Digital Comic Resources: Pages, Panels & Paradigm Shifts

In this week's DIGITAL COMIC RESOURCES, two new digital comic series go with a biweekly format, while another publisher unveils an innovative digital/print bundle. And Geoff Johns and a comic reader give their very different takes on how digital formats affect the fundamental units of comics -- the panel and the page.

Digital Comics: DC Comics chief creative officer Geoff Johns talked to "Variety" about how digital media are changing the way comics are designed. Many readers of digital comics use panel-by-panel views, so page turns become less important and the panels themselves become more so. "Every panel becomes a page, which I find really fascinating," Johns says. "It's weird to go back and look at some of the old comics now... If you read something in this fashion you will notice stuff that you skipped over so quickly because your eye takes in the whole page instead of the panel individually. I think that's probably one of the biggest advantages of digital."

Digital Comics: At PopMatters, Shaun Huston looks at the page/panel duality from the reader's point of view, and he is less excited about digital media than Johns is: "One reason why I only casually use the comics-reading capabilities of my iPhone is that on a device of that size, it's difficult to read most comics in the way that they are meant to be read. This isn't simply a matter of principle or some atavistic analog impulse, but stems from the fact that panels are given a particular context by the page. Sometimes I feel lost when looking at individual panels, or smaller elements of a larger panel, and need to step back and see the full page to understand the narrative." Digital comics don't allow for non-standard page sizes, nor do they allow the reader to see the entire sequence of panels at once, he says. And, because of the choices made by the adapters who reformat comics into panel-by-panel view, text becomes more important than images.

Apps: DC Comics and LEGO have teamed up to create The LEGO Hero Factory, a LEGO game app that also includes DC's kid-friendly comics such as "Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade," "Tiny Titans," "Billy Batson," and "Batman Adventures." The app is built on the comiXology platform and syncs with the other apps, and it offers a selection of free comics with the others priced at a kid-friendly 99 cents. The app is rated 9+.

Apps: Dark Horse and game creators Radical Entertainment are partners in a new digital comic set in the universe of the game "Prototype" and designed to bridge the story gap between the original game and the new version, "Prototype 2," which is due out in April. Comics will be released every two weeks at Dark Horse's digital site.

Digital Comics: IDW Publishing is releasing a digital-only Transformers comic, "Transformers: Autocracy," that toys a bit with the standard format: The comic will be released every two weeks in 8-page chapters, priced at 99 cents each. That's an interesting twist -- getting a small bit of story every two weeks may cause readers to get more engaged in the comic, and they also may find it easier to spend 99 cents three times than $2.99 once.

Criticism: Salon's Andrew Leonard goes all Luddite and complains about Viz's plans to convert his son's beloved "Shonen Jump" to a digital magazine. It's a bit hard to see what his point is, actually; while his son clearly enjoyed the print magazines, and saved all the back issues, Leonard doesn't deny that he may enjoy the digital version just as much, if in a different way.

E-books: A recent study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center finds that children given a choice between print books and e-books preferred the latter -- and, just as important from educators' point of view, the reading comprehension was the same for both formats. While this study was not specifically about graphic novels, it does bring to mind teacher Eric Federspiel's observation from a few years ago that his students find it easier to read "Bone" in panel-by-panel view than in print form, where they found the layouts confusing.

Awards: DailyINK/a>, the mobile app for King Features Syndicate, was voted the People's Champ in the Funny category of the 2011 Pixel Awards. The app allows users to read one comic per day for free and to read a much larger selection for a fee of $1.99 per month or $19.99 per year. While that seems steep, users must like it: The app was chosen over JibJab Media Inc, Threaded, Snowball of Duty: White Opps, and SoBe Staring Contest.

Digital Comics: Multimedia company Halo-8 announced a digital/print bundle this week that takes digital comics to their logical conclusion: As a replacement for single issues but not for the trade. The comic is "Godkiller: Tomorrow's Ashes" written by Matt Pizzolo and illustrated by Anna Muckcracker Wieszczyk, and the first volume, "The Scars That Bind," will be released first as three digital issues, then as a 96-page trade. Readers can purchase just the digital issues for $6.66, just the print edition for $16.66, or the print/digital bundle for $19.99. Note that the digital price is just over $2 for a 32-page issue, which is not a bad deal for a new release. Also, these comics are not tied to a specific app but will be released as DRM-free downloads in PDF or CBR format, something that serious digital readers have been clamoring for. On the other hand, there doesn't seem to be an option for a single-issue purchase, so readers will get the whole bundle whether they like it or not. That's actually a rather creative option from the publishing side, as there is frequently a dropoff in sales after the first issue of a comic; this particular marketing plan eliminates that problem. Halo-8 had previously released "Godkiller" comics via Graphicly, so it's interesting that they have made this switch.

Freebies: To celebrate his birthday, R Stevens has released a PDF version of the first collected volume of his webcomic Diesel Sweeties for free. (Actually, from clicking around on his store page, it appears that all the digital collected editions are free; I downloaded two by accident while looking for prices.) While it's true that all of Diesel Sweeties is available online for free, a downloadable collected version is more convenient for many users, and in fact there are people who pay $8 for the print editions as well.

Freebies: Just in case there is a manga reader out there who hasn't downloaded the Viz iOS app onto their iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch, Viz is giving a free volume of manga to new customers who download the app for the first time and create a new account in the Viz store. The offer is good through January 30.

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