Writer Chris Kipiniak and artist J.K. Woodward have both been around the comics industry for years, with marquee franchises like X-Men, Spider-Man, and Star Trek under their belts. But BEHEMOTH — a digital comic series about monstrous mutant teens fighting for their lives — is their first creator-owned project, published by Monkeybrain Comics. Wondering how these two talented dudes came together — and how it’s been going — Letter Better sat them down for an interview to discuss all things BEHEMOTH.
When everyone’s favorite e-book company purchased everyone’s favorite e-comic book company, comics finally took the giant step forward we’ve been threatened with for years.
While comiXology and its competitors have tried their best to build a new revenue stream for the comics industry ever since digital comics first became viable four years ago, it’s been tough. Digital comics simply haven’t taken hold the way enthusiasts keep predicting, or at least with nothing close to the wild success we’ve seen in mainstream prose publishing where digital now accounts for roughly a third of all book sales. The reasons for this are many, including the fact that comics sales are still fueled by collectors like myself who enjoy owning physical things. But the biggest obstacles to overall category growth are still discoverability and consumer awareness. When I tell someone that I work in comics the most common reply is, “I didn’t know they still make those.” When people aren’t exposed to comics they don’t know they want comics, which means they won’t look for them or purchase them. Last week’s Amazon/comiXology team-up aims to turn this story around for good. Comics, a niche segment of an already niche publishing market, is on the verge of going mainstream again.
Most of the instant online reaction to the acquisition seems to come from two places: either “oh look, something tech was bought by something else tech, isn’t that techy?” or “oh geez, they’re going to take my comics away!” I’d like to instead explore what the purchase might mean from a book publishing perspective, and by “explore” I mean, “make wild unsubstantiated predictions.” So without further ado, behold my 100% guaranteed accurate predictions for the future of comiXology and the world:
“Know thy audience,” could be the first rule (and only one that matters) in any class on the business of publishing. It usually means, “Understand who will be reading your book,” meaning the person who likes to read your kind of book. If it’s a hard science-fiction book, think of all your hard sci-fi-reading friends, create an ideal amalgamation of them all (with or without beards), and now make sure your book reads like those that person usually enjoys. This is great advice, if a little obvious, meant for a writer who has a publisher to take care of the business details. It’s about writing a book, not selling it. For those who self-publish, the maxim has to mean something else: “Understand how your ideal reader shops.”
All smart publishers ask themselves this question periodically, and it seems to be top-of-mind for DC Comics these days as they relaunch their entire line. The internet is abuzz with analysis (some say DC is alienating its core fan base, others think they are hurting brick-and-mortar stores with their digital strategy, others think it’s brilliant, others think Superman’s t-shirt makes him look silly.). None of it (as far as I’ve seen) comes from the perspective of that fundamental question, but the move and the reaction to it has become a great illustration of how important it is to ask, especially for self-publishers, who must ask it of themselves every day.
Digital comics; what’s not to love? The colors are beautiful, the price (usually) can’t be beat, you can shove a stack of mid-’80s Justice League Internationals weightlessly into your tablet and bring them with you on the bus, and you can re-download everything later when you lose your tablet on that bus. But what’s up with guided view?
Reading a comic in guided view is like watching a flip book; each panel is essentially cut out of the page and pasted into its own page of a scrapbook. One has the option of ordering the “camera” to pull back at the end of a page so the entire thing can be viewed as it was meant to before jumping back in to the out-of-context single panel reading. Comixology’s version of the trick is particularly advanced (and apparently trademarked), occasionally allowing the panel to pan left or right so as to read multiple actions in a single panel in the proper order. I sometimes double-click into guided view because it makes a perfectly sized zoom for me when I want to inspect a Geof Darrow background for a couple hours. Otherwise, it renders pointless all the hard work that went in to designing the comic book page.
Thomas Paine reached 100,000 American colonists with his Common Sense, a number that would today mean 20,000,000 in terms of population reach. And it never would have existed without a print shop and movable type. A failed corset-maker like T. Paine certainly wouldn’t have had the means (and probably not the will) to reproduce them all by hand.
Print technology keeps getting better as it evolves, and by better I mean easier for more people to read more things. The tract lived on through ‘zines for a few centuries and now seems to have mostly transmuted into the insta-published blog. Books — that walled City of Troy of publishing — stayed exclusive for a while but digital printing battered through the gate and e-books plum brought down the wall. But wither the magazine? A young politico can post her treatises for the entire world to find (should they choose to look). A novelist can do the same, and largely within the same format he would have 20 years ago. But today’s crusading magazine moguls don’t seem to have anywhere to turn for help overcoming the obstacles.
It was surprising to see such a resurgence of the “Self-publishing isn’t valid” meme in 2010. We thought that particular dinosaur was extinct by now, didn’t you? In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been such a shock considering the advent of the iPad and the Kindle. It makes sense that the sudden removal of production and inventory management as obstacles to self-publishers would scare up some defensive posturing from traditional publishers. What we want to say, unequivocally, before the madness keeps stirring, is twofold:
- Publishers, never fear! You are necessary (for certain things)
- Self-publishers, never fear! Your process is totally legitimate (for certain things)
We’ll get more into those two ideas in a minute but first, we would love to see an immediate end to the defensive posturing. You don’t have to tear down the concept of self-publishing in order to justify the need for traditional publishing. And self-publishers don’t have to keep insisting that they are on a track to “real” publishing. The book is the thing, not the means of connecting the book to its audience. The world hasn’t ended; it has just changed. Before, authors had to wait to get noticed by someone else. Now, authors have choices to make. Here’s what we think they are.