want an enjoyable reading experience that they can hold in their hands, and that is as portable as an actual print comic — and I don't think that's really been a viable option until the iPhone,” Murphey said.
Like most products people associate with the Apple brand, the iVerse process is remarkable in its simplicity. Users flick the image from left to right to go forward or backwards in the story. “I think it has to be for the comic to be enjoyable. If it's any more complicated than turning the page of a print book I don't think you'll ever get the majority of readers on board with it,” Murphey remarked. “There is a little more to the application. You can pick how the application transitions from one image to another, and a few other minor things, but you don't have to do any of that if you don't want to.”
Existing artwork is reframed to fit the widescreen dimensions of the iPhone and iPod Touch. “Since comic book pages are created for print, the files for the books are saved in a very high resolution. Usually 300 DPI or so,” Murphey explained. “Since the iPhone screen is a much lower resolution that, we have really large, high quality images that we can scale down onto this screen. All we have to do is frame the panels in a way that is best for the iPhone. What you get is sometimes one panel per screen — other times as many as three — but with proper framing many times it looks like the work was created specifically for the device.
“It will be handled on a case by case basis, and every artist’s work is different, but we've found it very easy thus far to take traditional pages and create an enjoyable reading experience on the iPhone.”
iVerse launches with several titles from a variety of publishers, including “Proof,” the popular Image Comics series by Alexander Grecian and Riley Rossmo, which will be adapted for the iPhone on an ongoing basis. Other titles available now include "ShadowHawk" from Jim Valentino, "Flash Gordon" from Arrden Enterainment, "Wrath of the Titans" from Bluewater Productions, and "Oz: The Manga" from Antarctic Press, with more products likely available at press time.
Additional partners with forthcoming announcements include Ape Entertainment, IDW Publishing, Kid Kong Comics, Moonstone Books, Mark Andrew Smith, Frazetta Comics, Smashout Comics and Viper Comics.
“There are a few other partners that we're still working out contracts with that we'll be able to announce soon — but I'm very proud and honored to be bringing these titles to the iPhone and iPod Touch,” Murphey said. “I think we're going to have some very compelling content for people.”
Murphey says the only real limitation to the iVerse format is size. Anything over ten megabytes cannot be downloaded from the iTunes App Store, where titles will be available on an a la carte basis. Prices will vary, but most titles will be available for 99 cents.
Due to the size issue, iVerse comics will be listed as their own applications and in a “single-issue” format, as opposed to a trade paperback-sized story. “So far it hasn't been a problem,” Murphey said. “A traditional 22-page comic comes in at around 100 panels, and once compressed into an application will clock in at around seven megabytes.” Graphic novel-sized stories may be serialized in the iVerse format.
With every iVerse comic existing as its own application, readers familiar with the iPhone and iTunes App Store may be wondering what happens when their iPhone’s home screen is filled up with iVerse apps. For them, Murphey has an answer. “One thing that's great about the iTunes App Store is that once you've purchased an application you've purchased it for life. So you have several options for that,” he said. “If you want, you can just delete comics off of your home screen when you've finished reading them, or when you're running out of space. Anytime you want to read them again, they're just a download away.
“We'd recommend that you back all your applications up in iTunes on your desktop, though, because if an application is no longer available in the iTunes Store, you won't be able to download it again. “So currently you can back them up in iTunes and sync the ones you want (think of iTunes as your virtual long box) and you can also re-download applications as many times as you want as long as they're available for sale.”
In addition to being a conduit through which existing creators can bring their work to iPhone and iPod Touch users, iVerse is becoming a new publisher in its own right. Not only does iVerse plan to spend “a significant portion” of its income on advertising its digital comics both off and online, the company has an open call for submissions of new work. “Everything that comes out of iVerse is 100% creator owned, and we have no connection to the rights of creator's properties,” Murphey was quick to point out. “We make deals with creators and studios on a case by case basis, and take a small percentage of sales of the Apps. Creators and Studios make more money off of their comics than either iVerse or Apple.”
“When I first put all of this together I was thinking of iVerse as a digital publisher — and in a sense, you could call it that — but I think we're something slightly different," Murphey said. "In some respects we act like a publisher, in the sense that we won't publish just anything that comes into our inbox. In another way, we're like a digital distributor, and even like a digital printer in the sense that creators send us files that we turn into applications in much the same way a printer would print an actual comic books.
“Our partners are mostly traditional publishers experimenting in a new market. With the titles that we bring on that aren't from those publishers, we only provide a digital solution. So if you want to see your book in print you would still need to work with one of them, or self publish your work.”
As for what sort of comics iVerse is looking for, Murphey said, “We love comics. From Jack Kirby to Jame Kochalka if it's comics — we're interested in it.”