Tag Archives: Digital Comics

Digital High Society review

Cerebus High Society (digital audio/video)

Aardvark-Vanaheim

2012

60+ pages each .99 cents

This was a long time coming.  The build up for the digital versions of Cerebus has been a hot topic for some time now, and I have finally absorbed enough to decide.  This is, for those not in the know, issues 26 through 50 of Dave Sim’s massive 300 issue series that ran for 26 years ending in 2004.  While there was more than a little attention on the creator of the book in the later years, the series itself continued to become a forum to watch a master of the medium at work, and that is the important thing here.  When the controversy over Sim himself finally fades into the background, the work will remain.

The series digital presentation starts with the second book, and the first complete graphic novel High Society.  The first 25 issues having been a somewhat looser more episodic style largely parodying the comics that were Sim’s main influence early on.  With this collection of digital stories the series launched into a clever, witty and very detailed look at both the comics industry and at the political process of elections.  Sim was quoted many years ago in The Masters of Comic Book Art documentary describing Cerebus in this book as a cross between Richard Nixon and Chauncey Gardner.  I’m not sure how accurate that is in hindsight, but the story is a rich and relevant today as it was decades ago.

The digital presentation is everything a fan of the story would hope.  The regular digital comic is fine; with sharp clean scans of the black and white art.  There are a few panels where the lettering in white on a black background is a little hard to read, but from a visual standpoint, that is my ONLY gripe.  The real discussion point here is the audio portion and extras.  This entire collection, of which there are currently 3 issues available for download here, is recorded with Sim doing all the characters voices and narration himself, with music and sound effects.  While not 100% successful, the presentation works well.  I can’t say Sim is a great performer, but he makes it work.  These are his creations and this mostly works well.  You know that this is how it sounds in his head.  These characters are now as close to what Dave envisioned as possible, and that is a neat feeling.  There is an odd novelty to the whole thing that may wear off, but this is cool.  The music is far from perfect as it sometimes is a bit much, but it quickly becomes a more seamless and enjoyable part of the book.  The guided viewing experience is dynamic and extremely effective.  You move with the characters at times and the feeling of being taken through the story rather than reading like normal can be a bit trippy, but very fun.

The extras are exhaustive and amazing.  It is clear that the DVD extras concept is what they are going for here and there is most everything you could have ever hoped to see, turning a 20 page comic into a 60+ page digital DL for .99 cents.  Every page, letter, note, sketchbook or notebook page even business correspondence is included.  Some of it is just an odd curiosity, but most of it is really interesting, and out of print since the original issues or never seen at all.  Having completely forgotten the experience of reading the individual issues years ago (I now have all the phone books and sold my originals ages ago) this was all an unexpected treat.

For the new reader to Cerebus, this is the perfect intro and offers up everything you would need to enter the story.  As a long time reader the new digital presentation is something even more special.  There is so much more here in the per issue package than in any other modern comic DL , that I would be hard pressed to believe that the big boys will even try to step up, putting this in a class by itself.

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AvX and Marvel’s Infinite Comics: Review

Well, it is here.  Marvel announced its new concept, Infinite Comics and the first offering is an Avengers vs X-Men tie-in. (Starring Nova of all people)

First, the basics.  Infinite Comics is a digital delivery platform, like the others.  Teaming up with Mark Waid, who is writing this issue (can we still call them issues?  Or is that too anachronistic?), Marvel has tried to take greater advantage of the technology to make the reading experience better, more interactive and work more effectively with the storytelling medium of comics.

The overall functionality of the interface is the same.  You still control things with your finger.  That process does not change.  What has changed is what you get with that swipe of the finger.  The concept of the page is very different and the use of the word page here is a little odd since there really does not have to be one in the same way, and over half of the issue is single panels that now function as the entire page.  The landscape format is better utilized here as well.  This is not a comic that was scanned and converted to the comic reader format, this was built from the ground up as a digital reading experience.  The story has a 12 page intro that asks if you are ready to have the future of digital comics at your fingertips.  The future may be a little odd for some, but I like what I have seen so far.  .  This .99 cent download has 65 “pages”, but the traditional definition of a page is going to have to change somewhat.  The first 4 pages of this are the same image that alters only slightly aside from the text, one sentence per advance.  (In print, this would NOT be a 65 page comic.) Then the story bursts in.  The panels, or what here are pages, flow smoothly from one to the other in a dissolve.  There is often no change in the basic panel, but information is added to the same image to progress the narrative.  The intro flows into the story and there is another set of images that build on the start, telling you what you need to know ONLY at the pace you need it.  There is no spoiler effect caused by turning the page and seeing info or images farther ahead than what is supposed to come next like you get in a regular print book, and even in the standard full-page view of a digital book.  As you swipe through, text is added to the same image several times, controlling the flow of the story very solidly.  There are instances where if you saw all the text at once as you usually would, the effect would be lost.  Here, you get what you need in a way that tries to preserve the emotional content and impact of the story.  There are several uses of blurred images and racked focus, so that you see images as though you are pulling focus and seeing it firsthand like a participant.  When more traditional panels are used, they flow on the screen one at a time and form a widescreen “page”, but they do not always flow in what would be a natural progression of left to right.  There are times when you get a left to right, then the image is interrupted by something in the middle of all that.  It is jarring and that is the point.  You really can feel the impact of the events unfolding.  There is a sequence that in print, would be a double page spread with panels within the main image to simulate movement of bodies in story-time and through the panel.  Here that is achieved with a single image that is expanded and altered to show what the passage of the story events are doing.  It is very like if you were standing there watching it happen in front of you.  Then the changes get even more subtle, page to page.  The next sequence uses a minimum of images that slowly change as the story moves.  Some change very slightly, others completely.  It fits what is happening in that the POV is from someone starting out not fully aware of his surroundings and gaining more info as he goes.  In one shot, the panel does not change, but the focus racks from foreground to background. The images included here do NOT do this package justice.

This is a stunning presentation.  The story by Waid is slight, as it needs to be.  It is a teaser after all, and cannot give too much away.  But what you get is strong and interesting.  The art by Stuart Immonen cannot be given enough credit for the success of this product.  You cannot tell this story as effectively in a traditional manner, and a lesser storyteller would have failed to use the format as well.  The book (can we use that word anymore?) is a joy to look at and is never overshadowed by the technology employed to realize it.  They compliment each other perfectly.

That will be the real test of this new digital medium, I think.  Superior creators will thrive.  Learning the tech is just a matter of choice, and they are tools like any other, but only the really skilled in their craft will thrive.  Waid’s new all-digital venture is one example of what happens when someone who really knows their stuff tries to force the medium into a place it NEEDS to go to survive.  Now the trick for Marvel will be, are they going to squander this with just any old crap, or only use it sparingly to start off.  They should allow only the best kids to play in this particular sandbox?  Unfortunately, Marvel has not always showed the most restraint when they get something good, but to be fair, most publishers are all too quick to run something into the ground in order to make a quick buck.

A quick note about the main AvX book:  ugh!  I really think this one will be crap.  What I have read other than today’s review, is awful.  Sorry folks.  A fun idea that looks like it will be poorly executed if the zero and first issues are anything to go by.

I am truly hopeful.  This is the best digital comic I have seen yet.  If the format is properly used, Marvel’s Infinite Comics could be exactly what the industry needs to not only survive, but prosper and continue on for a very long time.

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Mark Waid and the tempest in a teacup.

At Wondercon this week, Mark Waid announced that he was selling his entire comic book collection to fund his new all-digital comics venture.** Here is the link he has provided so that fans can go see a sample of the product.  And here is the site to watch for more once this is fully live.  It is pretty decent, and may well signal good things to come.  There has been a surprising number of responses, but then again,  responses of any kind are surprising to me on this subject.  Is this really that out of left field?  Waid has been talking up digital for a while, and if there is any major creator out there in comics currently that is not at least considering it, I would be very surprised.  The advantages to a writer, artist or other creative person to be able to put your product out in the world for consumers to enjoy digitally are growing daily while the disadvantages of print only continue to grow.  Digital is less infrastructure intensive as there is no need to own or pay to use a printing press, no physical distribution or warehousing of the product.  The actual production of the product is similar in that you have to pay anyone that helps you either up front (or on delivery of the product) as would traditionally be the practice or on the back-end once the sales start to trickle in.  In Waid’s case any artist, colorist or letterer at least.  You do not need to pay someone to defray the staggering printing costs by selling ads, but I suspect that the site that hosts will want to sell ads.  And the overhead of large unwieldy office staff that comes with printing a lot of books is simply not part of the math.  The eventual need to maybe hire someone to handle the books and correspondence is there and is a good problem to have, and means that things are going well.  Once you put the product out there it is only about accepting money and some ongoing promotion of the product to grow and maintain the audience.

The main negative is the same with any small business start-up, you may find yourself without customers.  But with the above initial outlay so much less, and the possible rewards so much greater, why not try it?  As to those rewards, there is the ownership of the property, and the financial rewards of same.  You as the creator can own as little or as much of your product as you choose.  Why would anyone choose to own any less that 100%, I hear you ask?  Easy, the need for the involvement of other people.  As Waid is not an artist, he will need some help.  That either means paying them in a work made for hire manner, as is his right (the artist is equally free to say yes or no), or giving them part ownership.  This of course leads to an outlay of cash for lawyers.  Ugh!  Ask Tony Moore if he thinks that he should have maybe been more concerned with those kinds of details.  Realistically, I imagine it will be a mix of both.  I have heard that Peter Krause is already on board as a partner to some degree.

The inevitable backlash from people with only their own short-sighted interests at heart is the real story.  Bleeding Cool posted an open letter to Waid from a dissatisfied retailer in Florida.  He claims that Waid is now the enemy of print and his (the retailer’s) way of life.  Right.  Yes, that is what he said.  The retailer continued to state that he has not  been promoting any book Waid is involved in and will now be actively crusading against it in his stores.   This alone is short-sighted to me, or perhaps his store is the only place a customer in the area there can go to get comics. Push a customer away, for any reason, and they are very hard to get back. I love my LCS and the guy who runs it is one of the nicest and most knowledgeable around.  He knows that the vast majority of what I now buy is from Amazon or In-Stock Trades.  Does he like it?  Probably not, but I know he understands it.  When I purchase something from the brick and mortar store, it is because I cannot get it anywhere else, and that supports a segment of the market and encourages him to get more like it that I and other fans will buy.  He is not afraid of digital.  He knows that for the foreseeable future there will be enough readers that want to own the physical copy of a book to keep him in business.

The reason comics shops have been on shaky ground for the last 20 years has little to do with the fans or the product  but rather more to do with the business model.  The current model that shops are using was never really meant to be a long term one.  The publishers have no interest in changing it because they don’t really care is comic shop X goes under.  Publishers are slowly beginning to diversify and they have always been good at sticking their collective heads in the sand.  The industry as a whole has faltered for similar reasons, but mostly because it is an industry with no desire to look to the future.  Some of the publishers, such as Dark Horse are actively trying to partner with the stores.  But for the most part, the industry is perfectly content to eat its own children and act as though the consumer is only interested in the next big thing.  The product and the lack of quality that tends to go into it has been the death knell for the industry.  The creator owned market has never really sustained solid growth, but neither has it really suffered from a lack of interest, at least since the black and white implosion leveled the playing field somewhat.  If the creators need digital to maintain independence, then jump, I say.  The future of comics is no more 100% digital than it is 100% print.  If Waid feels this is the best option for him, I applaud it.  Since I have generally enjoyed what he puts out there, I will also support it as much as I am able to.

Another thing to consider is that digital can actually enhance sales of the print book, particularly in the independent realm.  Just ask the guys that produce Atomic Robo.  They have stated publicly that the free books and digital DLs are improving or at worst, not affecting the print sales at all.  I believe I heard that Warren Ellis’ Freak Angels was a huge seller in print and it is and has always been, free online at the same time.

Resistance to change is natural.  The real survivors are the ones that can adapt to change.  Destroying the agent of change never works out well for either party.  But then, that is what comics are all about these days, it seems.

**Selling it all!?!  Egad!  Even that first appearance of Bat-mite!?!  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

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Where do you buy YOUR comics?

There is and always has been a fair bit of debate about where to buy comics. Should you always get your fix only from your LCS (local comics shop) to support a market sector that could always use the help, or should you spread it around and help the entire industry as evenly as possible? Realistically, I don’t think there is much of a debate on this topic, at least not one worth the time. Any comic purchase is a good one. Any way that you can support the industry is better than nothing. The original way of getting your books is all but gone. Newsstand delivery has gone the way of the vinyl record and the telegraph. Up until the rise of the direct market, the huge majority of readers got their fix from the local newsstand/gas station/convenience store. These retailers got their product on a returnable basis, like most monthly mass market magazines. Anything that didn’t sell, they would rip off the cover and return for credit and throw away the rest of the book. This was an awful business model for most of its history. Publishers would just base print runs of a book on sales of earlier/similar titles and hope. It would not be until months later that they would discover the actual sales of a book. Seems laughable now, given the almost instantaneous info flow now, but this was the way of things back in the day. In the Golden Age the sales were so high on some books and the profit so great, that this was actually the most viable model. As soon as the sales started to drop and the profit margins began to shrink things started to get dicey. The retailers were confronted with a product that was not selling very well and was a lower profit per each square inch of rack space compared to regular magazines.  Publishers realized that the model was bleeding cash. They began to push home delivery subscriptions and for a while, that really helped. I recall getting my Fantastic Four, X-Men and the Avengers in the mail covered in those stupid brown paper bag covers for a couple of years as my local newsstand was not bothering to carry them any longer. But that really only served to show more flaws in the model. A “good” selling book by the 1980’s would be in the range of 150 to 200 THOUSAND copies a month. This at the time was not taking into account the returnable books, but they really couldn’t at this point. A book on the bubble of cancellation was, at least at Marvel, selling 100k or lower. For most of the Claremont/Byrne run of X-Men, the book was always skirting that edge. That was one of the reasons they were allowed to get away with what they were doing. It was not until after Byrne left that the sales were up high enough to call the book a real hit. Hard to imagine now, but it’s true. Today if you include every form of distribution available, a book selling 40k plus is likely to be considered a reasonable hit.

The cancellation point for most books now is 20k or lower and some creator owned books, because of the payment structure to the folks doing them, manage to survive at around the 10 thousand copy mark. Once the publishers shifted to the Direct Market things looked bright, for a while. Then the flaw in that model started to show up. Comics were no longer available everywhere, and as a result, long term sales continued to slide as the casual reader either became a serious one or got out of the market entirely. Publishers were now able to print more accurate numbers of the titles thanks to a pre order system, but at the cost of total revenue. This showed they were really not doing very well as a business and things started to get worse.

Now with the Direct Market, Bookstores, comic shops and digital distribution, comics are limping along. 100k+ books like the DC relaunch are the exception rather than the rule. Digital books are higher profit for the publishers once they are able to amortize the infrastructure costs out, much like any other cost of doing business, and the retailers pay a higher percentage for what they buy. The books are also not returnable now, for the most part. Comic shops feel the pain and some are rebelling against digital distribution, but really they need to embrace it. Comics are a medium that is on the verge of failing if digital does not save it. The print model is expensive and wasteful. Any way you buy your books is good. You are making it viable for publishers to continue making the product we love (or love to hate).

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A fresh look at digital comics

Previously, I have been a bit lukewarm on the idea of digital comics.  Here was the main post earlier on this subject.  Since my initial impressions were formed, I have gone on to actually jump in much deeper, since purchasing my very own iPad.  Shiney!

I have downloaded a variety of books from several publishers via Comixology at iTunes, and for the most part, like them very much.  There is a sizable pile o’ content out there to choose from and a variety that is more that deep enough to please even casual readers.  I started with the large bunch of free books.  I have not started paying for books yet, but I will come back to that, as I think there is a specific part of the market that will be exploited here.  The books that I went for were from Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, IDW and Red 5.  I loves me some Atomic Robo!

The main parts to evaluate here are what the industry has to overcome to push readers into this segment of the market, with the hope of capturing new readers or potential returning readers.

The first for me, is the overall readability.  Is the issue easy to read comfortably?  From a visual standpoint there are differences between the companies that would trace back to how the books are put up on the site.  Some are born in digital so it is easier and looks better, some start the old-fashioned way and are scanned, and several are a mix of both.  Without knowing the exact steps each book takes, I can only really comment on the appearance of the books.  DC books, at least the dozen or so I looked at, look fantastic!  Clean and crisp, with loads of power in the image.  Color and depth of field are amazing.  The other publishers are a more mixed bag.  Older material looks rougher, as a result of simply being from older sources and not ever having been in digital.  Or scanning is less high quality.  None of them looked bad, just some looked better than the others.  The best advantage digital has over print is the color and black levels.  On the printed page it just does not looks as cool.  This is more like a movie on disc than a comic.  The navigation is excellent, and while there are a few minor variations depending on the book, once you have read one book, you will be comfortable reading them all.  You can see the entire page or individual panels as part of the guided view.  I like to mix it up.  When I open a comic, I see the whole page first, so this method appeals to me and, if I am honest, is comforting.  Familiar is always like that.

The next is ease of use.  That it is easy to get these books is a pretty fair statement.  I had previously dabbled at Dark Horse and Marvel’s direct sites.  While the quality of the image on Marvel was somewhat better, Dark Horse was a much more user-friendly site.  Comixology via iTunes is excellent.  The app took nearly 30 seconds to download (the horror!) and the comics take between that and a minute.  Perfectly reasonable, in my opinion.  We have reached the point in our world where we complain about the dumbest crap, and slow DL speeds seem to top the list with a lot of people.  Quit your bitching and go outside for a while, converse with the family, whatever, just don’t whine about connection speed.

Now on to price.  The digital price is the same or less than cover price for everything and most companies lower the price once the print issue has been out for a while.  DC even has it fairly clearly structured up front.  Most publishers have a nice selection of free books, and not just what they are trying to hype at the moment, though there is some of that too.  Samplers to get you reading new books, (that is how I started on Atomic Robo-if you like adventure books with lots of humor, find this title) and even some much older catalog titles.  I was amazed to find Mage #1 at the Image page.  There are also lots of rotating specials.  Some publisher specific, some that Comixology runs.  Marvel has 99 cent Mondays, which will be something I look into very closely when I start buying.

And that brings me to the untapped segment of the market, Trade Waiters.  I am one of these people who is “ruining the industry” by not buying floppys.  I will, at best, buy the first one or two then wait for the trade if I find I want more.  Digital will make that practice much easier, and better for the publishers, I suspect.  I might buy a new floppy a month.  At 3 to 4 dollars, that is all I can justify.  With the available bargains created by waiting a month or two, or holding out for the special prices and free samplers, my dollar will go farther.  Which means I am much more likely to try a book for 1 to 3 dollars that I would have otherwise passed up at 3 to 4.  And if I like the free sample of a book that I would not have otherwise seen, that will get me to buy the trade or hardcover that I would not have otherwise paid my money for.  How is that not a win-win for everyone involved?

While I have a long way to go before I am fully sold, and I don’t really see a day in the future that I will willing drop paper entirely, I see the value in these electronic thingamajigs over this new fangled interwebs deal.  I can recommend anyone give it a try.  Will it bring NEW readers in?  Possibly, but my real hope is that it gives a shot in the arm to the balance sheets of all the publishers out there.  I think if it is done correctly, and it seems headed in the right direction now, that it could really keep the industry alive and vital for years to come.

 

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Not going to be THE destination for comic readers any more…

Well, Barnes & Nobel have fired the first shot in retaliation for DC/Warners putting 100 of the company’s graphic novels up on ONLY the Amazon Kindle.  B&N’s response to this is to completely pull all 100 titles from their store shelves and not allow special orders on them either.  (You will still be able to order them from the company website)  They state that they have a commitment to their customers to offer everything they can in every format they can, and having these title in store but not on their e reader, the Nook, flies in the face of that.

Jim Lee has a Kindle Fire and you dont (from Bleeding Cool)

Blah, blah.  You can complain that you don’t have  Kindle Fire or that you only want physical media or that all of the companies involved are evil corporate thugs, but none of that is really the issue, and all of these are points of view, not valid arguments.  These are not companies out to screw their customers.  No company that hopes to survive is.  No, this is just a bonus side-effect of a company being short-sighted.  It has happened before and it will continue to happen.  It’s called a format war.
Format wars are, by and large, not very good for an industry, whatever that industry is.  The “practice” goes back a long, long way.  Anytime a potential competing proprietary technologies and the money that comes from them is involved, you will have a format war.  One of the earliest was Edison vs. Westinghouse.  This was AC electric power against DC.  AC more or less won but only for the distribution of the juice as the stuff being powered is generally DC.  That’s why there are big converters on most appliance and small electronics power cords.  Another famous one in its day was for records (that’s those big black CDs your grandma has in the basement to all you kids), but the war was decades long and involved first cylinders vs. disks, then the competing speeds of the disks.  (33.3, 45, 78 etc)  They too, all found a niche in the market, but if you need a winner, it was 33.3, and that only because the business model was shaped by the market, which was shaped by the pop groups like the Beatles putting the emphasis on albums rather than singles.  Albums used to be what supported the single, that flipped around, and the album took over.  In your lifetime there has been Apple vs. Mac (ongoing-but not really much of a war anymore), and DiVX vs DVD  (SUCK it Circuit City!) and Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD.  There have been dozens of major ones and countless smaller ones, all having far-reaching effects in their various industries.  But let’s be clear;  the only people who benefit from these wars are the eventual winners, when there is a clear winner, which is not often.  And even then, the winners paid too high a price for that victory and cannot claim any real lasting benefit from the victory.  The losers are ALWAYS the consumers of the products and SOMETIMES the group that had the defeated format.
In most of these, the format war harms the industry.  Competition is good, but the battle needs to be an ongoing one for that to be valid.  Once a consumer makes a choice for a format, they rarely bother with the other side untill a winner is obvious.  The person that picked DiVX, as an example, either bought 2 products (and the software to go with them), a DiVX player and a DVD player after the war was over, or dropped out completely.  Today, more and more consumers are buying multiple platforms in the same field.  Lots of us have an X-Box AND a PS3 (I have neither), or cable AND satellite.  I would not be surprised if there are lots of people who have bought a Kindle and a Nook or an iPad.  I myself have not picked one yet.  But that is ultimately a bad thing for the industry, a group of manufacturers that seems perfectly happy to swallow its own tail.
As for the specifics here, it is good for comics in the short-term and more than likely, bad for everyone else in the long-term, which would also hurt comics.  I think this is pretty likely a tactic and we will see some sharing.  In my book, the only real bad guys here are Barnes & Noble.  The devices themselves seem to favor the Kindle or iPad as the Nook is slightly inferior.  Less versatile and connective, with fewer apps (and no comics from the above linked list) and less support for other platforms.  Nook is only B&N.  You can ONLY get books from them for the most part.  You cannot hook it to your computer for any purpose.  That puts the iPad and the Kindle on a much higher level as they both support more and can do more.  All these factors make B&N look like they are whining like little kids not being allowed to play with the cool toys.
One more thing to remember is, EVERYTHING has its exclusives.  There are apps I cannot use on the iPhone or iPad but can on the Android devices and vise versa.  I cannot play XBOX games in my PS3.  This is nothing new, and complaining about it now is like complaining that the girl you broke up with is dating someone else.  You have no one to blame but yourself, and we are all to blame here, for our willingness to support too many devices that all do essentially the same thing.

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Digital Comics…

I have been thinking more and more lately about the digital comics push.

With Dark Horse Comics having launched their digital comics site, I have been to visit the main publishers sites to see what is out there.  First off, I will be a hard convert to digital as I spend all day in front of a computer and feel no further need to “be connected”.  Also, I must confess to not liking the idea of “buying” something I don’t actually own.  Your library of comics exists at the site and cannot be downloaded to your system.  Even accessing on a mobile device is done online, they are not in your device permanently.  Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I call that renting, not buying.  It is done in the data cloud but since the cloud is not in any way mine, the stuff in it exists only at the whim of the provider.  I will go into that a bit more later.

The various sites are very similar, some more user-friendly than others.  Dark Horse is easy to navigate and has what they say is not a great selection.  They are downplaying it a bit because they do not have much of the deep catalog online yet, but what is there is more than enough to get a very good slice of what they have to offer.  The application itself is not perfect, but what I don’t like is nothing to do with the site as much as an inherent incompatibility between the comic medium and the delivery system.  I am not comfortable with the viewing modes.  Full screen is too small to read easily and the panel zoom mode is a bit imprecise.  It moves through large panels arbitrarily at times and you lose the impact and even some of the content of the art.  I imagine on a larger screened device like an iPad, this would not be an issue, but even on my laptop the full screen was just a little too small.  The zoom mode does not do the art any favors either.  Some art looks fine this way, some not so much.  There is a reason that the originals for the printed page are so much larger than the final product.  It looks better, tighter and cleaner once it is sized down to fit the printed page.  Like many digital viewing formats, the quality of the image can suffer slightly when enlarged.  The rest of the experience is fine.  Those out there that enjoy the digital format should be perfectly at ease with this site.

Marvel’s site is a different matter.  First off, I have never really liked Marvel’s online presence.  The site has always had an unfinished look to me.  For such a major player in the industry, I think they should have a more impressive site.  The site itself is user-friendly enough and the comic reader they employ is similar to Dark Horse’s.  I found it easier to read and in general, easier on the eyes and cleaner.  They have a few added feature that I liked as well.  The book info section is great for someone not specifically familiar with a book, and the size of the image being viewed is much more adaptable thanks to a zoom +/_  control at the bottom left.  There are a few drop down menus that allow for a greater level of customization also.  And the art just looks better.  The image is crisp, and very vivid.  I would make the comparison that the Dark Horse site is DVD and the Marvel one is Blu-ray.  They both look very nice, but in a detailed comparison (obviously you cannot compare the same book) Marvel wins the prize.  My problem is the cost.  $5 per month for an annual subscription and $9 if you just go a month to month.  You CAN buy issues individually, but they don’t make it easy for you as there are a few too many hoops to jump though.  The subscription price appears to include the entire library, which is extensive and has a great selection of the classic, not just the current stuff.  There have been complaints of the clumsiness of the apps, but I have no issues with any of that.  I just find the subscription a bit galling, as though they are so sure of the content that you will never have a month that you feel cheated.  A fan who was a bit more hardcore into the Marvel stuff might disagree and find that this is a great value, so I will not make any judgements there, this just isn’t for me, long-term.  There are also browser issues as the Marvel site prefers Google Chrome, a system I do not prefer.

And then there is DC.  I like many books they put out, and was eager to try this one, unfortunately the site is not compatible with Firefox.  Synergy is all well and good, but the powers that be seem unwilling to allow any level of choice.  Yes, Mac or PC is supported, but there are many other things of this nature that are a little more flexible.  It is not a true compatibility issue so much as it is a money issue.  Money is being made by creating essentially a type of service bundle.  You cannot use A until you get B.  That gets you on cookie and other tracker lists and forces you to use particular browsers or other apps that make someone else money.  All because you wanted to read a comic or download a song.  So did I ever just cave and use a different browser?  Nope.  I didn’t, and I wont.  Not anytime soon at least.  DC has lost me as far as the digital content is concerned.  Marvel too, but for a different reason.  I know these guys are in business to make money.  But in this era of uber-connectivity and apps being as commonplace as shoelaces and for most things, so much a part of our lives that a toddler can use them, shouldn’t a medium that is desperately trying to stay current and hold its fanbase together be doing everything they can to be fan friendly?  Dark Horse wins on this hands down.  Not because they are doing it better.  The site will improve, this is just a first try, and they are off to a great start.  With a very small amount of tweaking and a little time, they will be an excellent resource for digital content.  No, Dark Horse wins me over because they at least appear to want to.  With a great variety of content to choose from and a variety of ways you can give them your money and get what you want, they have done what the other 2 big companies have completely failed to do.  Make the fan feel welcome and needed.  This is a site, that despite its flaws, wants you to like them and is willing to make this the easiest thing in the world.  It took me less than a minute to start reading a full issue.  I had only to register and go.  If I want to pay for a book, that process was much faster than at the Marvel site and if I didn’t want to pay, there was a huge percentage of the overall content that was free compared to Marvel where a few preview pages of most of the content was free, then you had to pay.  In my mind that is worse.  Free is fine.  If I want more, it is clear from the start that some things will be free and other will cost me.  Marvel seems to act like a drug dealer with the mantra “the first one is free” and not even a whole first one.

Maybe I am old-fashioned in this, but I would like to have at least the illusion that the company values my business and my loyalty, not just my wallet.

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