Bitstrips, the Toronto-based startup behind those inescapable do-it-yourself avatars and comic strips on Facebook, has secured $3 million in funding from Hong Kong venture capital firm Horizons Ventures. The news was announced this morning, appropriately enough, with a comic strip.
Comics are truly entering the mainstream: They’ve become an annoying Facebook app.
Bitstrips allows its 20 million users to create comic strips of themselves as status updates, with a friend or as a greeting car; they can then be shared via the Facebook app or the new mobile app. And no, “20 million” is not a typo. Potentially some 20 million people are interacting with the language of comics in a way most never do – trying to create and clearly tell a story. Sure, that story is usually the equivalent of an inane status update, and “creating” is used very liberally here, as users choose from a finite number of backgrounds and settings that they customize.
Despite looking like a cross between Bratz dolls and Wii avatars (ie, bright and garish, squarely aimed at pre-teens), Bitstrips sprung forth from a comic artist. According to Know Your Memes, the mysterious Ba (surname unknown) was tired of re-drawing characters for a comics project, so he created a system where he could re-use customized characters and settings instead of drawing them from scratch every time. He teamed up with four other guys — graphic designers and comic fans — and launched Bitstrips at the 2008 South By Southwest in Austin. Bitstrips for Schools launched soon after as an educational tool, but things didn’t start to take off until 2011, when they caught the attention of Cartoon Network.
Note: This post could contain SPOILERS for Marvel’s Infinity, so read at your own risk.
Marvel and Playdom’s popular Facebook game Marvel Avengers Alliance has been chugging along since early 2012, drafting new SHIELD recruits, teaming them with various Marvel characters and sending them on the hunt for SHIELD points and silver as they fight through the ranks of Marvel’s baddest villains.
In addition to the regular game, players are also treated to special operations every so often, which are sometimes based on storylines from the comics — like the recent one that drew from Dark Reign. Each special operation is typically limited to about three weeks, and if you complete all the mission objectives during that time, you unlock a new playable character — past missions have allowed you to unlock Emma Frost, Magik, Hank Pym, Vision and, most recently, Ares, among others. Occasionally they’ll also have you collect lockboxes that, through a process that’s probably long and boring to anyone who doesn’t play the game (and can be extremely frustrating for those of us who do), lets you gain a second character for your rather large team of Avengers. So far those characters have all been characters who have been both heroes and villains during their career — Magneto, Juggernaut and Elektra, for example.
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Designed by Playdom, one of Marvel’s sister companies within the Disney media empire, the game allows players to assemble a team of Avengers from all corners of the Marvel U. to fight through various missions involving a host of villains. Recruitable heroes include everyone from Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, Deadpool and the Fantastic Four to heroes with, um, lower profiles, like Union Jack, Black Knight and Thundra.
Although Frank Cho has earned acclaim for work ranging from Liberty Meadows to Shanna the She-Devil to Mighty Avengers, his often-racy pinups frequently garner the most notice.
However, that attention isn’t always positive. Such is the case on Facebook, which apparently blocked Cho’s account for about half of Tuesday.
Artist Gene Ha passed along the news last night from Cho, who wrote, “Someone took offense to my artwork and got me BANNED from Facebook. My account is completely locked out. This is my third offense. The first two times, I was suspended. But this time I can’t even login. The screen goes white. At this point, I just want to know which image got me banned.”
But shortly thereafter, the matter appeared to have been resolved, with Cho again having access to his Facebook account.
After 14 hours of hell, my Facebook account is working again with no explanation,” the artist wrote. “Every time I login, my screen went completely white. I tried login on 3 separate computers and all 3 went blank. My tech buddy, Brandon Peterson, figured out that it was not a physical problem but someone from Facebook admin just put a block on my account. Now they just lifted my block without a reason or explanation.”
While Cho is back on Facebook, for now, which image triggered the apparent ban remains a mystery.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of Marvel’s Avengers Alliance on Facebook, the turn-based social media game that lets you recruit Marvel characters and send them on missions to beat up the bad guys. The game launched almost a year ago, and it’s still going strong, with new chapters introduced at a steady pace, new player vs. player tournaments providing the opportunity to fight for in-game rewards, and special operations that introduce new characters to your ranks. They do a fairly good job of giving you something new to do at any given time. For instance, as the latest PvP tournament was getting close to completion (with the big prize being early access to recruiting the Punisher to your team), they introduced a new special operations quest “Cry Havok.” As you might have guessed, it introduces Havok … as well as the first “villain” you can recruit, Magneto.
I love comic books, too. They’re awesome. I get plenty worked up sometimes about what goes on in the pages of my favorite books because they’re not doing it right! I get it. I’ve devoted countless hours to these characters. Heck, I’m the guy who ran a New Warriors fan site for years, tracking the chronological order of every random appearance, no matter how minor. And I did it completely without irony! So I get the emotional investment we have for these characters.
I also get how fun it is to use social networks. I use Facebook a lot, and Twitter, too, and it’s easy to get riled about something you see posted there. There’s no ‘dislike’ button to click so sometimes you just have to vent. And sometimes it feels like a regular old “how could you?!” just isn’t enough, that it just doesn’t get across how deeply you disagree with a plot development.
Regardless, none of that justifies sending threats. Dan Slott has received some extreme reactions to the leaked details of The Amazing Spider-Man #700 that go so far beyond normal fan griping that I wondered just what could’ve provoked such a backlash. So I reviewed the leaked information, and I have to say my response was, “That’s it?“
Earlier this year Playdom, a social gaming company that’s owned by Disney, launched Marvel: Avengers Alliance on Facebook. The game casts you in the role of a SHIELD agent who can recruit various Marvel heroes to help fight bad guys in missions assigned to you by Nick Fury, Maria Hill and Tony Stark. It’s a fun game; probably the best review I can give it is that here we are six months after it launched, and I’m still not tired of it. It’s not something I can say about many of the Facebook games I’ve tried out (Walking Dead, I hardly knew ye).
In addition to the regular missions that pit you against Loki, the Wrecking Crew, the U-Foes and others, the game will sometimes throw “special operations” at you. So far there’s been three of them–they’re available for a limited time, require the use of a fifth in-game currency (“Unstable ISO-8′) and offer unique rewards and new heroes as you complete them. The first two introduced Mockingbird and Emma Frost to the game. This past Thursday, they launched a third one, and what makes this one a lot of fun is that it actually ties into a current comic book storyline–Avengers vs. X-Men.
Manga creator Shuho Sato has been experimenting with different ways to actually make money with manga, which is a harder puzzle than you might think. The problem is that manga creators usually break even or lose money on the serials that appear in Japan’s weekly or monthly anthology magazines; they make their money when the collected editions (tankoubon) are released, but that doesn’t always happen, so it’s a gamble. Sato has written some sharp commentary about the economics of being a manga creator, and he pulled his series Give My Regards to Black Jack (also known as Say Hello to Black Jack) from his print publisher, Kodansha, and he had previously put it up online, which was at least initially a financial success.
Now the Finnish digital comics publisher Amimaru is publishing Give My Regards to Black Jack in English on its Facebook app, which is in open beta. The price is 12 Facebook credits, but starting Sept. 15, it will be free, per Sato’s request. Sato is also making the series available without restriction for “second uses” such as novelizations, and has said he will stop enforcing his copyright for an indefinite period.
How does he make money this way? It’s possible that Sato just doesn’t care, as he made it clear when he parted company with Kodansha that he was not satisfied with them. It’s worth noting that his newer series, New Say Hello to Black Jack, was published by Shogakukan, and he’s not giving that away for free, so presumably he figures he has made all he can from the first series and it’s a better use of his time to use it as a promotion than to try to eke a trickle of royalties from it.
Creators | In the wake of the FunnyJunk/The Oatmeal legal dispute, Ian Pike talks to San Diego-based webcomics creators David King and Phil McAndrew about the problem of having their work re-posted without credit. “If I were to sit there and try to hunt down all the websites that re-post my comics without my name on them,” McAndrew says, “I wouldn’t have any time to draw new stuff. So most of the time I just shrug my shoulders and keep on drawing.” One interesting sidelight is that Matthew Inman, the creator of The Oatmeal, has set up a site called BearFood where users can share their favorite webcomics with the appropriate links. [San Diego Reader]
Digital comics | Matt White surveys the digital-first landscape with a look at the strategies (or the lack thereof) from publishers ranging from DC Comics to Viz Media: “While the majority of digital comics are just digitized versions of print comics, available simultaneously (known as ‘day-and-date’) or after the physical version hits shelves, current digital-first offerings seem to represent an alternative, more specific market as publishers begin to treat digital more as a complement to print rather than a replacement.” [Publishers Weekly]
Following the temporary retreat from Facebook by the anti-gay One Million Moms, a pro-gay group has sprung up on the social-media site hoping to capitalize on its absence.
Called, yes, One Million Moms, the group describes itself as “One Million Moms and friends of moms who support LGBT rights. Let’s put a positive spin to the group name One Million Moms by supporting equal rights to people of all orientations, creeds, genders and colors.” To further tweak the other One Million Moms, the new Facebook page flies the banner of the Human Rights Campaign and uses an image from the current JC Penney Father’s Day ad that has so enraged the other organization.
The new OMM explains that, “Using a ‘Risk’ metric, any time a territory like this is contested, it weakens the prior occupier’s footing and destabilizes their hold on that particular region of Cyberspace. Fundamentalist mothers looking for the original page will be confused, join the wrong thing, or not join at all; it muddies the message and strengthens the position of the new occupiers. This new page might not garner all that many followers initially, but its presence WILL deny the previous owners their beachhead and create a blockade to one of their most persuasive channels.”
In another setback to One Million Moms, the conservative Christian campaign has retreated from Facebook after a post about DC Comics’ reintroduction of Green Lantern Alan Scott as gay was inundated by comments largely supportive of the publisher’s decision.
The New Civil Rights Movement reports that moments after issuing a “warning” Friday about DC’s official announcement (see below), the page’s administrator began deleting positive comments before apparently giving up and removing the post entirely. Shortly afterward, the One Million Moms page disappeared from Facebook, certainly the initiative’s most valuable social media platform. The abrupt exodus was followed by a tweet announcing, unconvincingly, to Facebook users that, “OMM will be offline most of next week for Vacation Bible School!”
The new Marvel: Avengers Alliance Facebook game launched … well, I’m not quite sure, to be honest, when the game officially launched, but I started playing it late last week, much to the detriment of every other Facebook game I used to play (which, admittedly, was down to one … Dragon Age, I hardly knew ye…). Designed by Playdom, one of Marvel’s sister companies within the great Disney media empire, the game allows players to assemble a team of Avengers from all corners of the Marvel U. to fight through various missions involving a host of villains.
Digital | Archie Comics will begin selling its comics through its Facebook page, which connects readers with Graphicly. With almost 120,000 fans, the page does seem like fertile ground. “It’s really a major move toward connecting the potential reader to the product,” said Archie Co-CEO Jon Goldwater. “We make it easy and hopefully create a new, lasting part of our fan base.” [The Huffington Post]
Retailing | Matthew Price takes the temperature in the room at ComicsPRO and says that retailers want stability — they credit the consistent shipping schedule for the New 52 for part of that line’s success — and creativity. The overall mood seemed to be optimism, with Diamond Comic Distributors reporting that comics sales were up slightly in 2011. [NewsOK.com]