2012 has been a major year for digital comics, which continue to be a growing and important market. One company that has been trying to make major strides is Emanata, which in recent months has released an updated version of their iPad application as well as a new iPhone app. Designed as an artist-friendly publishing platform, Emanata allows creators to set their own prices -- or decide to give their work away for free.
CBR News spoke with Emanata CEO George Chen about the company, what they offer readers and artists and where he sees digital comics going in the future.
CBR News: Where did the idea for this app come from?
George Chen: Emanata started from a publishing platform. One thing that we noticed happening right now is that there are a lot of mobile devices, but it's very hard to get content on the iPad. The iPad is a great, visually interesting device so a couple of us in the lab decided to create an iPad publishing platform. During that process we needed to find real content to test the platform. I personally have an interest in design, comic books and storytelling. I looked online and found all these really awesome interesting indie comic artists and storytellers but sometimes the web might not be a very good place to showcase an entire story. I thought it's a lot more interesting if we turn this into a showcasing app for artists. A place where comic book readers, myself included, can find interesting, never heard of, never seen stories. It almost came as an accident that we discovered all these things that needed a place to be displayed.
In recent years we have seen a real explosion in digital comics.
That is something we were aware of. I'm a comiXology user. This is parallel with that trend. There are a lot of things that are lacking in the existing comiXology-type applications. The artists that we tend to work with own IPs and they're not necessarily interested in signing away their publishing rights -- they're more in an experimentation mode. These are many of them are professions and they just want to try something on their own. We don't have any problem finding interesting artists to say, we can showcase your work and help you find an audience. It's parallel to, but it's not aimed at competing with, any existing comic book apps out there.
Is there something specific you feel comiXology and other apps are lacking that Emanata offers?
I'm a big comic book fiend. It's easy for me to find same-day digital publishing where I can find it and buy it, but what's lacking right now in the market is that I can just pick up an iPad and browse around almost like sampling a different style and sampling different digital storytelling. Many of the more mainstream comic book apps out there are very formulaic, anatomically correctly drawn, there are specific ways of the art being drawn. With our app we focus on different styles of drawing and they might not be able to find a mainstream publisher, but it's great storytelling. It's a lot of fun to look at. We have all these really interesting people and very interesting creations that people are interested in reading, but the mainstream comic book apps are more like a storefront for existing popular properties. This is a place where you find something different. I tend to compare it to the online video world where we're a little bit like Vimeo where you find artistic stuff, curated stuff and things people do to make it different.
For creators who think that Emanata sounds interesting, what do you offer them?
We're offering them an environment where they can experiment with finding a different type of audience. Many of them are very technology savvy but they're also very reluctant on trying new things. I think when the web happened it was a new technology platform, a new way of communicating and showcasing work. For many designer and artist types, it wasn't addressing their needs. We're trying to provide a platform where they can start experimenting and say okay. With a really high resolution screen, reading on the tablet device is actually better than reading on the web page where you stare at the screen at ninety degrees, and [most] webcomics navigation are stuck. With our app you browse through it very naturally. The way I like to describe it, it's the closest thing to a real comic book. It's very immediate. We don't have any apps surrounding the comics. It makes it really immediate.
In that sense, how a comic looks on a good tablet publishing platform is different than a web-based comic.
It is. When we started about six months ago we all knew there were webcomics. We all read webcomics. Digital comics didn't really take off with webcomics though, they took off two years ago with tablet devices. It's just a lot more natural that you sit back and read the comics and really enjoy it. Webcomics are something I've read since the '90s. I think there are a lot of really popular daily webcomics that I'm willing to sit there and read, but when the story is anywhere from 15-24 pages I'm not going to read those pages sitting in front of a computer.
Of the comics that you feature, are there any you're a particular fan of?
I'm a huge huge fan of Malachi Ward. We just met up again at Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco. There are a lot of longer form webcomics we ended up having in our app as well. Another artist I really like is Jesse Smart Smiley. He does "Upside Down: A Vampire Tale." His drawing style is very simple, a little like a children's book style. Those are two of my personal favorites, but I think the best part is there are so many great artists out there. We get e-mails and we reach out to different artists and find storytellers that we like. That part is pretty enjoyable. I'm finding more and more artists that I never heard of where I say, "Hey, we really like your work and we want to feature it."
Tell us a little about the app's design and what people can expect when they sign on.
The idea is, instead of a storefront where you look at the cover of a book and you try to find a genre or a book that's of the most interest to you, we try to use a comic strip-like cropping so you can get a sense of the drawing style and storytelling. You can jump in and out of different stories easily. The way I like to describe it is it's like sampling sushi. You find something visually appealing to you, you tap on it, read a couple pages of it. If you don't like it, go back out and try another. The navigation is very flat, it's artist-story, artist-story instead of going through menus. There isn't really a download process, per se. You read one page and the other pages are loaded in the background.
What are your longer term plans and what possibilities do you see for the next year or two?
We've been struggling [on the iPhone app] because we aren't sure reading comic books on such a tiny device is great, but at the same time we also want to introduce our artists to another audience. There are a lot more iPhones out there than iPads. We decided to do this because we talked to people and the younger generation of kids these days don't mind panning and scanning and reading comic books on the iPod Touches and their iPhones. That's the most immediate platform that we're trying to get to. We definitely want to do something on the Android platform to design and basically grow the readership and user base of our app. In many ways we're still somewhat of an unknown so that hopefully other independent artists can see this is actually something where I have strong control over it. Essentially we want to become a Vimeo of comic books where you can find interesting things to read.
And all the information for both consumers and artists is available on your website, Emanata.co, correct?
Correct. I also want to mention that we started the app as completely free for users. Many of the artists also sell the stories as a physical book on their own personal website so we created two approaches. They can sell their stories through the Apple iTunes process so it's revenue sharing between Emanata and the artists after Apple's cut. That's our business model. We let the artists decide. If they just want to gain readership and get a new following, they can have everything free or they can chose to sell some of their existing books. One thing that we've been suggesting to a lot of artists is if they have they have a serial story they can do book one and book two free and then the ending of the story is paid content. Both readers and artists understand that pretty well and it works out okay.