The Digital French Invasion Has Begun
The biggest comics industry story in 2013 that got overlooked is the way comiXology spread out into Europe, going so far as to open an office in France. They’re serious about it, and now have over 400 titles ready to purchase. They’re still in French, but at least they’re available in North America. The selection is tentative, as these new media outlets tend to be. “Titeuf” seems to be the biggest name in the store at the moment. I hope there’s a wider variety of titles coming, and I hope work is put into translating more of these works into English. There’s a bag of money on the side of the road for that one. . .
FRENCH COMICS GO ENGLISH VIA COMIXOLOGY. FINALLY.
One of the biggest promises of digital comics, in my mind, has been the ease with which Franco-Belgian comics could conceivably come to English-speaking countries. It’s not trivial, as you’ll still need a translator/writer to create a new English script, and you’ll need a letterer to handle the comics, themselves, but that’s still an amazingly low cost of entry to bring a whole lot of pre-existing material to a new audience. As a publisher, you needn’t worry about print costs or retailers who refuse to shelve anything that isn’t in one shape and stapled on one side only.
It should be the goal of every French publisher to reprint their material in English digitally. It is an opportunity too golden to miss.
Finally, someone now has.
Delcourt/Soleil have made the first big move with comiXology. They are immediately reprinting a few series digitally in English. It’s an interesting mix, from alternate WWII history to fantasy to humor. In other words, it’s a lot like the Franco-Belgian market, at large. It’s not the most inviting mix for me, personally, but there’s enough there to get excited about the new start.
Obviously, this is being announced in the lead-up to San Diego, and explains the panel I mentioned in last week’s column from Delcourt. Now we know that the writer of “Spin Angels” will be there, as well as comiXology, themselves.
In the longer term, it seems that Delcourt wants to be the first to jump on this train, and thinks the numbers are finally there to pull this off. I’m guessing they were waiting for the market to grow a bit more. It’s like when LucasFilm said they wouldn’t release DVDs until the millionth DVD player was sold. (Yes, kids, this was a thing back in 1999 or so, before DVD ubiquity.)
Of course, with the “long tail” effect in play, the situation is different. DVDs have always been a big seller on their release date and maybe the following holiday season. With digital comics, the earlier you get them into the system, the better the chance you’ll have to make more money. It doesn’t cost anything to keep them “on the shelf.” It’s just free money rolling in over time for the one time work you had to do to put them in the story at the start.
Now, there are enough potential customers — and a diverse enough customer base, as digital comics have shown us — that it’s worth it for a large publisher like Delcourt to jump on this train. They’ve been expanding digitally, as well. They have their own iTunes app right now, powered by comiXology but only filled with their own titles. So it’s clear that they’ve been getting comfortable with digital.
And I bet comiXology, through its offices in Paris, has been talking to Delcourt (and others) about all of this and explaining why their service can work for them. I bet there’s an awesome pitch deck for this somewhere at Amazon.
With plans to release 150 titles to comiXology — and I hope that means different series and not individual issues — it sounds like they’re in this for a significant chunk of time and attention. This isn’t a toe in the water. It’s both feet.
Is Delcourt doing this because they have nowhere else to go? Let’s face it, nobody’s lining up to publish print editions of these comics in North America. If it wasn’t for Cinebook and Titan, we’d have nearly nothing, and as wonderful as they are, they can’t reprint everything. Digital comics offers an economical path towards broadening the readership, both demographically and in sheer numbers.
Similarly, is this also the reason comiXology is so happy to have Delcourt/Soleil on board? With some analyses showing that the growth rate of digital comics has slowed a bit in the last year (though it is still growing!), looking outside the current market is a good way to bring in new readers. With DC and Marvel already in digital comics, the source for major growth has to come from outside America. That leaves comiXology with international markets to choose from. They’ve already put lots of French comics on their service, but putting them out there in English opens up new avenues for growth.
I don’t care why they’re doing it, though. I’m just glad someone finally is. I hope it’s for the right reasons. I hope it’s with a long term plan. And I hope we see lots of good stuff.
Looking into the future, the question is whether this will prompt other publishers to follow suit.
Given the way publishers tend to be, I’m sure it’ll happen. The question is, will they jump in soon so as to not appear to be lagging behind, or will they wait until they get a sense for how successful the Delcourt program is? Will they ever know how successful it is, though, since it’s not like comiXology publishes sales figures? Maybe Delcourt will brag of their success and that will lure in the others.
I don’t think this is an experiment, though. I think this is the future. I’m glad we’re finally here. This feels like another milestone for digital comics, right up there with Marvel and DC entering the game, subscription sites, and Guided View.
Here’s where things get a little dicey, and I can see both sides of it, and part of it doesn’t even matter.
First, not all of the albums will be sold as single units. They’ll be split up into “comics,” which amount to half of each book. This is the format Terry and Rachel Dodson reprinted “Red One” in at Image recently, causing some to complain that a two-issue miniseries is too short.
There needs to be some education in the States about how French comics work, obviously.
But these series are much longer-lived than that one, so you’ll see many more issues to cover all the albums. And, of course, you can always wait a little and buy two issues at a time to get the overall effect. This is digital, so it’s not a problem to carry two books at a time or anything…
Second, the reality is, digital comics on the iPad are smaller than the album format. For the books which rely on their art for a strong hook, digital reproduction is good and bad. It’s good in that digital reproduction often looks better, with stronger colors and the potential for better line quality. It’s bad in that the larger page size of the albums require a 27-inch monitor to reproduce at a similar size. Even the full-sized iPads don’t make it to that larger page size.
On the other hand, there’s always rumors of Apple releasing a new larger-sized iPad which would be amazing for comics like these. You thought your comics looked good on the retina displays of your 10-inch iPads? Wait ’til you see what they can be at the same resolution over 12 or even 13 inches.
I haven’t tested it with these books yet, but reading them in landscape format on the iPad where you might only see half a page at a time might help make them more readable. I’ll test that next.
I looked through the six titles the line is starting with this week.
The very first thing I noticed is that the lettering is very small. Remember that these comics were originally published in the album format, which is larger than your standard North American comic. There’s more on each page, but the lettering remains at the same size. Shrinking a page down from a larger page size means the lettering is going to be relatively smaller, too. That’s a bit painful.
There are two ways around this. As much as I hate reading digital comics this way, comiXology’s Guided View might be the way to go here. If you hate that ideas as much as I do, the only other backup plan I can give you is to use the Full Screen option on your 27-inch monitor. Only then are things easily legible, and even then not for all titles.
- “Iron Squad”: This is a very pretty book, set as an alternate WWII history with Russian mechs set up to battle the Nazis. This one has plenty of action, doesn’t slow down for anything, and is easy on the eyes. The coloring style is great, the art is detailed with great background work, and the characters are easily distinguishable, emotive and action-oriented. The book has an almost cartoonish style to it that I liked a lot. Character ham it up on these pages, and they look great doing it.
- “The Curse of the Wendigo”: It’s a WWI alternate history book with enemy soldiers coming together to fight an enemy they can’t seen. The big hook of the book is that it’s drawn by Charlie Adlard. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen sequentials by him in color. The book is dominated by talking heads in the story so far, but I’m willing to give it another issue to prove itself. Like I said before, these stories are meant to be read 48 pages at a time, not 28.
- “Spin Angels”: The lettering is so tiny and the art is so dense that, sadly, this one is tough to read. I had high hopes for it, but it’s difficult to get through. Even at full screen, it’s rough. Guided View is the only way to go here, but with some of the smaller panels, the pixelation starts to take hold. Unfortunate.
- “Promethee”: It would be better if Van Hamme were writing it with Francq drawing it. It has the same artistic feel as a “Largo Winch” type of book, but the art doesn’t do it for me. It looks too photo-referenced, making everyone stiff and lost in the Uncanny Valley. Storywise, it appears to be a nice mystery where a space shuttle goes missing and panic and conspiracy ensue. If I can get past the art, I think the story may catch me. Again, this might require a couple of issues to get into. Mark Waid has a nice, albeit short, introduction to the book.
- “Alfred: Come Prima”: This is the one book in the lot that’s available as a complete album and not a series of issues. Clocking in at 224 pages, it’s easy to see how it wouldn’t be natural to cut this one up into pieces for easier North American digestion. It’s one of those ‘serious’ award-winning pieces of art. The art style isn’t to my liking, and the first chunk of story that I read didn’t capture me too strongly, so I’ll probably pass on it.
- “Josephine”: Surprisingly, this is the one that’s the biggest winner for me in the lot. It’s in the same format that I discussed here a few weeks back: A collection of single-page gags oriented on a common theme. In this case, it’s about the title character who is single and doesn’t much care for the world around her. It’s filled with observational humor about relationships, work, money, sexist jerks, etc. It has a strong style that works with gags that are believable and funny. Since it’s a collection of single page gags, it doesn’t suffer from being split up into individual issues. Of all the titles in this initial offering, this one holds up the best to the format — heck, the lettering is even big enough to read.
To sum it all up: If you’re looking for a humorous book, go straight to “Josephine.” If you want something more serious, action-packed and nicely cartooned, go with “Iron Squad.” If you’re a “Walking Dead” fan, go with the Charlier Adlard work in “The Curse of the Wendigo.”
Also, I hope that this is the beginning of a new trend in digital comics, because it’s one I’m ready to spend some money on if given the right material…
- It was only after writing all of the above that I saw this interview with publisher Guy Delcourt, which confirms many of my suspicions. Here’s the best quote from the article that gives me hope:
We have a two-year plan and we know we have to be persistent. David Steinberger warned us about that. He said, “Don’t expect it to catch immediately. You have to stay in the market for two or three years before reaping any success,” which still may not come. But it certainly will not come before that. And I understand that. That’s why we chose long series — series with 20 books in France, which will be 40 issues in the U.S. — hoping to catch readers down the line and making them follow us loyally.
- Grant Morrison is the new editor-in-chief of “Heavy Metal.” I’m not a Morrison fan, in particular, but I do think he’s the perfect match for that job. There are also a lot of die-hard North American Morrison fans who’ll now be giving that magazine a shot, so it’s an interesting development.
- Nope, I’m not going to San Diego this week for the big convention, though I will be in Portland, Oregon in a couple of weeks for OSCon, which is a computer programming type of conference. And isn’t any trip to Portland a de facto comic book convention trip at this point? I figure if I walk up and down two streets in the city, I should trip over at least three comic writers and two artists…
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