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ComicsPRO, the trade organization for direct market comic book retailers, held its annual meeting last week, welcoming retailers from all over for presentations and discussions with various comic companies and other industry reps.
“Advocacy is a vital and important cog in the ComicsPRO machine. Too often, the retail segment is absent when industry plans are formulated and partnerships are forged,” says Joe Field ComicsPRO president, on the group’s website. “As ComicsPRO grows, our goal is to give retailers an equal voice with our other industry partners, so we can take an active role in the decisions that affect all of us.”
Although the meetings are typically closed to the press, some information from the three days in Dallas has come out:
A while back, I recommended a stylish new webcomic called The Sisters Grimm, noting that creators Dave Pauwels and Nicolas R. Giacondino seemed to be starting off on solid ground. Indeed, the webcomic, now retitled Free Mars, has been proceeding at the stately pace of one page a week for the past year and a half, and Pawels and Giacondino have done a nice job of building up their vision of a rebel girl band in 2339 (although they use some odd slang—the meanings are usually self-evident, but a glossary would be helpful).
Yesterday, Ape Entertainment announced that they have become “ownership partners” in Free Mars and will be publishing the graphic novel edition in July. The graphic novel will also be available via iVerse’s Comics + iOS app, which raises the question of whether Free Mars will continue to be available as a free webcomic. I checked in with Pauwels, and he cleared that up, saying, “The free webcomic will definitely continue with weekly updates and that content will be the lion’s share of the print graphic novel. But for the loyal webcomic readers, we’ll have additional material in the print version, including a mini-prequel story and some other original material.” That’s a great idea, adding some value to the print comic, and it will be interesting to see if the audience they built up with the webcomic will flock to the print version as well.
Oh, the cuteness! Ape Entertainment has just released a Strawberry Shortcake app, based on the iVerse platform and featuring three of their new Strawberry Shortcake comics priced at $1.99 each (plus a free preview). The comics are a few months old, but that’s hardly going to matter to the core Strawberry Shortcake demographic; what will matter is that these comics are colorful, competently drawn, and full of lively characters and silly situations.
The big digital-comics news this week was that the publisher IDW, an early iVerse partner, migrated to comiXology for support of its apps. Where iVerse seems to be hanging tough is in the kids’ market—they also run the Pocket God app, and when I spoke to iVerse CEO Michael Murphey a few weeks ago, he said that their biggest selling properties were not adult comics on the iPad but children’s comics on the iPhone/iPod Touch: “Our largest selling products are kids’ products,” he told me. “Kids get the hand-me-down phones and iPod Touches. As they start getting the hand-me-down iPads after Christmas this year, that will evolve.”
In that context, a stand-alone app makes a lot of sense; Strawberry Shortcake is easy to discover in the iTunes store, and you don’t have to download a separate comics reader or create an account to use it. I do think some extras would really send this app over the top, though. A separate Strawberry Shortcake game app already exists, but it would be nice to see some puzzles, coloring pages, even music or videos, to bump up the fun content even more.
This seems quaint now, but it was big news in March 2009 when IDW Publishing made its Star Trek prequel comics available digitally on the iPhone/iPod Touch (the iPad hadn’t been invented yet, kids), and released the fourth issue the same day in print and digital. IDW’s partner in that endeavor was iVerse, and while the publisher’s digital strategy evolved over the next few years, iVerse remained as the provider for its branded iPad app… until this week, when IDW announced it has switched the provider of the branded IDW app to comiXology.
It’s big news, but in an insider-baseball sort of way. Readers who are already riding on the digital comics bandwagon won’t notice a difference. IDW started putting its comics on the comiXology digital comics service a few months ago, and when I checked iVerse’s Comics + app this morning, the IDW comics hadn’t disappeared. That isn’t surprising: IDW has spread its nets wide, putting comics on everything from the Kindle to the manga site eManga. So the headline on the press release is really just a change in the back end. What is really significant is that comiXology now has nearly a complete collection, providing digital distribution and branded apps for almost every major publisher except Dark Horse (which has its own app) and Archie (which puts their comics on comiXology’s Comics app but has iVerse run their branded app).
Fans wondering about the fates of the Red Circle characters DC Comics once licensed from Archie Comics can wonder no more — in advance of this week’s New York Comic Con, Archie has announced plans to bring them back next spring.
The New Crusaders by writer Ian Flynn and artist Ben Bates, will be part of a Netflix-like online subscription service offered by Archie and iVerse Media, according to an article in the New York Times. The service will offer an original six-page story and access to an archive of past adventures. “It will be a nominal monthly charge with access to new comics and thousands and thousands of pages from the archive,” Jon Goldwater, the co-chief executive of Archie Comics Publications, told the Times.
The new stories will feature old enemies tracking down the now-retired heroes (who live in the aptly named suburb of Red Circle), leading The Shield to head up “the next generation” of the team. Archie last published adventures of the Red Circle characters in the mid-1980s; DC Comics licensed them from Archie for its short-lived Impact line in the 1990s, then tried to integrate them into the DC Universe a couple of years ago. And again, the titles were short-lived. DC co-publisher Dan Didio confirmed this summer that DC no longer had the license to publish stories about the characters.
In a press release that reads like a parody of corporate press releases, Peanuts Worldwide announced a series of digital initiatives that they hope will develop Peanuts into “a leading global entertainment and multi-media property.” Because it wasn’t before, apparently—just a meaningless jumble of books, television shows, movies, Broadway musical, syndicated newspaper strip, lunchboxes, etc. Verbiage aside, their new initiatives sound pretty cool.
First, there’s a new the Peanuts website, which is very nicely designed and gives you a daily Peanuts strip (the same one that’s in the paper, I’m guessing, but my paper doesn’t get Peanuts) as well as links to Peanuts merchandise, character profiles and video clips, and a page for the Charles M. Schultz museum. It’s a good start, and I hope they continue to add content.
The second part of the push is digital comics and e-books. The first product to launch was Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown, an original graphic novel published by kaboom!, the kids’ imprint of BOOM! Studios, which is available both in print and digitally via comiXology and a special Peanuts app (not in the iTunes store yet, as far as I could see). There are more original graphic novels on the way.
Top Shelf announced yesterday that it is going digital, starting out by making over 70 of its graphic novels available via the Comics+ app, which is powered by iVerse. Prices range from 99 cents to $9.99 for an assortment of graphic novels, including Andy Runton’s Owly, James Kochalka’s Johnny Boo, Jeff Lemire’s Essex County, and Nate Powell’s Swallow Me Whole.
This announcement raised all sorts of questions in our minds, and fortunately, Chris Ross, Top Shelf’s director of digital publishing, was here to explain it all to us. Read on for lots more info, including the answer to the burning question “Will we ever see Lost Girls on digital?” as well as whether they will do same-day print and digital releases.
Robot 6: Why did you choose to go with iVerse over the other distributors?
Chris Ross: Actually, our initial offering is with iVerse, but we’re planning on using many distributors over the next few months. They were the first to approach us, so they’re the first one out the gate.
Robot 6: Did you consider doing your own Top Shelf app? If so, why did you decide against it?
Chris: We have and we will. We’ll be creating two apps in 2011—a company branded app and a kid’s club app.
Robot 6: Have you considered other modes of digital such as Kindle, Nook, or direct download?
Aspen Comics sent over a press release earlier today detailing their plans to offer their comics digitally through iVerse‘s Comics+ application. They also plan to participate in the Diamond Digital retailer initiative that iVerse and Diamond Comics Distributors are set to launch later this summer.
Titles now available on the Comics+ app for the various iOS devices include Fathom, Executive Assistant: Iris, Soulfire and Shrugged. comiXology announced last month that they would be carrying Aspen titles as well.
You can find the complete press release on the iVerse announcement after the jump.
Update: Aspen Comics are also available on Graphicly.
SLG Publishing has been doing digital comics since before they were cool, and this week had more news on that front: They have signed with iVerse, and their comics will be available in iVerse’s Comics Plus reader. This will definitely help bring their comics to a wider audience. The digital launch includes the first five issues of Nightmares & Fairy Tales, Serenity Rose, and Ben Towle’s Midnight Sun, and the first three issues of Rex Libris.
Checking the SLG site, I also noticed they are doing digital in a different way: They are making Katy Weselcouch’s The Floundering Time available in CBZ format, for use in readers such as ComicZeal, and they say they will be making more comics available in that format in the future. The advantage to CBZ is that you can download it once and keep it. Comics bought through iVerse can only be read in the Comics Plus reader, and if the company or the technology disappears, your comics may disappear as well. Basically, digital comics distributors don’t sell you a comic, they sell you a license to read a comic. CBZ is much more portable and makes it possible to keep your comics forever, independent of a particular distributor or app. The ebook versions of The Floundering Time are priced at a very reasonable $3.99, a considerable savings over the print price of $12.95.
All over the Internet, folks (myself included) have been speculating about the fate of Tokyopop’s licenses once the publisher closes up shop next week. Fans have been listing their favorites, but I don’t think anyone would have guessed that the first license rescue would be a global manga. But it’s true: Cryptozoic Entertainment has acquired the digital rights to Tokyopop’s World of Warcraft and Starcraft manga, created under a deal with WoW parent company Blizzard, and today released them on the Cryptozoic iPad app. The app is free, and the first volume of Warcraft: Legends will be free through June 2; other than that, the manga is $5.99 a volume.
If you have never heard of Cryptozoic, don’t feel bad — the company was only founded in March 2010 — but now might be a good time to start paying attention. It makes comics, trading cards, and games, and its line includes the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game and The Walking Dead board game. The iPad app, provided by iVerse, also includes IDW’s Locke and Key comics, but the Warcraft and Starcraft manga are a big get, because fans can’t seem to get enough of those franchises.
(Hat tip: Steve Horton, via Twitter)
Stan Lee may be well past 80, but he’s always willing to move with the times. During the manga boom, he wrote a manga series, Ultimo, that was actually published in Japan before making it to the United States.; now that digital is the Next Big Thing, he has his own iPad/iPhone app. The app works the same way most comics apps do — it’s free to download, and it includes a couple of free comics (first issues) as well as more comics that you buy within the app.
Lee’s new app features all the comics he has done for BOOM! Studios, which is a healthy handful (Lee just thinks up the ideas — other people write and illustrate them): Soldier Zero, The Traveler and Starborn.
Interestingly, though, the app is published by iVerse, while the BOOM! app is based on the comiXology platform. While the iVerse flagship app, Comics+, carries BOOM! titles, they only added Lee’s comics today — and they are also up top in the featured position on comiXology’s Comics app. So not only is Lee getting his own app, he’s getting some extra juice from other digital distributors.
The digital comics scene continues to be a bit of a mishmash.
Every week, I get an e-mail from comiXology listing all of its new issues for the week, but the order seems to be somewhere between alphabetical and random. Viz Media also does a nice job of letting me know what’s new on its app. Graphicly sends a chatty e-mail featuring a couple of titles, but the company doesn’t put them front and center in its app, so I have to go looking for them (and it’s not the most intuitive interface). And while I know the iVerse folks have been busy, they don’t update their blog or (as far as I can tell) send out e-mails. This is all my way of saying that while the following may seem heavy on comiXology content, that’s not because I’m biased — it’s because comiXology has more titles and is doing a better job of promoting them.
That said, I thought it would be helpful to sift through this week’s offerings and pull out some good weekend reading.
A couple of classic series are debuting on comiXology this week. Having attended both the Vertigo panel and the Bill Willingham spotlight panel at C2E2, I was interested in seeing more of Fables, so it’s a happy coincidence that Jack of Fables #1 is up there for free. It’s just as clever as the main series, and Tony Akins’ supple penciling is a treat for the eyes. (One of the things I enjoy about Fables is that there is plenty of eye candy for the ladies as well as the guys.) Sometimes the free samples are kind of mingy, but not here: This is the whole first issue of Jack of Fables, and if that whets your appetite, Issue 2 is up there for $1.99.
Also new this week, although, sadly, not free, is Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s Batman and Robin. The first six issues, comprising two complete story arcs, are up this week.
One of the best things about comics conventions is getting creators and marketers to talk about the things that aren’t quite ready for prime time yet, projects that are coming up but haven’t been the subject of a torrent of press releases. I heard about a number of interesting comics at C2E2 this past weekend; here are a few that piqued my interest.
The one that really grabbed me is Dark Horse’s nonfiction graphic novel about the Green River killer, which was first announced in 2009. The Dark Horse folks like to take their time with their books, and marketing director Jeremy Atkins tells me that it is now slated for a September release. The book is written by Jeff Jensen, whose father was a member of the investigative team on the murders. “It’s stories that have never been told before,” said Atkins. “It’s not sensationalized at all. It’s more for a true crime audience than a crime fiction audience.”
If that’s too dark for you, here’s a bit of sweetness and light: Amy Mebberson, whose super-cute art graced the global manga Divalicious (you can read the whole first volume online at the link) and many of Boom! Studios The Muppet Show comics, is not letting any grass grow under her feet: She is one of the artists on Ape Entertainment’s Strawberry Shortcake comics, doing the coloring and some of the pencilling. This increased my interest in Strawberry Shortcake 100%.
Last week’s announcement that Diamond and iVerse would team up to form Diamond Digital, and sell digital comics in comics stores, left a lot of questions unanswered. So I went straight to the source: Michael Murphey, CEO of iVerse, which is Diamond’s digital partner in this deal.
iVerse is the company behind the Comics Plus app, as well as a number of branded apps, including IDW and Archie. Unlike comiXology and Graphicly, their apps run only on the iPad and the iPhone/iPod Touch, but that is about to change: As Michael explains below, they are expanding onto other platforms, which should make the program more attractive.
Brigid: I’m still trying to get a handle on how this works. I understand that customers who buy the digital copies will be handed a printed code, which they then redeem. How? Through iVerse’s digital storefront?
Michael: That is one way a retailer can sell a digital comic to a customer, yes. The retailer can also sell digital comics on their website. Codes can be redeemed on the retailer’s website or inside the Comics Plus application from iVerse.
Brigid: Will the sale go through the iTunes store?
Retailing | Borders Group, the second-largest book chain in the United States, filed for bankruptcy protection this morning, announcing plans to close about 192 of its 639 Borders, Waldenbooks, Borders Express and Borders Outlet locations over the next several weeks. It’s unclear how many of the company’s 6,100 full-time and 11,400 part-time employees will be affected by the closings. Borders, which listed $1.29 billion in debt and $1.27 billion in assets, plans to continue to operate through the court process with the help of $505 million in financing from lenders led by G.E. Capital.
The likelihood of bankruptcy has loomed for the past several weeks as the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based bookseller pushed unsuccessfully for publishers and distributors to convert late payments into $125 million in loans. That concession was critical to Borders securing $550 million in refinancing from G.E. Capital. Publishers like Penguin Group, Hatchette, Simon & Schuster, Random House and HarperCollins are now, in Publishers Weekly‘s words, on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars. Diamond Book Distributors, which stopped shipping to Borders last month, is owed $3.9 million. [Bloomberg, The New York Times]