“Every great digital comic creates a larger market for others” Ezra Clayton Daniels outlines his digital comics manifesto and new website Screendiver
When we first launched, one of the incredibly innovative series we discovered was Ezra Clayton Daniels’ Upgrade Soul – a mix of surreal sci-fi and cutting edge digital story-telling. Over the years, Upgrade Soul has been through many incarnations but along the way Ezra has gained some unique insights into digital story-telling and is now looking to share that knowledge with a new digital comics manifesto and a website called Screendiver.com, we catch up with him to find out more!
You’re launching a new site called Screendiver and at it’s centre is a digital comics manifesto, so what inspired you to write this and share your knowledge with the world – I’m guessing it’s a reaction to your various experiences producing Upgrade Soul? Why share that with the world?
Ezra Clayton Daniels: It just comes down to my desire for this medium to succeed. I admit, when we were knee-deep in development on Upgrade Soul and we saw Operation Ajax for the first time, my first reaction was “dammit!” But when I checked it out and saw how amazing and engaging it was, both in ways that were similar and different from Upgrade Soul, I had this revelation. Every great digital comic creates a larger market for others. If we all share ideas, lessons, and promote each other’s stuff, it helps all the work find a larger audience, and consequently an appetite in readers for more. Plus, I just want to read great digital comics, so there’s also a selfish aspect to it.
What are the aims and ambitions of the Screendiver website? And where did it come from?
ECD: One day I was looking for digital comics to see what the current state of the industry was, and it was just shockingly difficult. Everybody was calling the medium something different, from “motion” comics to “cyber” comics, and because there are so many different platforms, there was nothing like a dedicated storefront anywhere. I went on the Apple App Store, where I knew a lot of innovation was happening, and searched for “comics”. Something like 75% of the results were “Rage” comic readers, and 15% were comics-style photo filters. I don’t think Upgrade Soul even came up, or Operation Ajax, or Nawlz, or any of the awesome digital comics I knew were on the App Store. I realized if I couldn’t even find my own comic with a simple search, how could anybody else? So I outlined an idea for what was basically IMDB for digital comics. I wrote up the manifesto, which consisted of talking points from a few lectures I’ve been giving on the subject, as the centerpiece. The manifesto just seemed like a perfect anchor, and an easy entry for somebody who might not know anything about digital comics.
Who else is involved in the project and how did you come to involve them and how can other people get involved?
ECD: I pitched the site to Remco Vlaanderen of Submarine Channel when we were both at the Fantoche Animation Festival in Switzerland showing our projects in the first “motion comics” exhibition, which was put together by Christian Ströhle. Daniel Burwen of Operation Ajax was there, as well as the Milési brothers, of Binary Land, and Jason Shiga of Meanwhile. Remco was into the idea, so he took it to Submarine Channel, and they approved it and we just ran with it. We want this to become a comprehensive directory of every comic that uses technology to transcend print. Anybody can contact us through the site to request their project be added. Our next update will probably be a more automated portal that allows people to add their own projects. Right now it’s just projects that we’ve added ourselves, so it’s nowhere near comprehensive.
After an initial surge of creativity within digital comics when the iPad launched, things seem to have quietened down over the last few months. Would you agree with that? And why do you think that is?
ECD: I can only speak for Upgrade Soul, but for us, it just came down to economics. Even though there are virtually no limits to digital distribution, the cost of development is way higher than the cost of printing. And there just wasn’t a market there yet. At least not enough to keep us working on it steadily. I don’t think anybody really ended up making money from that generation of iOS comics. So I think we did hit a bump in the road, but the whole app industry is feeling it, and companies are still kind of scrambling for new ways to monetize content that consumers won’t balk at. There was so much high-quality free stuff on the App store for so long as all these companies were trying to gain a share of the marketplace that I think it really skewed consumers’ concepts of value in that space.
What platforms out there do you think are leading the way – are Madefire still relevant now that many of their leading lights have gone to work for the Big Two? What about Electricomics here in the UK? Or is it all about webcomic pioneers like the amazing Sutu? Or is it still about app-based comics like Upgrade Soul?
ECD: I don’t hear much talk in the wild about Madefire, but I think they have a great product. Electricomics has potential, but their interface and messaging are a bit impenetrable, and the app is super buggy (and iPad-only). I like Stela, which is a really interesting app that’s totally on to something with its focus on the phone. Sutu has definitely been a part of more conversations I’ve had–his stuff is so engaging and viral. He was actually staying with me in LA when I made the video for the Digital Comics Manifesto, and he presented it on my behalf at Haarlem Striphagden in Amsterdaam. He’s doing a new AR art book that’s currently up on Kickstarter: http://tinyurl.com/jfc7h5x I have a piece in that as well!
There’s a service we have through the LA Public Library system called Hoopla, which is basically Comixology, down to the guided view options, but free (and includes books, movies, etc.). My girlfriend, who isn’t a huge comics reader, has been burning through the comics in that app, just because it’s so damned convenient and easy. That’s what makes me think services like that are where the market has to go. Comics needs its own Netflix. Comixology is trying something like that, but it’s pretty buried and limited. Only some titles fall into their subscription service umbrella. Even with their normal storefront you can’t actually purchase any comics through the app because of Amazon’s beef with Apple. I think that kind of clunkiness turns off a lot of potential readers, so it’s hard to use it as a example for what people want or what will succeed. Comixology totally has the potential to be the Netflix of comics. They have the money and the comics people want to read. I think it’ll take something like that breaking into the mainstream for people to develop enough of an appetite for digital comics to then seek out something as idiosyncratic as Madefire, and eventually stuff like Upgrade Soul.
Speaking of which, whatever happened to Upgrade Soul?
ECD: I’m still working on it! It’s just the development of the app that’s stalled. I’ve been releasing volumes on Comixology. Once I finish the whole thing, hopefully by the end of the year, we’re going to finish the app and relaunch it as a one-time-purchase thing–and don’t worry, anybody who’s purchased chapters will be taken care of!
And finally, what can we hope to see coming out of Screendiver in the coming weeks and months?
ECD: We just need to get more projects up! So anybody who’s reading this and has a digital comics project out, contact us through the site and get added!
You can find out more at www.screendiver.com and watch Ezra’s Digital Comics Manifesto below…