Marvel easily stole the digital thunder this week with their announcement of the digital-only Marvel Infinite Comics line and their Marvel AR augmented-reality app at SXSW. DC saw not one but two issues of their relaunched "Justice League" make the digital top ten, alongside their digital-first "Justice League Beyond." And Digital Manga had a bad week -- their account has been suspended from the Kindle Store, apparently because the yaoi manga they publish is too hot for the Kindle, although the store continues to carry plenty of steamy content from other publishers.
Innovations: Marvel promised a big announcement at this year's SXSW conference, and the publisher came across with two: A new line of direct-to-digital comics and a "augmented reality" app that provides electronic extras to readers of print comics. Both will tie in to the upcoming "Avengers vs. X-Men" event. The direct-to-digital line, Infinite Comics, will be available via Marvel's comiXology app and will launch with a story by Mark Waid and Stuart Immonen. "This is comics storytelling like you've never seen before -- not print comics, but also not animation," said Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso. "Familiar comic conventions -- like word balloons, caption and panel borders -- still exist, and the reader still controls the pacing of the reading experience, just like he would if he were turning a page. But this new canvas allows for a sense of motion not available to the printed page." Marvel AR, the augmented reality app, on the other hand, is directly targeted toward print comic readers who obtain the app from the cover of a comic (starting with "Avengers vx. X-Men #1") and get additional story content by aiming their mobile device at certain images in the comic.
Rob Salkowitz of Fast Company had one of the most interesting critiques of Marvel's new digital initiative. He praised the company for taking the lead in digital innovation back from DC and for launching it at SXSW rather than a comics convention, saying, "By lobbing this grenade from SXSW, it made a bid for attention in hipster and high-tech circles, the traditional market segments that border the comics niche and represent its most natural sources of new readers." And both Marvel AR and Marvel Infinite Comics are firmly anchored to tablets, which are emerging as a critical new medium. On the other hand, he writes, "For ordinary comics readers, however, Marvel's innovations may seem like solutions in search of a problem." The idea of the "infinite canvas" and the innovations made possible by digital comics technology have been around for over a decade now, Salkowitz points out, and no one seems to be clamoring for them, and many readers will regard AR as nothing more than a gimmick. "At the end of the day, the success of its digital strategy, whether it's a 'ReEvolution' or anything else, won't depend on bells and whistles," he concludes. "It will come down to the ability to get its core products into the hands of fans simply, easily, and cost-effectively."
Digital Sales: Meanwhile, DC Comics -- the other half of the Big Two -- launched two digital-first comics in February: "Justice League Beyond" and "Batman Beyond." Both are being serialized on DC's branded comiXology app and then released in print. In its first month of sales, "Justice League Beyond #1" made DC's list of February's top ten digital comics, placing eighth in terms of sales. Since DC releases rankings only, not absolute numbers, it's hard to say what this means, but unlike the Marvel Infinite comics, the "Beyond" titles will eventually be released in print. In terms of the New 52, it was interesting that "Justice League #6," which was released on the last day of the month, was number 4 on the chart, and "Justice League #5" was number 7. "There is a significant percentage of digital sales -- which are themselves an insignificant percentage -- that show a burst in Wednesday [sales] and then a tail of sorts," said DC's John Rood. "The testimony of that is seen in two titles of the same book showing up in the top ten in one month."
Digital Comics: All you old-timers who are calling for a return to newsprint, take note: Augie DeBlieck, Jr. compares the print and the digital versions of DC's Vertigo comics and opts for the latter, chiefly because Vertigo's dead-tree comics are printed on "the comics equivalent of toilet paper," which causes the colors to dissolve into mud. He shows some side-by-side comparisons of digital and print pages to make his point.
Storytelling: In a critical piece that includes spoilers for Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's "Batman #5," Sequart's Logan Ludwig discusses how sometimes the print medium allows for more innovation in storytelling than digital; in this case, the story device used by Snyder and Capullo is more effective in print than in digital. And then he zeroes in on the real problem: "As it stands, one of the major problems I see with digital comics is that they aren't adding anything to the medium of comics as of yet, they are only limiting storytelling possibilities. There are certainly more than a few ways that the digital realm could open up comic book storytelling, but for now the fact that comics are still being written primarily for the physical medium is hamstringing that capability. " It's interesting that he wrote this just a few days before the Marvel Infinite announcement, which may be a step toward what he envisions.
Digital Comics: Ape Entertainment CEO David Hedgecock talked to Good E-Readers' Mercy Pilkington about his company's Pocket God digital comic, which is available on iOS only at the moment. "There have been over 600,000 units of paid downloads, which makes it probably the most popular comic book for single issue sales on iTunes," he said. The upcoming issue winds up the latest story arc, after which Ape will launch a redesign of the app to coincide with the next story arc. And an Android version is in the works for next summer.
Censorship: For the past year or so, Digital Manga has been aggressively publishing yaoi manga in digital form on a variety of platforms: Kindle, Nook, iOS, and its own eManga website. The options shrank briefly this week when Digital announced that its account was suspended from the Kindle platform. "Our account was suspended under troubling circumstances - we have had titles cited for 'content violation', and while we screen every title to ensure they adhere to Kindle's standards, their guidelines are notoriously vague, and prohibit 'Pornography and hard-core material that depicts graphic sexual acts,'" said an unsigned entry on the company's official blog. Digital publishes a range of yaoi manga, some rated for teens and some rated 18+, so the fact that Amazon would suspend them altogether is a bit of a surprise. Also, it's not like there isn't plenty of other erotica, gay and straight, visual and text-only, available for the Kindle. "We also find it disheartening that our titles depicting male homosexual romance have been banned while erotica depicting other forms of intercourse flourishes," the article states, although it is worth noting that yaoi manga from Animate USA and Yaoi Press remain available in the Kindle Store. Earlier today, however, Digital announced that its account had been restored, albeit with a stiff warning: " Please be advised that all of your submissions must comply with our Content Guidelines for publishing in the Kindle Store and that your future submissions may be subject to additional review prior to being published. This may result in a delay in publishing. If any future submissions fail to comply with our Content Guidelines, your account may be terminated."
Freebies: Going to WonderCon? ComiXology will give away a free digital copy of vol. 1 of The Walking Dead to the first 5,000 people who stop by their booth.