Digital comics aren’t coming, they’re here. Image Comics recently revealed that this year digital sales will account for nearly 15 percent of its total revenue, and all signs point to continued growth. Digital comics are growing in the marketplace, but what about growing up? When will digital comics become more than just digital versions of print comic books?
What we now call comic books began in 1933 with the publication of Famous Funnies, but they were merely magazines collecting newspaper strips. It wasn’t for another couple of years that someone had the idea to commission original work to be put into a comic book. It took about another decade for publishers to move from multiple stories in an issue to a full-length tale.
Long story short, comic books took a while to mature into what we know them as today. The digital comic is out of its infancy but still a essentially a child. Will it take that next step to maturity? That question isn’t one for me to answer, but I can lay out some possible avenues for growth, and I'm not talking about motion comics.
Stealing a page from one of the building blocks of the Internet, imagine if digital comics had hyperlinks? In earlier era, Marvel and DC Comics relied heavily on editor's notes that reminded readers of events in previous issues, or pointed them to developments in other titles that were mentioned only in passing. Now imagine if, in digital comics, those notes were transformed into hyperlinks so that a reader was just one click away from the issue or referred to within the story. If you don’t own that issue, a window would appear, offering the option to purchase it; and it was already in your library, the transition would be seamless. It’s an easy idea that might be harder in execution, but it would take that connective tissue in comics universes and strengthen it in a way only digital can.
A second idea would be giving comics “Artist’s Edition”-style bonus features. Imagine being able to key in on certain panels or pages and peel back the layers to see uncolored, then unlettered and uninked worked, down to the original thumbnail sketches. You could even peel it back further to the original script. Taking that further, imagine being able to pay a little extra to get “Director’s Cut”-style bonus features. Imagine seeing Stuart Immonen’s original designs for Nextwave available as a feature when you purchase an issue. What if you could read the original pitch document Scott Snyder used for Detective Comics or Batman? In most cases these are already out there on someone’s hard drive, just waiting to be monetized and distributed.
And for some of the more “blockbuster” or evergreen titles, I could very well see publishers organizing new content to supplement what’s out there. Marvel does it with AR codes, but imagine it being a click away for digital consumers – not just for new material, but perhaps a link in the digital version of Frank Miller and Chris Claremont’s Wolverine that gave you a classic interview – audio, video, or even text – with the creators talking about the book. Kaare Andrews produced a commentary track for the jam issue of X-Men Unlimited he was part of almost a decade ago, but not much has happened since.
These are just a couple of ideas of how digital comics could grow to be their own platform and not just a digital edition of print comics. I'm sure you have your own ideas, as well. It's just a matter of these ideas being turned from imaginary to actual if publishers can see a financial reward to do it.