Monday 15 February 2010

iComics and Mycomics

This weekend I finally got round to playing with the Mycomics app for the iPhone which allows you load a zip file of any comic strip you happen to have lying around on your computer onto your phone. It's very simple (you just drop the file into an application called Jivaro or use your internet browser). Something of a vanity project so far for me (I've loaded up my own Deep Hereafter comic done for Doctor Who Magazine), but it's handy to be able to show someone what you do at the drop of a hat. I've often been in the pub trying to describe a comic strip I've worked on wishing I could magic up the pages and just hand them over. Hey Presto!

A double click with your finger allows you to zoom into a panel, but clearly it's impossible to read an entire page at once.

Like any other sentient comic creators out there I'm very interested in the potential for comics in the new digital media. While most comic creators are salivating over the prospects on the iPad I'm still fascinated by the possibilities of comics on the iPhone. It seems to have been dismissed by many people already, the obvious objection being the size of the screen. The reasoning here is that comics are about seeing a number of panels on a page at once, therefore iPhone fails and iPad wins. Because the medium has to be tailored to suit comics, right? I'm not so sure. This may be the kind of thinking that has got comics into the mess they're in.

Most comics in sold in the past 20 years have been sold via specialist outlets to 'comic buyers'. For some this kind of niche, even if it grows ever smaller, is the ideal situation. I've never been comfortable with the idea and have always veered towards comics that sell in newsagents to 'anyone' (even kids!!!).
Once upon a time when comics were young they lived inside a parent publication called a newspaper, they were read by lots of people (and were frankly brilliant), they grew and like all kids found there own feet. But the good thing about their life in the newspaper was that everyone household had a newspaper and so every child had a comic, the genius of Windsor McCay, Cliff Sterret, E.C. Segar etc was exposed to everyone.

These days even newspapers are dying out, but there is a form of communication that everyone has, in fact that everyone carries with them everywhere - their phones. That's why it seems the obvious place for comics to seek a new home, to reacquaint themselves with the world. My son and his mates are forever swapping text gags, horrific youtube clips and bizarre information via phones in the playground. This should be the breeding ground for comics - in the grubby mitts and fervent imaginations of kids.

I'm sure the iPad offers enormous potential for comics to reinvent themselves, but there is also the possibility that the same people will be making comics for the same people, everyone preaching to the converted. The iPhone offers comics the first chance for reinvention and looking beyond the existing readership. There have been some efforts - including Lewis Trondheim who's seen the potential and produced the daily delight, Bludzee, Darkhorse have done pretty good job chopping up Hellboy and we have seen (God help us) motion comics, but too many comics people seemed to turn their backs on the biggest potential readership because it wouldn't 'look like comics anymore'. Is that really a bad thing...?


John Freeman said...

Good post. I've been adapting comics for mobile for some time for ROK Comics, my basic advice is:

- 16-18pt lettering
- If you're adapting from a print comic, use repeat frames so you can cut down dialogue per frame (you can even do minor adaptations with expressions) to give the impression it's a new frame)
- adventure strips travel better than humour, so if you want international success, think like the old daily newspaper creators
- shorter is better if it's for viewing on the move

I like the look of the mycomics app but it would be even better if there was an app comic creators could use to create their own app on the fly and then offer it to the itunes store so they could earn revenue, potentially.

There's going to come a point where like webcomics there will simply be too much stuff available to filter what's good and what's bad. That's where ratings by user hep, but what;'s needed are editorially driven "hub sites", the equivalent of an anthology comic but for web or phone, where one person's "vision" shapes a more coherent "comic" or comics line.

Rob Davis said...

Hi John

Good points. I think making comics for the phone first and then adapting for the printed page second, providing a strip is popular enough, is the way to go.

I've had tentative discussions with a few fellow creators about just such an anthology style collection. I have my own rather singular vision that I don't want to go into online, I cut short my blogpost for that reason. At the moment I'm unsure whether there is enough confidence in my ideas or sheer will on the part of others will to make the commitment to doing it. I agree with you about webcomics, there's an ocean of stuff and most people interested in webcomics are making webcomics.

John Freeman said...

I'm working on print, web and mobile versions of my "Ex Astris" strip with Mike Nicoll: all three mediums demand different formats and while it is possible to adapt the printed page to mobile (and other formats), some of the attempts are pretty dire, IMHO.

Some of the webjams I've seen point the way and anthology comic online/mobile can also go.

Unknown said...

Woah! This is nuts! No idea about this app, very cool. John's got some interesting thoughts. I do find I'm more likely to read certain types of comics in mobile format....

John Freeman said...

I've expanded on some of the points I made above in this blog post:

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