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Unbound: Tokyopop goes online

psycomm3Last year, when Tokyopop underwent a major restructuring, it suspended most of its original manga series, leaving a number of incomplete stories in limbo. That state of suspended animation ended last week, when Tokyopop Director of Marketing Marco Pavia announced that Tokyopop will complete most of the series, including Earthlight, Afterlife, and Gyakushu, online. Each volume will be posted for free, one chapter per week.

For Tony Salvaggio, the creator of Psy*Comm, the news came as a relief. Psy*Comm is the first series in the new program; Salvaggio and co-writer Jason Henderson had finished the book, and it was being lettered when publication was called off last year. “We missed the window by about a month,” he said.

Now that the book is coming out, Salvaggio has put together a Facebook page to promote it. The series is being published in other countries, including the UK, Turkey, and Croatia, and the first volume was named to the 2007 Great Graphic Novels for Teens list. Salvaggio hopes that being online will get his story in front of more readers. “We don’t sell gangbusters, but people who have read the book have really enjoyed it,” he said. “At A-Kon, everybody who came by and bought book one came back the next day and bought book two.

We talked to Pavia about Tokyopop’s plans for the online manga program and where they hope it will go from here.

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Unbound: ComiXology’s bricks-and-pixels store

It would be easy to miss the significance of comiXology’s Comics application for the iPhone and iPod Touch. After all, comics apps are, if not a dime a dozen, at least cheap and plentiful.

01-spalsh-screenBut Comics isn’t just a comic or a comics reader, it’s a portal that offers a possible way out of the death spiral that independent pamphlet comics seem to be locked into.

Consider the problem: Most comics are only available in comics stores, not on the mass market; prospective readers must often pre-order comics sight unseen; and Diamond won’t carry comics that don’t meet certain minimums. The barrier for new comics is getting higher, and readers have fewer opportunities to discover new comics.

ComiXology provides a digital solution to that impasse that keeps the retailer in the loop: It allows readers to sample comics for free and buy them for their iPhone or iPod Touch, but it also helps them find the print comic in a brick-and-mortar store. ComiXology CEO David Steinberger says he hopes to allow readers to preview and pre-order comics before their official release, helping marginal comics to reach Diamond’s threshold.

The iPhone application is an extension of the comiXology website, which features a complete listing of the comics available in Diamond Previews each month and allows readers to create a digital pull list.

Here’s what Steinberger had to say about the new application, which was announced at San Diego Comic-Con:

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Unbound: Rethinking Girlamatic

Girlamatic is back in the game.

The girl-friendly webcomics site, one of Joey Manley’s Modern Tales family of sites, has been so quiet lately that Comics Worth Reading blogger Johanna Draper Carlson wondered whether the site had gone completely defunct.

Kismet: Hunter's Moon, by Layla Lawlor

Kismet: Hunter's Moon, by Layla Lawlor

But rumors of Girlamatic’s death were exaggerated, says editor-in-chief Diana McQueen. The comics have been updating regularly, and the entire site will get a facelift when it relaunches on July 31 with new content and a new business model: Subscription fees will be dropped, and bloggers and new creators will join the existing lineup.

Girlamatic is one of a number of webcomics sites founded by Joey Manley; the others include Modern Tales, Webcomics Nation, Serializer, and Graphic Smash. In 2007, Manley announced a merger with Josh Roberts of ComicSpace, which combines webcomics sites with social networking. With funding from venture group E-Line ventures, they plan an ambitious revamp of the whole suite. The ComicSpace store went online in Februrary, and they have also set up an ad network.

McQueen says relaunches are in the works for the other sites as well. Each will follow a different editorial vision, but two things will be constant across the company: All comics will be free, and each site will be like an online magazine, with a personality all its own.

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Unbound: Gina Biggs on romance and independence

The interesting thing about Gina Biggs is not that she is the creator of a shoujo manga webcomic. Lots of people do that.

ch01-p00What’s interesting is that she has kept her comic, Red String, going continuously for six years, growing the audience as she goes; that Dark Horse, a publisher better known for manly manga than for quiet romances, published the first three volumes; and that she is a key member of Strawberry Comics, a collective of like-minded female creators who promote romance comics online.

While almost all the early global manga creators signed contracts with Tokyopop, Biggs chose to put her comic online and build an audience that way. After three volumes she is now self-publishing Red String and she says she makes about the same amount of money and works about as hard as when she was with Dark Horse. And best of all, she looks like she is having fun.

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Unbound: Review: Family Man

Family Man
by Dylan Meconis

In Family Man, Dylan Meconis has created a convincing, historically accurate world peopled with characters who feel solid and real, the sort of people you would enjoy hanging out with after dinner and well into the night.

Except, maybe, during a full moon.

Set in 1768, Family Man follows the fortunes of Luther Levy, who was a theology student at the University of Gottingen, in Germany, until he learned the hard way that asking too many questions—and not being able to give the right answers—can get you in trouble. As the story opens, Luther has moved back to the family home, where he is creating a bit of hardship by occupying a room that could otherwise be rented out.

The Levys are an interesting family, blessed more with brains than money or social status. Luther’s father, Avner, is a Jew who converted to Christianity when he married Luther’s mother, Veronika. Avner is a clockmaker; he has filled the house with clocks, which all go off at different times, and he wanders through the story tinkering, adjusting, and delivering little lectures. Veronika is stuck in the role of enforcer, although her strictness is tempered with affection. Until recently, Luther has been the good son, going toward the church while his twin brother Johann took a more worldly path and became a merchant. Liesl, the baby of the family, is bratty and intelligent, indulged by the others but not taken too seriously.

luther-and-johann

Now Luther has lost the patron who was paying for his education, and he is looking at a rather grim career as a tutor when he meets Lucien, who is sort of a traveling scout for a rural university. This meeting doesn’t seem to be entirely by chance, and Lucien invites Luther to teach at the university. It doesn’t take much to persuade him.

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Unbound: Calling Riverdale on your iPhone

At first glance, most Archie comics look very much like they did when I was reading them, back in the days when you could still buy comics in drugstores. For a dime. (Yes, I’m that old.)

That may lead the casual observer to think that Archie comics are staid and old-fashioned and never change. Actually, the editors and creators do a lot of experimenting, both with characters (as with the Archie: Freshman Year comic) and with art (witness the New Look—in case you’re following along, Reggie is the latest character to go all realistic).

The Archie folks have also embraced digital media: They put a hefty preview of each issue up at the Archie News blog, for instance, and all the core characters have their own personal blogs. When Veronica announced her impending wedding, she got 184 comments. That’s pretty enviable for any publisher’s blog. (This backfired, as these things so often do, during the New Look controversy: Betty and Veronica used their blogs to complain bitterly about the redesign, and they even started rogue blogs off-site, which have since disappeared.)

archie-comics-1

Still, when Archie Comics inked a deal with iVerse to make Archie titles available on the iPhone and iPod Touch, I wondered exactly who they thought would be reading them. After all, how many seven-year-olds have iPhones? So I e-mailed some questions to Stephen Oswald, Associate Editor for Archie Comic Publications. His answers suggest that the Archie folks are jumping into this with both feet: They are already putting 7-9 issues a month onto the iPhone, with plans for that number to increase, and at least one title (one of the weaker sellers, from the looks of their ABC figures) will move away from print and become a download-only series.

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Unbound: Hey, kids’ comics!

zipandbit2My father loved Archie comics and Mad Magazine. He read them unashamedly in public and made frequent references to them in conversation—references that often only his kids understood.

Dad could pull that off. For one thing, he was a theoretical physicist, so it’s not like he came off as dumb—just eclectic. And he was well known for his goofy sense of humor anyway. (Even when he had advanced Alzheimer’s, he still would come out with the odd bit of Three Stooges schtick.)

For most of us, it’s not so easy. My teenage daughters react with shock and embarrassment if I bring a comic along to read while running errands. Of course, everything I do evokes shock and embarrassment from them, so I ignore that, but a lot of adults do feel self-conscious about reading comics, particularly kids’ comics, in public.

On the internet, however, no one knows you’re a grownup. Which is just as well. Some of the best comics on the web are aimed at kids, but many of them, like Pixar movies, operate on two levels, speaking to both kids and adults.

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Unbound | Comics on the small screen

It may never replace print, but the iPod Touch is starting to emerge as a pretty good platform for comics, at least in the short term. It has several advantages over the Kindle—it has color, the graphics are nice and sharp, and a lot of people have iPods anyway for other reasons. For readers who value portability, it’s a handy alternative to carrying around a stack of books, and even purchased chapter by chapter, comics are generally cheaper in the iTunes store than in print form. A handful, such as Yoshitoshi ABe’s Pochiyama, are only available that way.

iboneiphone

At the moment, most of the comics available for the iPod are print comics that have been adapted to the new format, which has its advantages and disadvantages. Overall, it’s a different type of reading experience, and with the right comic and good formatting, it can be as good as or even better than reading the print version.

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Unbound: Reconsidering the Eisners

bodyworld

Bodyworld

Half the fun in awards like the Eisners is second-guessing the judges—everyone loves to discuss what should have been put on the list and what should have been left off. Reading through the nominees for Best Digital Comics, though, raised a bigger question for me: What comics really belong in this category?

All this year’s nominees are good, but as I read them, I kept thinking “This isn’t really a webcomic.” At first I attributed this to the lack of gamer jokes, Project Wonderful ads, and “about” pages. As I kept going, though, I realized that most of them would work just as well on paper as on the web, and their presence side by side in the same category was simply an accident of distribution.

What’s in a webcomic? A creator named KEZ recently articulated this very well:

My comic, The War of Winds, is a webcomic. It exists primarily in the digital format, and uses the internet as a vehicle for promotion and advertisement. It is read on a live connection to the world wide web. It has a site full of extra information that heightens the reading experience. It was created expressly for online distribution, not for print. It is free, and I’m there a lot communicating with the people who read my work. My comic would NOT exist without the internet due to logistical problems and the need for print publication.

Looked at in this light, only one of the Eisner nominees really fits the bill. The others would work as well on paper. Already we have seen Brian Fies win an Eisner in the Best Digital Comics category for Mom’s Cancer and then, two years later, get two nominations for the print version. This year’s nominations include not only the print version of Fishtown but also the MySpace Dark Horse Presents anthology.

As the landscape shifts, I think it makes more and more sense to nominate online comics in the appropriate categories—best writer, best short story—and reserve the Best Digital category for comics that could only exist on the web.

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Unbound: Why is this dog exploding?

from Gulch

from Gulch

For four years, before I started writing about comics, I was a reporter for a local newspaper.

I didn’t have much journalistic training, and at first, every time I filed a story, I would get an exasperated call from my editor demanding, “What is this story supposed to be about?

After a few months, I learned a simple lesson: Orient your readers to the story right away. It’s a lesson that webcomics creators should take to heart as well.

I call this the Zuda Test, because I formulated it while reviewing the comics at Zuda.com, DC’s webcomics competition site. Each month, I and my Digital Strips colleagues Steve Shinney and Jason Sigler read all ten of the comics at Zuda and discuss the pros and cons of each one.

Month after month, I found myself making the same complaint: After eight pages, I had no idea what was going on.

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