If you’re a fan of video games and web comics then the name Penny Arcade will probably be probably be very familiar to you –  for those who aren’t well check out their site for some of the funniest online cartoons going. Poking fun at the world of games and the internet since the late 90s, writer Jerry Holkins and artist Mike Karahulik have carved themselves quite the niche as one of the few self-sufficient web comics online. Never ones to rest on their laurels though, Jerry and Mike have decided to dip their toes in the choppy waters of digital comics with their first release Lookouts, published in association with Cryptozoic Entertainment. It’s all part of their new Kickstarter project too, which is aiming for them to be able to finance the website (and Lookouts) without having to rely on advertising, so let’s hope they succeed as on this first offering has the potential to be something well worth developing.

The story follows the group of eponymous Lookouts who are young kids training to be guardians of their village but are more like the boy scouts of Middle Earth. As a sphinx terrorises the local road to Yarrow, killing travellers on their way, so the Lookouts‘ master Samson decides it is time to send them out on a little quest in order to earn another badge. Although the story is a little light in this first issue, writer Ben McCool,  alongside Jerry and Mike themselves,  does a great job of building this world of sphinxes, trolls and magical forest creatures. As well as a well thought out opening chapter, in order to get a more detailed insight into the world they inhabit, there’s a detailed guide to the Lookouts‘ honor badge system at the back of the book which is a really nice touch and goes to show the level of detail we could well come to expect from this book over the coming months.

However the real stars of the book are artists Robb Mommaerts and Mike Norton ably aided by colorist Rainer Petter. The style is both comic-like and cartoony, mixing manga style sharpness and European style humour, which reminded me of Asterisk in places. This helps create a fascinating tone and feel for the characters, which  is made even more vibrant thanks to some superb watercolour effects and natural brush strokes from Petter which  gives the book a really lush organic feel. Along with the quirky humour and well thought out story makes this a real book to watch going forward.

Lookouts is available on ComiXology for £1.99 and for more from the Penny Arcade team check out their website or follow them on Twitter @pa_megacorp

The aura of a number one issue has diminished to the point of meaninglessness over the years. Whether you blame the multi format 90s where every major franchise got rebooted and relaunched or the the post-DC52/digital boom of today where there seems to be a dozen new series launched every week,  the aura of a first chapter on a journey has lost some of its magic. However just as every journey has to start with a first step, so every great comic story must start with an issue 1, which brings us to this weeks digital must-have – Saga #1 from Image Comics.

Unlike other big name writers who seem be getting a new series every other week, the start of a new Brian K Vaughan book is still something to behold. The man who created the mind bending Y: The Last Man and who helped fine tune the brilliant Lost was never going to give you a dull book but Saga is something truly exceptional. Covering epic issues of love, fate, politics, religion and loss with a generous dose of epic space battles and kings with TVs for heads the only thing which I can compare it to is the brilliant Sandman by Neil Gaiman – but in space! Just as with Gaiman’s sprawling epic, it is the combination of intelligent narrative and stunning art that makes this book stand out from the rest. In the hands of a lesser artist the could become tacky or trite, but with the deft touch of Fiona Staples it has a mature dignity that helps mark it out as something truly special. Both the characters and the world they inhabit are perfectly crafted and with the psychedelic hand drawn lettering gives it a unique feel that even Mssrs Gaiman and McKean would be proud of.

Stretching to a substantial 44 pages, the story follows Marko and Alana and the birth of their daughter into the midst of an intergalactic war. She’s a winged ‘angel’ he’s a horned ‘devil’ although it’s far more complex than those obvious stereotypes would suggest. With the two parents on either side of the conflict, this is also more that just your usual doomed love storyline as Vaughan has created a complete universe of trouble for the characters to negotiate – not to mention the trials and tribulations of parenthood. It’s not all doom and gloom though and there is a  generous dose of surreal humour and some eye popping visuals as well which make Saga well worth checking out for anyone looking for something different to the normal superheroes or space operas this week.

Saga is available via ComiXology or from the Image Comics app for £2.49.

This week saw Apple launch it’s new iPad, with the now traditional circus of ridiculous hype followed by crushing disappointment followed by venomous online backlash. Although the Apple community may be baulking at the fact it doesn’t have a futuristic touch sensitive input interface or 24TB of storage in a thinner, faster cheaper, better design, the art community have several reasons to be very pleased with the new iPad, but just what is the fuss about this new tablet all about?

Manhattan Projects Comics issue 1It’s going to be a bit of a Jonathan Hickman special this week for the Pipedreamcomic Pull List. First up is his new creator owned series The Manhattan Projects published Image Comics. We’ve been fans of Hickman for a while here on Pipedream Comics thanks to his excellent run on Fantatstic Four and the new Ultimates, but with The Manhattan Projects it’s a return to his earlier pre-Marvel work (but more of that later).

Manhattan Projects is essentially an alternative history of the atomic bomb project, set in a world of telepathy and aliens more reminiscent of Dark Horse’s BPRD than a dry old history book about physicists! It tells the story of the arrival of Robert Oppenheimer to the project, but also of his relationship with his twisted twin brother, Joseph. Told in a series of split-screens, it uses colour brilliantly to juxtapose to the two characters’ very different back stories. With fantastic art by  Nick Pitarra,whose work is reminiscent of Geof Darrow and Frank Quitely, it has an ultra detailed and textured feel which counter balances the brilliantly stark graphics of the cover. It gets especially Darrow-esque with the invasion of Death Buddhas (Japanese Samurai robots) half way though, as they attempt to thwart the project and provides a bit of drama and action to really liven up the book.

With it’s dark and twisted undercurrent, this is going to be much more than just an alternative history cum parody of the atomic bomb project, and with the twist at the end, it sets the rest of the series off in a very intriguing direction. We can’t wait for issue #2!

Also available this month is a collection of Hickmans creator owned titles called Test Pattern. included in there are the brilliant The Nightly News, but also Pax Romana, Transhuman, A Red Mass for Mars and Red Wing for the grand total of £24.99. Although not cheap, you get a hell of a lot of comics for your money, but if that is a bit pricey for you though, make sure to check out the sample pack of issue 1s which are available for free, and might even persuade you to part with your cash and get the whole lot. Alternatively each volume is available for £5.49 (or £6.99 for The Nightly News)

The Manhattan Projects are available from Comixology and the Image Comics app for £2.49 with Test Pattern available for £24.99 or check out the first issues of all 5 series available for free.

It’s been a busy week for the big two, with a couple of major announcements from each company. First up was the appearance of a new dedicated area in the Apple iBooks Store for Marvel Graohic novels. A handful of titles have been available for a while now, but with this announcement and it’s appearance on the front of the iBooks store it’s a major move for Marvel. Their relationship with Apple has been every strong over the years, with their iPad app one of the showcase titles at the launch of the the first iPad back in 2008. However they have taken a bit of a back seat in the world of individual digital issues since then with Dc really leading the way thanks to their prominent position with their dedicated store on the ComiXology app. Perhaps this is a reflection of the House of M’s long term strategy for digital content on the iPad, preferring to prioritise collections rather than individual issues. If that is the case then there aren’t many better places to develop that plan than in the iBooks store.

Currently there is a good, but not comprehensive, collection of titles on there, featuring all your favourite Marvel characters and some classic titles like Marvel Zombies and Mark Millar’s Ultimates at the competitive prices of £5.49 per volume. Alongside these are more recent titles such as Dan Slott’s recent Spiderman books and Brian Bendis’ New Avengers, however how regularly these are updated and filled with new content has yet to be seen. And it will be interesting to see if other publishers follow Marvels lead and join up with Apple.

Meanwhile, DC have not been resting on their laurels and have released a new app showcasing their Vertigo imprint. As is the case with a lot of other title specific apps (Walking Dead, Transformers etc) it is just a re-skinned version of the Comics app, however it is loaded with some of the best titles of the past 25 years. Already on there are complete runs of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Garth Ennis’ Preacher and Warren Ellis’s Transmetropolitan alongside more recent titles like Adam Hughes and Bill Willingham’s Fables and Mike Allred’s iZombie. As with the main app there is a great section outlining which books are worth checking out and so If you’ve never read any of these infamous titles then this is a great way to check them out and really shows how great the digital medium is as a way to collect classic comics together in one place.

After all the weeks and months of talk, it’s finally here. The DC52 relaunch has happened. Whether you agree with their tactics or not there’s no denying they have created a buzz about the comics industry that we haven’t seen in years. Forget Civil Wars, Secret Invasion, or the death of Steve Rogers, Bruce Wayne et. al., this is the most excited I’ve been about a mainstream comic since 1991. Back then I was a wide-eyed 13 year-old and Marvel released Jim Lee’s X-Men #1, now here he is again changing the world of comics, but will it be for better or for worse?

Back in 1991 with the launch of X-Men#1 the comics industry was at the peak of the 90s boom. X-Men #1 sold over a million copies thanks to multiple variant covers in foils and bags and was (And still is) the most successful comic of all time. The aftermath of this was a few more years of boom for Marvel, but would quickly be followed by bust as the bottom fell out of market as a result of over exposure to variant collectors editions. However for Lee himself it would be the catalyst for the formation of Image Comics and a new generation of creator owned titles via his Wildstorm studios.

Fast forward 20 years and Lee is top dog at DC, and he is again relaunching one of the comics world’s top titles in Justice League. But this time, instead of pushing the multiple variants of print editions it’s all about the power of digital. Justice League will not only be a huge selling print title thanks to it’s big name creative team but it is being released and pushed heavily via the DC Comics app and via ComiXology’s Comics. There is no doubt that this will be the best selling digital comic of all time within 24 hours of it’s release and it’s effect on the potential digital market is huge. Lee, a self confessed Apple geek, has clearly learned something from the Cupertino computer giant with his strategy of midnight opening at comic shops, but he is also keenly aware of the impact that digital is going to have on the future of comics.

A lot of industry analysts scoffed when the pricing structure was released and we learnt that the issue 1s would be $3.99 compared to a standard $2.99 for future, but just as Apple don’t compromise on price, neither does DC. Lee, Geoff Johns and co are making hay while the sun is shining and making money from their cash cows while they can, however they are also maximizing the influence their major titles can have in order to create a trickle down effect for the entire comics market. This price won’t deter the hardened comics fans who will buy both print and digital edition and won’t stop Justice League and the others from being the best-selling books of the year. But thanks to the ease of digital purchase, it may just encourage readers to buy other titles from this relaunch once they experience the simplicity and quality that comes from buying Justuce League. Once readers see how easy it is to simply click on Action Comics, Batman or Booster Gold while browsing through the comics app then DC will rely on these readers looking to do the same thing again in 4 weeks time (or when they receieve push notifications from the app to remind them of just how easy it was to buy that initial title) Gone is the need to go into a comic store on release and day and pay with real money, with an app and micro payments a reader can buy every book they want and the bill will magically appear a few days later. This is the tipping point for print and digital and just as Lee was a central figure in the last shift in the business in the late 90s, so here he is a again in 2011. Let’s hope this is the start of a new golden age, not the pinnacle of another boom.

One final question remains though, as a comic is it any good? Quite simply, it’s superb! I’m prepared to concede I am not a massive DC reader, but it is casual readers like me who haven’t read DC titles in years (if at all) who this relaunch is aiming at. Just as Ultimates refreshed the Marvel line up in 2000, so this will refresh and bring in new readers by updating continuity and re-telling, not just origin stories, but early tales of how character met and formed bonds before they had 30 years of back story to muddy the water. As always, Lee’s artwork is bristling with finely honed detail and stunning characters and settings. His Batman still bristles with the grit and edge of his Hush artwork, but it is Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern that is the real star of the book with Jim’s over active imagination crafting amazingly complex backgrounds out of Hal’s super powered creations. But it is also Geoff Johns’ script that is a winner. Mixing humour and character and crafting a fantastic revised DC Universe uncluttered by multiverses and extraneous characters, this is good old fashioned comic book story-telling but with a true 21st century look and feel. Well worth investing your time and money in.

Champion! preview issueThe world of magazine publishing is a dynamic and shifting landscape that is seeing the old world order of printed pages being slowly usurped by a new dynamic digital world of interactive apps and websites. Since the closing of Wizard in January this year the main source for comics news has been via websites like Comic Book Resources, but now that gap may be filled with the arrival of Champion! – the ultimate comic book magazine.

An interactive iPad app/magazine from former Wizard Creative Director Steve Blackwell and former Wizard Editor in Chief Mike Cotton Champion! contains news, previews and interactive interviews . A free preview issue is now available on iTunes and it features Jim Lee discussing the DC relaunch and a roundtable with Mark Millar, Mike Mignola and Robert Kirkman on the growth of creator owned comics.  As well as traditional magazine style pages, there are also interactive elements such as 360 degree rotating product shots of action figures and embedded audio in the interviews. There also an interactive cover with exclusive Jim Lee art which shows you the development of the image from pencil to ink to coloured masterpiece and you can  interact direct with the team thanks to the live Twitter feed sections which allow you to give feedback directly to the creative team along the way.

The app itself looks great and is filled with the kind of high production values you would expect from such an experienced team. As with all launches, the first issue is still quite buggy with many of the pop ups not disappearing properly and so not allowing you to return to the original text which you have just navigated out of. However there are enough potentially new and exciting ideas in this that it will fill you with confidence about the product going forward as the potential is there for it to be something genuinely exciting.

The preview issue is available for free here with the first complete issue arriving 1st September

There are few comics writers who carve as individual a niche as Alan Moore. From his ground-breaking books Watchmen and From Hell to era-defining runs on Swamp Thing and 2000AD, when Moore speaks the comics world takes note – even if that is simply to pour scorn on his supposed ‘grumpy old man of comics’ viewpoint. On the eave of launching the latest incarnation of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen he has spoken to the Guardian about publishing his books away from the strict deadline-centric regimes of DC and Marvel and in particular the prospect of turning his books into interactive reading experiences on a tablet. Here’s what he had to say on the matter…

I have nothing against putting it on one of those devices per se except that it would require a complete rethink of that actual medium. The way the comics companies I believe are producing online comics is that they are old comics uploaded online and made available. That I don’t think is the way to do it, because comics storytelling is entirely predicated upon the print technologies of the late 1930s. We have six panels of page on average because that was the optimum numbers of panels to put on a page in a periodical of something like 32 pages. This is what has formed the very language of the comic book. The fact that you turn over the pages. And you can time it so that turning over a page will be the moment of some big revelation. Which you wouldn’t want your reader to have spotted on page 24 just because it’s opposite page 23. And subtler things that really affected the way that a comic story should be told.

So what I’m saying is that I don’t think these devices are quite there yet but they have some very interesting possibilities. But before we would be thinking about putting something like the League into that format, I would want to think long and hard about the possible advantages of that new medium and the ways in which my storytelling craft would have to be adapted to best effect from this new medium. Much the same as when comics were just a 24-page thing that you drew on pieces of paper. I was always trying to find what the medium was capable of and to push it as far as possible. Like I said I’ve been having some thoughts about this. People shouldn’t be too surprised if they were to hear something about me working in this kind of area.”

To read more about Moore’s future plans and to find out more about the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 1969 project you can find the full interview here.

1. Marvel to release Ultimates, Spiderman and X-Men titles ‘day and date’.
In other words print and digital titles will be released simultaneously. It’s a horrible phrase but this is a huge deal for Marvel with DC already launching their books on the same day as printing and planning to roll out their 52 reboot simultaneously across both platforms. This could finally be the tipping point where digital becomes as important as print in the house of M as Marvel plan to start the roll out with the complete Ultimates line up in August (the final Ultimate Spiderman having already tested the waters for a same day release). This will be followed by the Spider-man titles in September which include the eagerly anticipated Dan Slott written Spider-Island saga. The X-Men titles will join the day and date gang in October with Avengers and all new titles following soon after in a push to ensure all major titles are running day and date in order to maximize the new reader potential of the Avengers movie in 2012. It’s exciting times for the world of digital comics as the big boys finally put their weight behind the medium.

2.Todd McFarlane says ‘bet against’ DC Comics 52 relaunch
Image co-founder and Spawn creator Todd McFarlane caused a bit of a storm with his comments to Comic Book Resources about the new DC relaunch. Saying he would “bet against it” and that it’s a “fools game”  McFarlane was highly critical of  DC’s plans to relaunch titles simultaneously, saying he would have preferred a staggered release over the course of 8-9 months in order to boost sales across all titles rather than spike sales of issue 1s. Comparing it to Apple’s product launch he said “Apple doesn’t say we’re going to release the new iPod, iPad, Macbook and I’ll talk to you about the cloud, all in the same day”.  As an instrumental part of the 90s comics book boom with his own Spider-man #1 and subsequent Image Comics, Todd knows a thing or two about spiking sales, as you would hope would fellow Image founder Jim Lee, now publisher at DC. When it comes to digital comics and piracy, Todd was more circumspect saying, “You can’t undo the mindset of  ‘I like to be in my pyjamas, hit a button and get my comic books’ . You have to do what the music people do and say, we want you to download, but not download for free”.  He was also keen to push the idea of digital comics being cheaper than print, saying that the 99c comic could be a profitable option once you remove printing, binding and distribution costs, again comparing it to the music model of offering 99c songs, but was not prepared to announce a Spawn release on the digital platform.

For the full interview pop on over to Comic Book Resources here and see him talk about everything from Spawn and Haunt to the positive influence of Robert Kirkman on the Image Comics family.

3.Dark Horse to launch Star Wars titles digitally for 20th anniversary
With the Dark Horse iPad app now in full effect, it was only a matter of time before it felt the full power of the force. Just in time for the 20th anniversary of Star Wars comics, Dark Horse announced they will not only be releasing new issues directly on the app, but that each week they would also be releasing classic back issues such as the Marvel adaptation of New Hope alongside expanded universe story lines like Crimson Empire and Knights of the Old Republic.   Also announced for their fall line-up are of books based on Hellboy director Guillermo Del Toro’s best-selling novel series The Strain, a new partnership with Valve to create comics based on their hit video games line and Orchid from former Rage Against The Machine Guitarist Tom Morello.

4. Frank Miller unveils the trailer to Holy Terror
We’re huge fans of the creator of Sin City here at Pipedream Comics and so the prospect of a new Frank Miller book in 2011 got us very excited indeed. Judging by this sneak preview, Frank has not lost a step with his time behind the movie camera and in actual fact has given his stories an even more cinematic feel than ever before. This will be the first released book from the newly formed Legendary Comics, and what would be the chance of him releasing it as an interactive app – we can but dream surely?! We’ll find out September 11th!

5. Ape Entertainment announce Cut The Rope the comic
We’re huge fans of the Ape Entertainment guys, (as you can see from our interview here) so news that they are releasing a comic of hit iPhone/iPad game cut the rope is just fantastic. After the great job they did on Pocket God you know that Om Nom will be in good hands and we can’t wait to check out his back story and all the new characters that are promised. Released in late August, Cut The Rope will be available as a digital only comic via its own app.