NBM, Shadowline and their all-ages imprint Silverline, Dabel Brothers, and Archaia will join Top Cow and BOOM! Studios on the Longbox digital comics platform when it launches later this year, said Longbox founder Rantz Hoseley at Comic-Con International on Thursday.
He added that the site would also include creator-owned works by Richard Starkings, Jonathan Hickman, Ivan Brandon, Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen. He also said it's "highly likely" they'll launch with more than seven publishers. No firm date has been set, but Hoseley said it should launch sometime in the fall.
Longbox is a secure digital comics platform that will allow users to download comics from a variety of publishers. Developed by Quicksilver Software, Longbox is device independent - it will launch first on PC and Macintosh, with plans to make it available on gaming systems, handheld devices and other devices within the next two years.
Joining Hoseley, Gillen and McKelvie on the panel were David Turner, COO of Longbox, and Jeff Katz of American Original.
Hoseley shared the origin story of Longbox, a story that started three years ago.
"Basically, three years ago I started this crazy idea that digital comics were the future, that they were not the only future and that they did not have to be what everyone presumed," he said.
He noted they couldn't get publishers interested at the time, for several reasons, including piracy and quality concerns. "We spent the first two years almost working through the business model, and the plan, and the design, really addressing what we'd have to do in order to be successful from a user standpoint, in order to be successful from the publisher's standpoint, and in order to be successful as an ongoing sustainable enterprise."
Hoseley said there hasn't been a comprehensive approach to digital comics prior to Longbox, and one of their goals is to make content available on multiple platforms - so if a fan buys a comic once, he or she can read it on whatever device they want or even on multiple devices for no additional cost.
After developing the software, which took about nine months, they had marathon meeting sessions with 52 comics companies around the time of the New York Comic Con. "I never, ever, ever want to do that again," he joked.
Hoseley originally expected more hesitation from publishers, "especially after the reactions that we'd gotten three years ago, but almost unanimously across the board publishers were very receptive to the idea and were very excited about the application."
They continued to develop the application, and had their first public unveiling at HeroesCon earlier this summer.
Hoseley, a creator himself, said one of his big motivations for pursuing the project was seeing creators "have to have side jobs or take freelance work or work at 7-Eleven at idiotic hours in order to just pay the bills so they can work in comics."
He noted that many of these creators were multiple award nominees and winners. "Everyone knows about this content, but it's not really available if it goes outside of a certain purview in terms of content and styles now," he said. "Part of that is the way the direct market is set up and part of that is just that no matter how much you sit there and talk about, as an industry, 'how can we bring people into comic shops?' there is a large percentage of humanity you are never going to get into a comic shop. But that doesn't mean they don't like comics."
The question, then, is how to get comics in front of them. He said bookstore customers tend to go into bookstores "with a mission," as they typically go into a store to buy something specific, not to browse.
"We wanted to really remove those barriers so that a) creators can actually make a living at this, and b) you can actually reach your target audience," he said.
Hoseley also gave an enthusiastic room full of fans a demonstration of the application, which will be free to download and will come with eight free comics that change every month. "If you're a registered user, you get eight free comics every month," he said.
He highlighted some of the features, which include:
- .cbr and .cbz file support.
- A ratings system and subaccounts users can create for their kids; the subaccounts keep material marked "mature" from appearing when kids browse the site.
- Support for audio, video and hyperlinks to other books in the store that could be embedded into the comic.
- The ability to search based on a variety of characteristics, like publisher or creator.
- The ability to browse through thumbnails of pages for a particular comic, with an added 'spoiler" feature that blacks out pages that haven't been clicked on yet.
- A reader with single and double-page mode, as well as left-to-right and a right-to-left mode that can be toggled for manga. It also has a bookmark function.
- A "braindead simple" production process for publishers, so it's easy to transform their files into digital comics. He said the output process takes about two minutes, and adding audio or video would add an extra five.
In a future release, they hope to add social media functions that will allow users to see what other people are reading.
Hoseley ended the panel by announcing there would be a beta, and gave out codes for accessing it. For more information visit: http://www.longboxdigital.com/