Robot 6

What if digital comics did more than just show comics?


Tom Cruise from “Minority Report.” This isn’t where digital comics is heading.

Digital comics aren’t coming, they’re here. Image Comics recently revealed that this year digital sales will account for nearly 15 percent of its total revenue, and all signs point to continued growth. Digital comics are growing in the marketplace, but what about growing up? When will digital comics become more than just digital versions of print comic books?

What we now call comic books began in 1933 with the publication of Famous Funnies, but they were merely magazines collecting newspaper strips. It wasn’t for another couple of years that someone had the idea to commission original work to be put into a comic book. It took about another decade for publishers to move from multiple stories in an issue to a full-length tale.

Long story short, comic books took a while to mature into what we know them as today. The digital comic is out of its infancy but still a essentially a child. Will it take that next step to maturity? That question isn’t one for me to answer, but I can lay out some possible avenues for growth, and I’m not talking about motion comics.

Stealing a page from one of the building blocks of the Internet, imagine if digital comics had hyperlinks? In earlier era, Marvel and DC Comics relied heavily on editor’s notes that reminded readers of events in previous issues, or pointed them to developments in other titles that were mentioned only in passing. Now imagine if, in digital comics, those notes were transformed into hyperlinks so that a reader was just one click away from the issue or referred to within the story. If you don’t own that issue, a window would appear, offering the option to purchase it; and it was already in your library, the transition would be seamless. It’s an easy idea that might be harder in execution, but it would take that connective tissue in comics universes and strengthen it in a way only digital can.

A second idea would be giving comics “Artist’s Edition”-style bonus features. Imagine being able to key in on certain panels or pages and peel back the layers to see uncolored, then unlettered and uninked worked, down to the original thumbnail sketches. You could even peel it back further to the original script. Taking that further, imagine being able to pay a little extra to get “Director’s Cut”-style bonus features. Imagine seeing Stuart Immonen’s original designs for Nextwave available as a feature when you purchase an issue. What if you could read the original pitch document Scott Snyder used for Detective Comics or Batman? In most cases these are already out there on someone’s hard drive, just waiting to be monetized and distributed.

And for some of the more “blockbuster” or evergreen titles, I could very well see publishers organizing new content to supplement what’s out there. Marvel does it with AR codes, but imagine it being a click away for digital consumers – not just for new material, but  perhaps a link in the digital version of Frank Miller and Chris Claremont’s Wolverine that gave you a classic interview – audio, video, or even text – with the creators talking about the book. Kaare Andrews produced a commentary track for the jam issue of X-Men Unlimited he was part of almost a decade ago, but not much  has happened since.

These are just a couple of ideas of how digital comics could grow to be their own platform and not just a digital edition of print comics. I’m sure you have your own ideas, as well. It’s just a matter of these ideas being turned from imaginary to actual if publishers can see a financial reward to do it.



If we’re paying the full cover price for digital despite the lower production cost of a digital book vs. a book book, we deserve some kind of bonus content, absolutely.

Interesting to see you cite Obadiah Oldbuck as the first comic book- I had to look it up. It appears that The original Swiss publication was an original work, and not something previously published in a newspaper, or serialized anywhere. So… your statement is incorrect, unless you wand to change the reference from Oldbuck to Famous Funnies.

I was thinking about this the other day while reading League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1910 on Comixology and jumping back and forth between Jess Nevins website to read his annotations. It would of course be great to have something like that packaged in as easily accessible footnotes in a relevant digital comics.

It deeply offends me that anyone would look at a comic and think “this needs more features.”

Comics are 100% perfect as an artform. Digital comics just put that art form in a delivery system used in this day and age. Just like digital music didn’t change the composition of “music” as an art form.

(Disclaimer: I’m writer/artist on Upgrade Soul, an iOS-native comic)

First, a cursory search through comics apps will reveal many that do just what the author fantasizes about. Double Feature is a great app that incorporates extra features like creator notes and the ability to view each page in pencils, inks, and wordless incarnations. Operation Ajax is a great title that intersperses actual archival footage and newspaper clippings to expand on it’s true-history story.

To Ayo’s point, I certainly don’t think things like this devalue the comics medium any more than DVD-Extras devalue the film medium. As a comics creator who’s goal it is to reach as many people as I possibly can, it would be a mistake to ignore the potential of digital distribution. And as an an artist who has chosen to explore that option, I equally think it would be a mistake to ignore the technological potential in digital comics. I am truly inspired by the work that goes into taking my own comic into the cutting edge of digital technology, while remaining true to the comics form, just as I imagine filmmakers through history have been excited about every leap in filmmaking technology, even as decriers dismissed them as “not real filmmakers” because they used sound, shot in color, shot digitally, incorporated CG, etc., etc. I’ve published print editions of Upgrade Soul (in BW because I couldn’t afford color, btw), and honestly, without the score, 3d effects and full color, it’s simply a less immersive reading experience.

Typo alert! FAMOUS FUNNIES: A CARNIVAL OF COMICS–What many comics historians consider to be the first true American comic book–came out in 1933, not 1833!

I see you fixed the 1933 reference. However, I just read the rest of that paragraph though and you may need to do a bit more revising. The dates as originally written no longer match up. As is, it states that it was “Another decade” before newly commissioned stories were published in comic books. The company that later became DC comics started doing that as early as 1935, Just two years after FAMOUS FUNNIES: CARNIVAL OF COMICS.

I mentioned hyperlinks and many other functions as part of my webcomics lettering with HTML/CSS tutorial series in March it includes demonstration of how to make footnotes. The penciled version of a panel has been done before, can’t recall where I’ll have to look through my files. Here’s a demo of what’s taught in the blog:

Leave a Comment


Browse the Robot 6 Archives