Digital-first Comics Are in a Golden Age: Enjoy it While You Can
Column by Rob Salkowitz
Published: 07/02/2013, Last Updated: 07/03/2013 02:40pm
In a couple of weeks I will be moderating a panel at San Diego Comic-Con on digital-first comics: the wave of great original work being produced for distribution on commercial digital platforms in the first instance. The last year has seen the emergence or maturation of a bunch of high-profile projects including MonkeyBrain, Thrillbent, Aces Weekly and Madefire, flooding online storefronts with new material.
To get prepared for my panel, I’ve been catching up on a bunch of my favorites and checking out work that people have referred me to over the past few months. Perhaps because the format of digital-first comics is new and has something to prove (e.g., that readers should pay real-world dollars to read work that only exists as ones and zeroes), the quality of the first batch of work is unusually high. Reading a lot of it in one sitting is a good way to restore your faith in the viability of the pure comics artform if overexposure to hyper-commercialized cross-media “comics culture” is starting to burn you out.
Mark Waid and Peter Krauss’s Insufferable (on Waid’s Thrillbent imprint) for example, seamlessly blends an up-to-the-minute postmodern superhero tale with foursquare Silver Age-style plotting and an art style that would have sent shivers up the legs of fanboys circa 1982. Also featured on the Thrillbent site is City of the Dead, bringing together Karl Kesel’s Johnny Zombie character with Ron Randall’s Trekker in a solid sci-fi adventure yarn that would have looked right at home in the pages of a 1980s Eclipse comic. Those who grew up reading the clean, well-drafted and immaculately-paced work of Dave Gibbons, David Lloyd, Steve Lieber and Val Mayerik will find that sensibility present--not just in spirit, but incarnate, as new works from all of these talents are available as digital-firsts.
But it’s not all about old guys and nostalgia. MonkeyBrain’s Bandette, by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover, achieved instant acclaim for its delightful premise, fun stories and visual charm. In Panel Syndicate’s Private Eye, by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin, we see two of the industry’s brightest lights at the peak of their talents taking their work directly to digital (with a name-your-own-price model), and doing so with a cleanly-told sci-fi mystery tale.
The clear visual storytelling and straightforward narrative style found in the most acclaimed and successful digital first titles stands in stark contrast to the dense, highly-rendered and deeply colored work that fills the pages of the majority of top-selling print titles from DC and Marvel. This is notable because the digital world offers a nearly unlimited palette of tricks for producing super-rich imagery and effects. Yet among the top-tier digital imprints, only Madefire tries to go toe-to-toe with the mainstream using this approach.
Why do so many creators taking the digital-first plunge work in clean lines and flat colors, against prevailing trends in the most economically successful corner of the industry? Here are a few possible explanations:
Rob Salkowitz (@robsalk) is a business futurist and author of several books including Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.
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