Sunday, June 24, 2012

Toys & Corners: Some Thoughts, Part Two...

(This is the second in a series of posts outlining some thoughts on the comic book industry, my career, and my future plans.  You can read the first part here.)

I started working in the comic book industry in 1994, which is longer ago than I can comfortably wrap my head around.  Seriously... I've been doing this for 18 years?!  How is that even possible?! Where did all that time go, and can I get any of it back?!

Anyway, things have changed a lot since then.  Back when I started we still did everything by hand.  We drew it by hand, lettered it by hand, and colored everything by hand, and then we shipped the pages overnight to our editors or our collaborators in other parts of the country or even the world.  Countless numbers of Fed Ex and Airborne Express boxes criss-crossing the globe, a Herculean feat of coordination that must have made editors' heads explode on a daily basis.

These days... not so much.  Now we do everything on computers to varying degrees.  Those pages we used to ship all over the place?  Now they're scanned into our computers and emailed all over the place.  Some artists even do all their drawing on the computer, which is almost as hard for me to wrap my head around as the length of time I've been drawing comics.

To be honest, I resisted this at first.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not a Luddite... And if you don't know what a Luddite is, go look it up on your computing machine, and if you're under the age of 40... get off my lawn, you whippersnappers!

So... where was I, again?  Oh, right... resisting change.  And that's what I was doing.  I didn't have a problem with computers, I had a problem with having to do things in a new way.  It was scary and I didn't understand it, so I just refused to do it...

...until I had no choice but to do it that way, because that was the only way the companies I was working for would accept the artwork.

If I wanted to keep working in comics, I had to scan my pages into a computer.

And that's the point.  A new technological innovation comes along, people find ways to use it to save money or just make things easier, and no matter how much you try to resist it, that innovation becomes the standard and you have to either adapt or get out of the game.

I've mentioned before that I maintained a part time job at Borders on top of my comic book work for about 10 years, off and on.  Keeping a job that gets you out of the house is a whole other topic, but it meant that I was working in a bookstore when Sony introduced one of the first mass-marketed e-readers, and then later, when Amazon introduced the Kindle.

My reaction?  Hated them, thought the whole idea of reading on a little handheld device was stupid and would never catch on, I'll stick with my nice printed books, thank you very much.  And excuse me while I go obsessively alphabetize them on the bookshelves in my office, 'cause I'm THAT much of a book nerd.

Cut to several years later and not only do I consume 99% of my media (including books and comics) on an iPad, but I'm even writing this blogpost on it.

My point?  The technological advance is in place, people are starting to apply it in their every day lives, and it's only a matter of time before reading or watching media on your mobile device will be the primary way people consume their entertainment.

And now, thanks to the iPad, the Kindle Fire, a hundred different comic book reading apps, and countless other important innovations, the writing is on the wall.  Or more precisely, on the iPad or iPhone, or whatever mobile device you prefer...

...comics are going to be digital, whether we like it or not.

Now, I'm not saying printed comic books are going to completely disappear.  For the sake of several of my close friends who run comic book shops, I dearly hope that there will always be a market for printed comics, just as there will always be a market for printed books despite the explosion in ebook sales.  But it will most likely be more of a niche thing, which is yet another idea that's hard to wrap my head around, considering comics are already a niche thing.  So that means printed comics will be a niche within a niche, but yeah... they're not going anywhere any time soon.

Mention digital comics on Twitter and you'll quickly discover that not everyone is on board with this idea.  There are many different and complicated reasons for people to resist digital comics, and there are valid concerns about the sale and marketing of digital media of any kind, but in the end, most of the arguments boil down to the same attitude I had towards scanning my artwork...

...I don't like it when things change.

I don't mean to sound like I'm mocking anyone's concerns about digital comics or the perfectly natural resistance to such radical changes, and it's important these issues be addressed, but I think we have to recognize the direction things are heading in -- there's no way this story ends without digital comics becoming the standard.  Two years, five years, ten years... it doesn't matter how long the transition will take, it's going to happen.  And most likely sooner, rather than later.

So... what does the inevitability of digital as the dominant form of comics mean for the comic book industry, and more importantly- in my house, at least - what does it all mean for the people who write and draw comics?

The short answer?  If digital comics are inevitable, it's time to figure out how to make some digital comics...

Next Time: No, really... I'll talk about some secret projects soon, I promise.


Anonymous said...

Call me old school as well. I like printed pieces. That's why I'm a graphic designer... I like going to shops and browsing the racks. As hesitant as I am with digital comics (so far, haven't loved the experience of viewing them via electronic device...and don't get me started on motion comics which even on the newest iPad was unappealing. Maybe if it wasn't a mainstream/crossover thing I would've liked it more), with printing prices the way they are-the digital switch makes sense, sadly.

Penelopecat said...

In a perfect world, I'd prefer my comics on paper. But having to find a place to store all those little skinny monthly comics, and then trying to find them again when I want to reread them... It's just not practical. It never was.

What's more practical is buying my monthly comics digitally, and then getting my favorites on paper when they're collected into books. Easier to store, easier to reread. So I'm all in favor of the monthly, serialized, less-than-30-pages comic going entirely digital. (Which, as you say, is probably inevitable at this point anyway.)

My favorite thing about the whole discussion, though, is reading people arguing online--digitally--that it's not a real comic if it's not on paper.

matthew dow smith said...

And that's EXACTLY the model I think we should advocate for -- digital single issues, print collections. It may take a while, but I think that's the direction the industry will eventually take. There's ALWAYS going to be a place for print. Too many old guys like me who just love to have a nice looking book on the shelf... alphabetical by author and in series order... 'cause I'm am OCD nerd about my books.


Anonymous said...

OK. I think I'll eventually be fine with digital monthly comics but printed collections...since I buy both printed versions of my favorites(well, all the Mignola related books, and that's a lot these days, happily). It'll save trees and me some cash and space in my house. I pass on collections that don't have bonus content. The Mignola collections always deliver with sketchbook pabes.

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