Digital Comic Resources: "Strangers in Paradise" and Digital "Pearls"

This week, Viz launched two digital manga initiatives that give readers what they want: Shonen Jump Alpha aims to beat the bootleggers with fast access to current chapters of new manga, while the SuBLime yaoi manga line offers downloadable, DRM-free comics at a reasonable price. Meanwhile, a reviewer on the road decides to go digital for the week's Big Two purchases and is disappointed to find high prices and missing titles, Terry Moore takes his catalog digital starting with "Strangers in Paradise" and in Vietnam, as all over the world, crafty teenagers manage to find bootleg copies of censored comics for their digital devices.

Creators: Terry Moore announced last week that he will begin releasing his comics via comiXology soon, starting with "Strangers in Paradise" and possibly moving on to his new series, "Rachel Rising." Moore cited comments from readers who were unable to find his books in comics stores, quoting one reader who was unable to buy "Rachel Rising" because his local shop only ordered two copies, both for pull lists.

Digital Comics: Traveling in Southeast Asia on a Wednesday, Adi Tantimedh decides to avoid the hassle of buying print comics and tries out several comics apps to get his weekly fix. The verdict: The apps work fine, but a lot of comics are missing, and the Marvel app is poorly organized. The clear winner in this review is Viz, which offers a 120-page issue of "Shonen Jump Alpha" for 55 cents, as compared to 22 to 24 pages of a Marvel/DC comic for $2.99 to $3.99. "So what have I learned in my dive into the deep end of digital comics-buying? That the approach of the US comics apps reflect the fears, prejudices and cluelessness of the US comics industry in general, the hesitation in offering some of the best comics for sale, the resistance to just letting the new books out as soon as the old books, there's no single storefront to buy all the books I want, which is a hassle. The approach of the manga publishers are still light-years ahead of the US comics model."

Apps: Alan Gardner of The Daily Cartoonist reviews "Only the Pearls," an iPad app by Stephan Pastis, creator of the newspaper strip "Pearls Before Swine." The app includes 250 "Pearls Before Swine" strips and 22 videos of Pastis, and it is priced at $3.99 -- relatively expensive for an iPad app but, as Gardner points out, much cheaper than a print collection. The app takes greater advantage of the interactivity of the iPad than most comics apps, but the video component requires Pastis to move into the role of performer, something that may be beyond the comfort zone of many creators. Still, as Stacy Curtis remarked in comments, "I think Stephan just killed the printed strip collection market."

Apps: Readers from the 148Apps Network chose "Pocket God," a comic based on the game of the same name, as the best iOS comic app of 2011.

Manga: Viz Media launched the digital version of its "Shonen Jump" magazine this week and radically changed the way they do business, switching from a printed monthly magazine to a digital weekly. The new Shonen Jump Alpha only carries six series, but they include Viz's top sellers: "Naruto," "Bleach," "One Piece," "Bakuman," "Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan," and "Toriko." And because of the digital edge, Shonen Jump Alpha will be running a new chapter of each of these series just two weeks after it appears in Japan (a gap that may eventually close altogether). To prep readers for this event, Viz has been speeding up digital releases of these books, but by this week, several series were still seriously behind, causing blogger John Jakala to wonder if Viz was inadvertently sending readers to scanlation sites to catch up. If so, that may be a short-term gain for the pirates, as the reasonably priced ($25.99 for a one-year subscription), very accessible Shonen Jump Alpha is clearly a shot over their bow.

Manga: Viz launched another major initiative this week that has a strong digital component: SuBLime, their Boys Love (yaoi) manga line. While they do plan some print editions, the initial lineup is all digital-only, with each title available for $5.99 in two formats: Streaming through the site's built-in manga reader and downloadable as a DRM-free PDF. With this niche manga product, Viz becomes one of the first publishers to give readers what they are clamoring for, comics that are readable pretty much anywhere, on any device, and won't disappear if the publisher does. Viz is getting several other things right with this launch: They are posting reader comments (positive and negative) right on each book's catalog page, and their editor is interacting with fans on the website and on Twitter -- not just trumpeting the new releases but getting into actual conversations with readers.

Manga: Kodansha, the largest publisher in Japan, is making nine of its best-selling manga available to Taiwanese readers on the iPad and iPhone. Kodansha is publishing the manga, which include the 1990s salaryman manga "Section Chief Kosaku Shima" and the sci-fi story "Space Brothers," via a deal with Taiwan's largest publisher, Cite Media Holding Group.

Censorship: Vietnam's "graying Communist party" is no match for the youth of today, who are easily able to circumvent official censorship and find banned comics such as "Killer with a Festering Head," a book of one-panel cartoons that satirize contemporary Vietnamese life, on their computers and iPhones. The book was published by a state-owned publishing company but "recalled" two weeks after its release, but bootleg digital copies abound, and it is even available for Kindle. Echoing what seems to be a universal tendency, one reader who found the book digitally remarked that she would like to buy a hard copy of the book to keep.

Publishing: Calvin Reid of Publishers Weekly gets more details on the Graphicly Distribution Platform, which will allow individual creators to publish their work to a variety of different platforms, including Kindle, Nook, the Apple Bookstore, the web and Facebook. The platform is optimized for image-based content and could be used for magazines and picture books as well as comics. Graphicly CEO Micah Baldwin said that the Graphicly team built the new platform from digital tools they had developed for their own use. Small publishers will pay a one-time fee for the software plus a flat-rate conversion fee for each work, and the platform provides detailed analytics so they can track sales and sharing by readers.

Contest: Do you have what it takes to be a manga translator? The online manga site JManga is running a translation contest; competitors are given a four-panel gag comic to render into English. The prize is a digital edition of the volume the comic was drawn from. The contest comes at a time when more and more publishers are turning to amateur fan-translators to publish manga digitally on the cheap, a trend that is driving down fees for professional translators.

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