10 questions about digital comics with Julian Darius of Martian Comics – now with a current Kickstarter!
1. Who are you and what are you working on right now? (2 questions in 1, I know!)
I’m Julian Darius. I’m working on making comic books, including a sci-fi series reminiscent of early Vertigo named Martian Comics, which is on Kickstarter now. I’m also editing books for Sequart Organization, which has been promoting scholarship and critical thinking about comics and popular culture for two decades now.
2. What drew you to digital comics?
First, I read them. Personally, I’ve almost entirely converted to digital books and comics, the same way I converted to digital music. I love print, but my basement is filled with books, and every time I move I’m reminded of what a burden all of these books and comics are. Plus, it’s easier to find digital files! So I’m a fan.
But there’s a practical consideration too. I’m making comics on a shoestring budget, and they’re expensive to produce. Printing color comics would be a tremendous additional expense. So I think it’s very practical to focus on digital, for the individual issues.
3. Webcomics or digital comics?
I love webcomics, but what I’m doing are digital comics, in that they’re not being put on a webpage. I’m also producing comics with normal page dimensions, so I’m not doing the kind of differently sized pages I associate with webcomics. I’m just attached to those page dimensions, personally, and I’d like to preserve the ability to do print at a later date.
4. What do you think works with digital comics?
I think digital comics can do anything a print comic can. But I do think pages make a different sort of impression. Often, you’re not looking at the entire page, but a partial page on the screen, and that does change things. I think double-page splashes don’t work with digital comics, for example – I hate shifting to the double-wide dimensions and having the lettering suddenly get smaller. On the other hand, one advantage of digital comics is that you’re not looking at two pages at a time, so a single page becomes the main unit, and that often preserves surprises as you read.
5. Can digital comics replace print comics?
I don’t think that’s the agenda. I think the two can exist side-by-side. Like with books more generally, I expect the share of digital comics to rise and the share of print comics to fall, at least as a general trend over the next few decades. However, I don’t think anyone’s out to destroy print comics. It seems like we’re always pronouncing the “death” of things – like the “death” of print. But that’s buzz, and it’s not the agenda of anyone making digital comics, most of whom love their local comics store and like reading some mixture of print and digital.
6. How can print comics work with digital comics?
There are always people who want a comic in print, and a lot of times digital comics get a print edition at a later date. And I think that makes a lot of sense, because there’s not a lot of money in serialized comics in print. Even with some of the major publishers, the single issues aren’t doing so well, and that’s even more the case with independent comics that have smaller print runs and thus a higher cost per copy. But I think there’s a lot to be said for nice print collections, and in fact most of the print comics I want to keep are nice collected editions that look great on a bookshelf. So I think the two can complement each other.
One thing I don’t like is when there’s special digital-only content, like “scan this bar code to go behind the scenes!” That kind of reduces the print edition, to me. I understand why people do this – after all, it’s cheap to convert scripts and uncolored artwork to digital files. But it’s a little like bonus tracks on a digital album. I like feeling that something is complete.
For the same reason, I don’t like when there’s a print-only story in a collected edition. I don’t mind if someone does such a thing temporarily, as a way of promoting a print collection or something, but readers should be able to get the whole story, including bonuses, whether they’re reading in print or digital.
7. What don’t you like about digital comics?
As a publisher, I think they’re harder to promote. There’s a strange prestige to print. And I get it – in theory, anyone can publish a digital comic, but the higher costs suggest someone had to believe in a print comic for it to get printed. But that doesn’t really make sense – a lot of print comics are terrible, and a lot of digital-only comics are great! Quality ought to rule! But even with graphic novels, people get a lot more excited about books that have been published in hardcover, and even those digital editions tend to sell better. It’s strange, and it can be frustrating as a publisher. You spend a lot of time and money making an awesome comic, and then there’s a huge job on the backend trying to get people to read it!
As a reader, I see this same phenomenon from the other end. Personally, I’m mostly reading comics in digital form, and I rely on press or word of mouth to hear what I ought to be reading. I don’t care if it’s digital-only or who publishes it. I only care about how much I like the comic and whether it’s well put-together. But I’m sure there are lots of great comics I’m missing, just because I haven’t heard of them, the same way there are lots of readers who would like my comic but haven’t heard of it!
8. What digital comics/webcomics do you read?
I read most comics digitally, so even when I read something by DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, Boom, or Dynamite, it’s usually digital. I personally prefer it, and I can’t believe I used to bag and board all these single issues.
But there are digital-only comics that I read too. I’ve been really impressed with what Comicker puts out – although they’ve been doing print editions too.
9. Where do you see digital comics going from here?
I have no idea. I think that, when Scott McCloud was pushing webcomics, there was a lot of enthusiasm for using digital in experimental ways, doing things that couldn’t be done in print. And some really awesome experiments were produced this way. But some were hard to read, and this kind of experimentation didn’t catch on. Back then, people were still doing a lot of HTML experiments too – like hidden links, messages hidden in the source code, and these bizarre websites that you navigated where every page was different. But I don’t see a lot of that now.
There was also a lot of talk about motion comics, or adding animation to the comics page. I still see that sometimes, but it usually doesn’t please me. If it moves, it’s not comics – it’s some kind of hybrid webpage thing, or it’s just video. And that’s great, but it’s not really comics.
There’s still a lot of talk about using different dimensions and not simply duplicating the dimensions of print comics. Of course, that’s legitimate. But you know, lots of comics have been printed with different dimensions too. That’s not a digital-only idea. And sometimes, you get comics produced like this that are going to be printed later, so each digital page is just half of a printed page – that feels like a bad move to me, personally. I’m not getting the full, intended experience, reading those comics digitally, or the full page isn’t being utilized as effectively as possible because of this artificial division. For my own work, I’m just attached to the basic dimensions of the printed page, and I like the idea of it as a kind of unit of meaning. So my digital comics aren’t as experimental in this regard, although I respect and even admire people who are really doing webcomics and playing with ways in which they’re different.
I think that what digital comics need is more platforms. There’s ComiXology, but some people prefer to read in PDF, for example, and to download the files outside of an app. I’ve seen some sites doing that, but there’s no great ComiXology PDF alternative. Kindle isn’t big for comics. And there are some aggregators of webcomics, but not that many. So I think there’s a need for more platforms that use different formats and that have huge collections of material, where creators can make some kind of revenue and readers can discover material.
10. Who do you think we should look out for in digital comics?
I come back to quality. Whatever genre someone likes, there are good webcomics and digital comics. It just takes a little looking.
Personally, I’m a fan of big narratives and I’m not usually a fan of overly jokey or silly comics, outside of some classic comic strips. I love ambitious, huge narratives with sweeping ideas and beautiful art! We could use more of that. I’m trying!