10 questions about digital comics with the creator of Heroines
1. Who are you and what are you working on right now? (2 questions in 1, I know!)
My name is Ted Naifeh, I’ve a comic creator for twenty or so years, and I’m currently working on two series: HEROINES, about a young woman who starts of team of superheroes by placing an ad on Craigslist, and NIGHT’S DOMINION, a fantasy adventure series about a bunch of unlikely heroes in an ancient metropolis.
2. What drew you to digital comics?
Who isn’t putting out digital editions of their comics these days? Right now, it’s a tough market, because retailers are still trying to survive on periodical sales. Plus, readers haven’t made the jump from page to digital. And the pricepoint is just too high. Webcomics seem to have the right idea, putting work out for free on sites with ads, and then cleaning up in collected edition sales. But it depends on the gamble that you’re going to get clicks. For us old folks who remember the way it used to be, that’s all scary and new.
3. Webcomics or digital comics?
I do digital versions of comics meant for print. Someday I might just go straight to web comics. But it hasn’t quite happened yet. I feel like Webcomics are better suited to the cartoon strip, gag-a-day style, which I suck at. I need a little space to build story. Building the story about a gag or a reveal or a payoff every single page is way beyond me.
4. What do you think works with digital comics?
Every delivery needs closure. With HEROINES, I’d written it as a minseries, so when it came to releasing it as 11 page chapters, there were breaks that just didn’t work. So some of the chapters are 12 pages, and some are 10. It’s more important to me that there be a big reveal, a cliffhanger, some kind of completion of the thought. Cutting a story in the middle of a conversation because there’s no natural break where you need one, that’s not good digital comics.
Also, clarity of line, clarity of color. I love crosshatching, but it gets mostly lost in the digital page. So with HEROINES, I stuck with simple, clear lines. I have a deep and abiding love for the DCAU, and their crude, overly simple line-art. In the concept designs, most of Batman: the Animated Series, the Justice League, etc, was built around Bruce Timm’s mid-century modern brush-line style. But translated to animation, it ended up being very mechanical lines. Sometimes it’s overly crude, but I kinda like the effect. So HEROINES is done with a simple animation line style.
5. Can digital comics replace print comics?
Can it? I think ultimately, it must. That may sound like blasphemy in the minds of some collectors and a lot of seasoned professionals, as well as purists. But comics were originally pulp. Cheap stories slopped out weekly on the cheapest paper available, designed to be bought on a whim, read, and tossed. As the stories became greater and greater in the sixties and seventies, the idea took hold that these books were worth more than the pulp they were printed on. So the printing begin to improve. I watched the crude 4-color printing on newsprint give way to high-glass magazine paper and digital color. It’s been wonderful.
But not every comic deserves such precious treatment. In fact, few do. For my own work, I don’t need every book to be a precious object. That’s for the fans to decide. COURTNEY CRUMRIN was around for years before it graduated from cheap paperbacks to fine hardbound volumes. That decision was made in response to fans continuing to buy it. But the cost of printing every comic as though it’s a big ticket item is killing the industry. If all comics were $1.50 instead of $4, I think we might have a much healthier market.
In theory, the great thing about digital comics is that you can reproduce them infinitely. But the problem is, few want to spend money on a digital comic, whatever the price. Plus, the retailers get shirty when you tell them that the same product they’re selling is available elsewhere for super cheap. And because few people buy digital comics, we’re still dependent on retailers for sales. Plus, there’s so much content out for free on the internet, folks are more reluctant to pay for it. So here we are. I’d like to see digital become the new pulp. But it may not happen in my lifetime.
6. How can print comics work with digital comics?
In my ideal world, print would only be for collections. You put out the digital issues monthly for cheap, and then they get collected into a bound volume. That what makes the most sense to me, and it works wonderfully for webcomics. But what I do isn’t webcomics. It takes a lot of time to produce something like HEROINES. It’s not something I can do in my spare time. And like most comics, it’s not the kind of thing that can work putting out 4 pages a week. long-form storytelling isn’t served well that way. People who follow webcomics want new content every day. It works for stuff like “Hark, A Vagrant,” which can generate revenue from ads because it gets daily traffic. Also, something like “Hark” can be ramped up as the readership grows. But it can’t be planned for. I need a steady income. I can’t just crank out a daily page and hope for the best, even if I could produce a satisfying stand-alone page every day. So until we live in a world where thousands of readers are getting their monthly comics digitally, and then buying print collections later from the local comic book shops, digital comics are gonna have to remain an optional extra rather than the prime version of periodical comic storytelling.
7. What don’t you like about digital comics?
Mostly, just the fact that because of the nature of the business, they can’t be cheap or free. I feel like $4 is a lot for 10-15 minutes of reading, no matter how pretty it is. But the reason I feel that way is because a comic’s digital quality can’t compete with the look of a finely printed floppy. When I say digital is the new pulp, that also goes for the quality. the image on the pixel screen is lovely, but compared to a quality print you hold in your hands, it’s something like the difference between a modern comic and its pulp-printed, crudely colored ancestor. If comics were still on newsprint with a hastily knocked out 4-color process, they wouldn’t be worth $4. We charge less for paperback than hardcover. Why wouldn’t we charge less for digital. The short answer is because retailers don’t get a slice, and it bites into their bottom line. I don’t have a solution for that.
8. What digital comics/webcomics do you read?
I don’t read many digital comics myself. I’m an independent creator, so I don’t have a lot of money to spend on comics, digital or otherwise. But I do read “Oglaf” every time it comes out. But fair warning: NSFW, folks.
9. Where do you see digital comics going from here?
I dare not speculate. I really have no idea, and I’m trying to break the habit of trotting out half-baked theories.
10. Who do you think we should look out for in digital comics?
Personally, I think everyone should just be looking at more of it. All of it. But I also think they should be jumping on the sales, the free downloads, stuff like that. Digital comics needs to get its numbers up. So getting as much as possible for as little money as possible seems like the way to go. I don’t think creators go broke because everyone is consuming their stuff for free. It’ because no one is seeing their work. Webcomics have proven that. If people like your work enough, they will look for ways to pay you for it. But that requires a mass audience that’s out there looking at digital comics, and are ready to catch the brilliant creators who throw themselves out into the world.