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The Future Of Comics


#1

Where do you see comics in five years’ time? In ten years’ time? In twenty years’ time?

I think that in the short-term of five years or so, we’ll see a continued shift towards the prominence of artists, similar to the 1990s. I think we’ll see digital continue to gain ground, but I think it’ll still be secondary to print. And I think we’ll see a continued ‘brain drain’ of successful creators moving out of the Big Two to do creator-owned work with the likes of Image and elsewhere.

In the medium-term, I think digital will become more significant and we’ll start to see companies really start to take advantage of the opportunities that it can offer in terms of reaching wider audiences. I could see digital sales reaching parity with physical within the next decade or so. But I think the hobby will remain a fairly niche one. And I could see people starting to turn away from the company-owned properties in greater numbers as they become essentially IP-development farms for other media.

Twenty years is a long time, so really we can only make broad predictions about where things are going. I think physical books will become increasingly the reserve of collectors or high-end publications (I wouldn’t be surprised if physical monthly floppies had died out by this point), with digital accounting for the majority of readership. I think we may see a generation of creators being popular who didn’t have to go through the larger publishers’ systems to establish themselves, hopefully offering a much wider variety of voices in terms of diversity of subject-matter and style. And I think we’ll see a shift in the selling of these comics over time to be more directly between the creators and the reader, with fewer middlemen (facilitated by digital), possibly on a pay-what-you-want model.

Thoughts/ideas/predictions?


#2

In a purely visual sense, I hope we see more of this stuff:

http://www.ew.com/sites/default/files/i/2014/11/15/MULTIVPAX_1_6.jpg

People who can push the medium in terms of how the page can be used, it’s a shame we don’t get more of this.

Sorry, I know that’s not what you’re thinking of, but when I think of how comics are underused I hope things will change, and the geniuses will start inspiring more people to follow suit with interesting layouts and more thoughtful storytelling. It’s like how Alan Moore hoped people would follow his lead in the 80s and only the surface elements were used (‘make it dark!’). Comics can be better!


#3

No, that’s a great thing to hope for - it definitely feels as though that kind of innovation started to stagnate a little bit after that mid-eighties explosion.


#4

I think the kind of page Michael shows is incompatible with on-line viewing. In 20 years I would expect comics that are designed to be read on line, and their “pages” will look nothing like the pages we have today. Creators will be clever with their layouts, but clever on-line layouts will look nothing like clever paper layouts would.

However, clever on-line layouts mean you can’t then collect in a prestige physical format for the collector market, so I can actually see that part of the industry also dying. In the short term it will increase – there’s already a model where independent creators give away a free episodic web comic then make money by packaging the same content into a book – but in the longer term, certainly within 20 years, “web comics” won’t look remotely like anything we recognise today as a comic, and they will be essentially uncollectable.

This direction for on-line comics is exactly Alan Moore’s Watchmen thesis in action – make something specifically designed for the medium, that can’t be done in any other medium. And the web is a different medium from printed paper. Currently comic publishers are (boringly) using it to duplicate printed paper, but it can’t be long until an Alan Moore of web comics comes along and shows us what can be done. (Yes, some people are doing it already, but nobody has made a Watchmen impact yet.)

The hardcover reprint market will survive, but only by continually reissuing “classics”, not by repackaging new work. Which is pretty much how the prestige book market operates today ( http://www.foliosociety.com/pages/aboutus-welcome ).


#5

I agree. I expect to see more repeated panels with minor differences creating a minor animated effect as you read, along with greater use of actual animated elements (flashing light sources, animated rain etc) and possibly mood music and sound effects.

I don’t think print collections will die. Maybe monthlies, but not trades.


#6

The repeated panels thing is seen in the Thrillbent/Valentine/Infinite comics stuff now (and Madefire do a bit more of the animated).

I do get where David is coming from on the collections stuff in that regard, it’s not so much that there wouldn’t be a market in print but how well you could actually reproduce it if you embrace all the digital tricks. I know they did reissue one of the Marvel Infinite comics in a trade (the AvX prologue with Nova if I’m not mistaken), I don’t know if anyone here has read it to see how it translated.


#7

One thing I’ve mentioned a while back is I don’t think the major publishers fully realise that Comixology and other digital platforms means anyone anywhere can buy your comics. Unlike films and music there is no geoblocking, things like Netflix and Spotify roll out very slowly around the world while Comixology was fully global from day one. I can’t officially buy e-books from Amazon (I actually work around it by using my UK address) but I can buy all comics on the platform they bought.

That allows amazing scope for growth. In our discussion the other day on comic sales it was said typically 20-30% are sold outside the US and Canada. There’s no reason it couldn’t be like the change in Hollywood where now 70% of revenue is outside if they took the relatively low cost option of translating them.

The only people I have seen try it so far are the indies, Alex De Campi (who is quite a pioneer) and The Private Eye where Marcos Martin did a Spanish version and Atomic Robo. I think we’ll see more going forward.


#8

There were also Batman '66 digital comics with those kinds of transitions that were reprinted in trade, I think.

Often those kinds of digital comics are more a case of each individual element of a panel being ‘layered’ on in order - so you read the first speech bubble of a panel before the next one appears, or a sound effect happens before the dialogue that refers to it, or whatever - so I don’t think they actually represent all that much of a departure from a static comic that would include all that information at once in a single panel and trust you to read it in order. (Although there’s some debate to be had there about the point at which something like that becomes animation rather than a comic.)

But I think the stuff David is talking about (that Moore has himself mentioned) is about changing the entire idea of narrative flow, having hyperlinks that allow readers to explore different aspects of the story in the order of their choosing, making stories move in ways that aren’t possible on paper, stuff like that.

I know that some people are starting to push those ideas forward, but all too often it seems like digital comics are concerned with trying to replicate and enhance the conventions of a paper comic on-screen, rather than working out what digital books can do that’s unique and special and focusing on that.


#9

Yes, the ease of translation and distribution with digital is something that came up in another thread recently, and I definitely think it represents a huge opportunity. Let’s see if publishers are able to harness it.


#10

As far as digital comics go I haven’t seen a better model than at The Panel Syndicate. BKV is just making and releasing good comics, in multiple languages, drm-free, at a pay what you want.

There is nothing better than good storytelling. All of the faux-animation really isn’t for me. I just want a well-made comic without any gimmicks. Honestly we don’t get enough of those in print.


#11

I heard De Campi interviewed on Word Balloon in around 2012, not long after digital comics went day and date and she had translated Valentine into a few major languages, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish. The book had had over 200,000 downloads back then.

Now the huge caveat is it was free but that is a couple of completely no-name creators at the time with a new concept hitting a huge audience, higher than the best selling comic on Diamond most months. If you looked at something like DC’s weekly 99c digital books, you have to pay but it’s cheap and they have all the advantages of huge brand recognition to go with it.


#12

When it comes to cost Steam actually have a clever approach by selling through their own program rather than a web page, where as we showed with Hola! recently it is very easy to fake where you are based with VPNs and proxies.

They adjust their prices quite radically for the audience, you’d probably be angry how little I pay for games from them (I did a comparison and usually less than half the price in the US/UK/Europe) but it’s an understanding that salaries are much lower in South East Asia and piracy is very poorly prevented. You can cry about that and get no business or drop the price and get people on board with a legal option, with all the advantages that brings like support and games that don’t crash half way through.


#13

It’s interesting though that DC and Marvel have both tried a Steam-style approach of selling through their own apps and haven’t made it work as well as Comixology.

Is that because they simply weren’t visionary enough to put the money into digital early on, and get the technology right, so the more forward-thinking Comixology came in and got everyone on board their ecosystem before the big publishers were able to get up to speed? (Genuine question.)


#14

Exactly. I’ve heard Moore mention it, but I don’t think he’s the guy to do it – genius as he is, it’s not his playing field. I heard Gibbons talk about it at a recent panel and it sounded like he had big ideas, but the results (that I’ve seen) are disappointingly conventional.

I think it’s going to take some young guy (much as I hate to say that :wink: ) to put the visionary
breakthrough together with the technological knowhow and really make the medium work. Probably someone we’ve not heard of yet but, he will dominating the new medium in 5-10-15-20 (delete as applicable) years time. He will be the “Image Founders” of the next decade.


#15

Actually it’s just a branding exercise Dave, The DC and Marvel apps are provided by Comixology and just do the same thing through a different portal.


#16

Ah, ok, I didn’t realise that (I’ve never used them). So they don’t even have their own dedicated apps to sell through?

(Obviously there’s Marvel Unlimited but that’s quite a different model.)


#17

No, I think the only advantage would be if someone liked the Iron Man film and searched the app stores for ‘Marvel’ instead of ‘comics’.

For the end user it was just the same thing but with only one publisher so a waste of time for normal comics readers that would rather see them all.


#18

In that case, I wonder whether dedicated apps are still a possibility for publishers to explore, to cut out the middleman of Comixology/Amazon.


#19

They could, or I think a better idea as their partners, Comixology could adopt the Steam approach to international sales, they aren’t doing nothing as they have a lot of French content on there now.

People do like a one stop shop. We’ve seen that with Dark Horse that went it alone for 4 years but I think had to accept that most customers don’t want to engage multiple apps. Imagine how something like Netflix would work if you had to sign on separately for Fox and Disney and Warners and Universal.


#20

Yes, fair point. The dangers for comics are I guess the obvious ones that would stem from a monopoly (while Netflix have competition from other services like Amazon, there isn’t really anyone else doing what Comixology is doing).