20 May 2009

Comic Books: All Grown Up (Part 3)

Of course, comic popularity is even bigger in movies than in print. Badly-animated children's cartoons and silly live-action TV series have given way to Hollywood blockbusters, and even to independent hits like American Splendor. It began with Superman (1978) and then Batman (1989), a decade later, but now with the massive success of the Spider-Man and X-Men movie franchises, comic-based movies are coming fast and thick. As many as came out in 2008, this year looks to be even more so the Year of the Comic Book Movie.

Naturally this is giving print comic popularity a bump, and at the same time, digital comic collecting has taken off. Comic enthusiasts began a number of years a go to scan their old comics into pdfs and share them with fellow fans on internet forums and newsgroups. The more ethical groups impose a moratorium on trading files of comics less than one year old. No one wants to hurt the publishers. But the publishers have been curiously slow to capitalize on this interest in digital copies of their back-issues.

But I predict that will change very soon, thanks to the iPhone/Touch. You can now purchase digital comic reader software for the iPhone/Touch (ComicZeal) that is specifically designed to read the most popular formats for scanned comics. The interface is a little rough (it is fairly new), but it works very well. And, the software publisher also has out-of-copyright comics available for download.

The major publishers will certainly make paid content available on iTunes sooner or later, and iVerse is leading the way with the backing of a number of smaller independents. The idea of iPhone comics has been dissed. The content problem (lack and cost thereof) can be solved, but there is not much to do about the small screen size. For me the Touch screen is just big enough, but just barely.

The majors (DC and Marvel) are already testing the waters with different comic-based products, in particular with voice-over narrated, semi-animated comics which Marvel calls In-Motion or simply motion comics. These are based on print comics and have some big talent behind them, like Joss Whedon. Most ambitiously, a 12-episode motion version of The Watchmen was published on iTunes, as well as on DVD and Blu-Ray. Unfortunately, at $20 on iTunes, the price is simply obscene.

But motion comics are really minimalist cartoons, not comics. Since a lot of enthusiasts are already trading scanned comics, and loading them on their iPhones/Touchs, the major publishers will not be long in getting their content up. In fact, Marvel has a digital comics subscription service, but they need more content, especially at $60 a year. And it's not available through iTunes. But it'll happen.

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