“It makes comics more accessible and more affordable to creators and readers alike” Disconnected Press’ Lizzie Boyle on ‘why I love digital comics’

Our new series of guest columns on ‘why I love digital comics’, continues this week with a controversial entry from Disconnected Press Lizzie Boyle.

Lizzie BoyleForgive me, gods of comics, for I have sinned. My confession: I’m not that fussed about digital comics.

As I’m writing a column about why I love digital comics, I guess I should confess to being a hypocrite too. Every repentant sinner goes through a process of self-justification, so here’s mine:

Digital comics are hard to read.  They’re portraits in a landscape world, staring out at you from a screen that’s too big or too small but never just right. It’s hard to flick back and find the scene that happened earlier to check which character knew what, when. Add motion and the comic starts to force the pace when sometimes you’d rather linger. And isn’t there something beautiful about the simplicity of a comic on a piece of paper, forcing your imagination to do the work rather than relying on a bunch of microchips behind a fingerprint-smeared screen?

But.

But, but, but.

Here’s the thing. I love digital comics. Not for what they currently do, but for what they mean.

Digitisation gives us the opportunity to transform the way we do things. It makes comics more accessible and more affordable to creators and readers alike. Anyone can publish them. Anyone can promote them. Anyone can read them. (The above paragraph assumes the ubiquity of computers and the internet. And we should never assume…)

“It makes comics more accessible and more affordable to creators and readers alike. Anyone can publish them. Anyone can promote them. Anyone can read them”

If anyone can make a comic, don’t we end up with a race to the bottom? Uncontrolled mayhem? A collapse in quality? Quite possibly. But we get more creativity and more entertainment which must make us a happier species, otherwise we’d have stopped drawing pictures before we left the cave.

If anyone can make a comic, isn’t it harder for creators to make money? Probably, though was it ever easy? Paradoxically, it may be easier for creators to make money from digital rather than print as we strip away the costs associated with layers of the industry that are no longer needed. [Something to note here: creators are very bad at quantifying our time, particularly when it comes to marketing and promotion. “Oh, I’ll just tweet it,” we say, then spend an evening coming up with pithy one-liners and buffering tweets for rainy days. If there’s no publisher / distributor / retailer resource going into marketing your comic, then you’ve got to do it yourself and that takes time and money.]

If anyone can make a comic, isn’t it harder for publishers to make money? Bite me. That said, we have digital music and, after mass panic in the record industry, the UK market is getting used to its new shape. We have digital books, and sales of books have increased as prices have fallen – better value for readers but reduced incomes for those poor old publishers. Similarly with movies: digital movie rental has seen the number of movies watched increase while prices fall. Interestingly (to me), our physical appetites for music and cinema remain: the live music market is worth more than the recorded music market, and cinema ticket sales are up 11%. The upshot of all of this: industry will adapt and industry will thrive. Demand for digital drives demand for non-digital too, albeit at cheaper prices. The lesson from the music industry: if you can’t stop the tide, you just buy a new boat and keep on fishing.

Digitisation gives us the opportunity to transform what we produce as well as how we produce it. It enables us to do things that print doesn’t: link from a storyline in one comic straight to a storyline in another. Produce circular pages, triangular pages, upside down pages, zoomable pages. Let the reader choose their own path through the world of the story. In a digital comic, you could switch on the TV in Peter Parker’s bedroom, play the piano in Wayne Manor, set the navigation codes for the missiles that will save the world from The Next Big Monster. OK, you can do some of these things in print – or in your imagination – but the arrival of digital has to make us paper-based dinosaurs think more about what we do, encouraging us to break out of the traditional page and into something fresh and new.

So, gods of comics, I’m looking for forgiveness. I promise to mend my ways. I promise that, as I go on producing printed comics, I’ll look at what I do and be inspired by the disruptive power of digital to do things better. And I’ll encourage anyone who creates, distributes, promotes or sells print comics to do the same.

Digital comics are here, they’re learning, they’re evolving. But to quote that marvellous film Independence Day:

“I know there is much to learn from each other. If we can make a truce, we can find a way to co-exist.”

Let’s hope the digital folk feel the same way too!

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