Digitizing Double Page Explosions: London Looks at Comics as E-books

In Europe by Liz Bury

Iphone App Cash e-book

By Liz Bury

LONDON: The Comics & Graphic Novels Pavilion, complete with Comics Café, made its debut at the the London Book Fair this year. The category has enjoyed an upswing in the UK in recent years, as products from the US and Japanese manga has tapped a growing market, and the new forum generated some of the biggest buzz at the fair.

It was standing room only for the “New Opportunities: Graphic Novels and Digital” session on Tuesday. Cory Doctorow was the only so-called “ash-inhibited” panelist, and under the circumstances, one out of five ain’t bad. Energetic David Fickling, publisher of crossover titles like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, went some way to fill the gap.

David Fickling Books (an imprint of Random House) had been publishing The DFC, a weekly British children’s anthology comic for a short while, before its funding evaporated due to the credit crunch. Philip Pullman was signed up to write The Adventures of John Blake for it. “He and I love all that – Green Lantern, Flash, Justice League of America,” Fickling explained. Who knew?

“We were supposed to be backed for three years…The DFC has not closed down, it’s just dormant, like a volcano.” Fickling claimed that Britain was “out of step with the rest of the world” in not producing a good range of comics for children. “Children read because they want to be entertained and once you entertain them, you can’t stop them reading.”

While digital publishing has forced him to “completely rearrange my head from print,” Fickling still admitted to being the proud owner of an iPhone “I don’t know how to work.”

Also on the panel, Scottish crime author Ian Rankin, who grew up reading comics produced by DC Comics in Dundee, Scotland. Rankin signed a couple of years ago to New York publisher Vertigo Books for the Hellblazer story Dark Entries, one of the first in its Vertigo Crime list. “There’s an awful lot we don’t know about how things will be with digital. What happens to the double-page spread that you open and get a huge explosion?” Rankin asked.

The artist behind graphic novel biography Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness was uncertain about just such design questions when his publisher SelfMadeHero suggested making an iPhone app of the book. “The artist had reservations because he’d designed the pages as spreads, not as panels,” said SelfMadeHero’s Emma Hayley.

SelfMadeHero, working with French digital comics company Arve!Comics, did eventually turn the book into a panel-by-panel app, which sold for £1.19 a chapter.

“Apps are generally very cheap and at least for the moment we’re competing in that market,” said Hayley, by way of explaining the pricing strategy. The app sold “not as many as we expected” (about 2,000) in the first month, despite being promoted for two weeks on the app store homepage.

SelfMadeHero is behind the popular manga Shakespeare series and has already released six manga Shakespeare apps, with eight more to follow. “It’s being bought by a new audience and really opening up the market,” Hayley said. The manga Shakespeare are priced at £2.99.

But Fickling urged publishers not to be afraid to price up. “We need to value and price and understand that people like Ian are making things of value. Not everyone can do it. But they want to read the work of people who can. We are at a very shaky time in the book industry. We can’t give books away.”

DISCUSS: Do Comic Book Apps Risk Being Bad Animation?

About the Author

Liz Bury

Liz Bury is a full-time journalist who lives in London.