Having written some of the finest comic stories of all time (Kingdom Come, Flash, JLA, Daredevil, Superman), superstar comic writer Mark Waid turned his back on print in 2012 and declared his allegiance to the world of digital. Over the past 12 months he has established himself as the true godfather of digital comics, thanks to the launch of Marvel’s Infinite series, but also with his creator owned web portal Thrillbent and its lead title Insufferable. As one of the most high profile advocates of the brave new world of digital publishing we asked Mark the secrets to a great digital comic and where things are heading in 2013?
What was the inspiration for setting up Thrillbent? Was it intended as way for you to write and publish the books you wanted to without relying on a major publisher? Or was it as a way to help dip your toe on the emerging world of digital comics?
MW: Originally, the former–it was a reaction to the staggering print costs faced by smaller publishers that will probably only rise. And it was also to prove my conviction that the future of the market is the shift away from Big Distributors and towards a smaller economy that’s a direct link between artists and their audience. But honestly, as we began to pull Thrillbent together and I began producing more material, I got more into the actual content–into the process that enables you to tell a story differently in digital.
How does writing for digital titles compare to writing for print? Do you have to think more visually or do you leave it up to the artists to make it more visually dynamic?
MW: Absolutely. The artists become a much bigger part of the storytelling process–in a way, in a throwback to the days of early Marvel where the artist worked less off a detailed panel-by-panel script and instead controlled the pacing a lot more. I still generate full scripts for digital, but the artists are HEAVILY encouraged to re-stage and re-pace to take advantage of whatever digital storytelling devices they want to play with.
What makes a great digital comic? Is it all about fast-paced action, interactivity and clever page transitions or is still all about telling great stories?
MW: Ultimately, it’s all about telling great stories. It’s not about the flashy tricks and interactivity–all those things serve the story. To me, what makes a great digital comic is a piece that takes advantage of some of the uniquely digital techniques–rack-focus, pop-up rejuxtaposition of elements (as when an inset image pops in that gives a whole new context to the art before you), all that sort of thing–without ever reducing the reader to a passive viewer watching a story unfold. I’m adamant that what makes comics still comics regardless of the delivery medium is that the reader gets to choose the pace at which he digests the story. If he’s just sitting back watching motion-comics effect happen, that’s not comics, that’s animation. And it’s colder, more distant, less interactive.
When it comes to interactivity, do you think there is a limit that the reader is prepared to tolerate before it become unreadable, or stops being a comic all together, and how close to that edge do you think Insufferable gets – could it get closer?
MW: It absolutely could get closer. I don’t know what the dividing line is, honestly, but I’m eager to find it. And step over it a few times to make sure I’ve found it. That’s primarily what Thrillbent is about–to push boundaries and then evaluate and see what works and what doesn’t.
2012 has felt like a watershed year for digital comics, how do you think the growing tablet market has helped shape the world of comics and how how do you see it shaping things in the coming year? More interactivity? Augmented reality? More digital only indies? More app based publishers?
MW: The growing tablet market is the medium’s salvation, flat-out, full stop. It’s the new newsstand. It’s the device with which, if we produce good material, we may eventually be able to turn comics back into a mass medium. I do see it shaping up with more interactivity, more digital-only. Augmented reality is an interesting experience, but it doesn’t yet help drive the story, it’s just a “DVD extra”–but I’d love to see it be a story element.
Do you yourself use a tablet for reading comics? If so what do you find are the various pros and cons of reading comics in this way and what digital titles do you read and would recommend to my readers?
MW: I use a tablet almost exclusively for reading comics these days. The downside, natch, is that big images and two-page print spreads are a pain to digest even on the new retina iPad, but most digital publishers are taking that into account. The big pro is the portability. Digital titles I recommend are Power Play, Atomic Robo, Marvel’s Infinite Comics, and the magnificent “The Stars Below,” hands-down my favorite comic, print or digital, of the last year.
What did you think of the way Marvel’s Infinite books were used as extras to the Avengers vs X-Men crossover rather than part of the regular series? Do you think we’ll see an entire series in that format in 2013 or will they just be used as bonus one shots?
MW: I can’t speak for Marvel, but my guess is that as soon as it becomes cost-effective, we’ll see the format that Stuart Immonen and I created for them more regularly. Right now, it’s a production strain for them–the amount of drawing and production effort that goes into what “feels” like about 20 pages worth of traditional story is a LOT more than 20 pages’ worth of drawing, IF you’re doing it right and not just, say, carving print pages in half like DC does, which is much more dull and staid.
The major issue with digital still seems to be price, you’ve approached Insufferable from both ends of the spectrum with a free web portal with weekly updates and then backed it up with a ComiXology release with issues at $1.99, how do you think that compares to the pricing of other books and do you think the pricing of the major publishers books are fair considering they no longer have to pay for printing and distribution?
MW: No, those prices are ridiculous, but honestly it’s way more about trying to keep brick and mortar retailers happy than anything else–about not giving comics shops the feeling that they’re competing with the same stories priced less than print. Eventually that’ll level out, but no time soon. I still think 99 cents is the perfect sweet spot for mass-audience sampling, but I could be wrong. I do know that ComiXology talked me into $1.99 with the Thrillbent comics using two arguments: (1) we’re giving them far more material per issue than a “standard” Marvel or DC comic does, and (2) pricing at $1.99 gives you the latitude to do big, sweeping 99-cent sales from time to time, which are a big traffic venue for them. So let’s try it their way for a while. I’ll report back.
I’m a huge fan of Kingdom Come, and would love to see it given some form of deluxe app treatment with loads of extras and behind the scenes info from yourself and Alex Ross. any chance that will ever happen and does that sort of book appeal to you as a writer and a reader?
Finally, what can we look forward to in the Thrillbent camp this coming year? Will more titles be added from other creators or are you just concentrating on Insufferable?
MW: We’re making some huge announcements in March about “Thrillbent 2.0”–the goal is to get several new strips up and running all at once so every day has something new on Thrillbent. And there’s a part of that relaunch that’s an absolute digital comics game-changer, my hand to God. Ask me again in March. By that time, we should have the Thrillbent app running, too–and that also incorporates a new way of accessing bonus material and behind-the-scenes extras that is genuinely jaw-dropping. Stay tuned.