“We live in a digital world now and people are used to reading comics online” Comicraft’s Richard Starkings on digital comics and typefaces.
When it came to designing the logo for this site, as a designer by trade I knew it had to be a good one! So rather than just use a slightly ropey freeware comics font, or worse Brushstroke or Comics San, I decided to invest in a couple of fonts from the brilliant Comic Book Fonts website run by Comicraft’s Richard Starkings. It was while looking around on his site, that I realised that Richard and the guys at Comicraft are way more than just comic book letterers. They are publishers, artists and digital pioneers, so who better than to ask about their opinion on the wonderful world of digital comics.
You’ve been something of a pioneer with all things digital, how do you think the growth of digital comics and apps have affected the comics business?
Richard Starkings: The first thing I learned when we started selling our fonts digitally – via comicbookfonts.com and other font foundries – was that there are always new markets for your work. In the mid nineties I was in the business of selling comic book lettering as a service, now we sell comic book lettering as a product and do a little service lettering on the side. I suspected that there was a market for digital comic book fonts but it was initially worrisome to sell the tools of the trade so to speak.
The same is true of digital comics… we always assume a worst case, Napster-style scenario whereby comics are downloaded illegally by pirates, the bottom drops out of the industry and all comic book professionals are flipping burgers at MacDonalds by the end of the decade.
But we live in a digital world now and people are used to reading comics online… especially the people that create them. The accessibility of comics on the internet has helped promote comics globally… comic book fans the world over become aware of titles and creators very rapidly and I think awareness of comics is consequently at an all time high.
I’m not going to ignore the fact that there’s bound to be a dip in readership because of the availability of illegal digital files, but I think low sales has more to do with the massive amount of entertainment choices available and the state of the economy than the availability of digital files. I strongly believe that most people want to reward and encourage comic book creation with their hard earned dollars, but dollars can only go so far… compared to a venti latte at Starbucks or a gallon of gas at Chevron, I still think a comic is pretty good value. Oh, and I never heard of coffee or gasoline being resold at inflated prices, have you? What is the going price of The Walking Dead#1 right now? $600? And that’s not for a digital copy, right?
How did you get involved with releasing your Elephantmen title on the ComiXology app so early? Did you go to them or vice versa?
RS: Those ComiXology chaps are increibly smart. They developed a relationship with us before bringing their software into the market. I was interviewed for their website about a year after Elephantmen #1 came out and shortly thereafter David Steinberger approached me about the possibility of using issue #1 as a sample issue to promote their app. I think David was aware that Elephantmen was already available on Go! comics and had perhaps heard me talk positively about digital comics on a couple of panels at shows.
Has the growth of digital lettering helped in the transition to producing comics for digital platforms?
RS: Of course! It’s easy to edit text and if the lettering and artwork have been saved as layers, it can be quickly reformatted for different screen formats.
Have you found the development of digital comics on the iPad has changed how you work? For example, does it display lettering or colouring differently? And do you alter how you layout the words on a page differently knowing it will be used digitally compared to in print?
RS: No, but I think lettering on a Mac (my personal computer of choice) HAS changed the way I work. The screen is the shape of a comic book panel, after all, not the size of a comic book page. Many artists work on Macs, using Cintiq tablets, so, whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re working process has subtly altered.
As a publisher have you noticed an upsurge in sales or interest since the arrival of the iPad?
RS: Yes, definitely, it makes reading comics much easier. Comics — or movies — on phones can’t possibly be good for the eye!
What do you think is the future for comics in terms of digital sales? Can you see a time when small publishers release titles exclusively via apps like ComiXology or will there always be a spot for print?
RS:Well, it’s already happened and I think we’ll see a whole new wave of comic creators who regard companies like ComiXology as publishers rather than simple distributors. Remember when Cartoon Network was just reruns of old Hanna-Barbera cartoons? But now they produce cartoons themselves, right? Same model. Kids – go make comics and offer them directly to digital distributors! It’s going to be an exciting time and I think it will help break the stranglehold the Big Publishers have over talent. I’ve said as much to the chaps at Comixology. Dig the New Breed.
I do think that many people will read singles digitally and then pick up the collections for a more satisfying read. Most of the bigger stores in cities sell more trade paperbacks than single issues anyway. iTunes resurrected single sales in music, and it’s doing the same for single issues of comics. It’s all good.
What do your contemporaries think of comics on the iPad? Are they in favour or do they still favour old school techniques for producing artwork and actual printed comics?
RS: Well, it depends who you talk to. I think that the majority of creators, young and old, welcome the new income stream and then there are a few diehard collector/creators who would rather the industry stayed the way it was when they started collecting or creating. Change is hard but change is good, right? Comics are still comics, we just need to create good stories, compelling characters and attractive artwork and we’ll find our audience… or they will find us.
Finally, are you yourself an iPhone/iPad user? If you are do you use them for reading comics on and can you ever see a time when you might use them as a creative tool?
RS: I am, I do and I will and I do!