Lizzie Boyle Says: Notes from a [digital] revolution

Lizzie-Boyle-SaysIn her latest column, our intrepid columnist Lizzie Boyle Says talks to some industry experts about the future of UK comics and finds out that the future is digital!

Last month, I trotted along to the British Library for A British Revolution: 2000AD and Beyond, a great evening debate featuring author, comics fan and Dead Boy Detectives writer Toby Litt and comics luminaries Dave GibbonsFrazer Irving and Pat Mills. Whilst much of the discussion looked back at thirty-something marvellous years of 2000AD, I posed a question about the future: what would be the next revolution in the world of comics?

Pipedream readers will be delighted to know that the first answer that emerged was DIGITAL.

More specifically, Frazer Irving said he thought that the revolution wouldn’t just be digital for its own sake; rather it would be a simple thing that makes digital go mainstream. Perhaps it’ll be a PDF reader or an app or a simple user interface that brings new readers to digital formats… the answer is not in the digitisation of comics, it’s in the mass adoption of digitisation.

Dave Gibbons agreed on the issue of digital, and talked about the decision to create Madefire as an open source platform so that it can be developed and customised by a larger community and – hopefully – become the go-to options for readers as it improves.

Pat Mills was more circumspect and talked about where revolutions come from and whether we can predict them. He pointed out that graphic novels had a revolutionary impact on the comics industry that no-one saw coming, so perhaps it’s the outliers and the surprises that will take our world by storm.

A theme that recurred during the conversation was what the revolutionary / digital world will look like, particularly in an era where people are not used to paying for digital content. We have free news, free films, free music, free everything online, so why should we pay for comics? Creating a business model that rewards all parties fairly will be increasingly difficult in a digital world and the danger is that it’s the creators whose contribution gets devalued. Comics are a product that take a lot of time, effort and expertise to create, and all of that works deserves a financial reward.

Picking up on the outliers theme, Frazer noted that the next revolution may well come from a country we don’t expect, somewhere without the heritage of old business models, dominant publishers, established supply and distribution channels and so forth. Perhaps the US (and the UK, France and other major markets) are just too wedded to the established ways of doing things to ever lead a comics revolution. Perhaps radical change will come from countries that don’t have access to a comic shop in every (major) town, Amazon next day delivery and a big stack of trades to choose from. Perhaps it comes from someone with very limited access to comics, but a cheap laptop, an internet connection and a will to push out the medium that they love to a wider audience.

Thanks to those at the event who shared their thoughts and ideas. What do you think? Are we heading at top speed down a darkened highway that leads to a digital-only future? Will we continue to demand everything – floppy comics, trades, PDFs, comics-on-your-phone, live-in comics on Google Glass? Or will the revolution just be a simple thing that changes the world?

Lizzie Boyle is an author, blogger, small press comics aficionado and founder of Disconnected Press. You can find more or writing at lizzieboylesays.wordpress.com or follow her on Twitter @lizzieboylesays

Author: Lizzie Boyle