Comics is a tough business. Even now, with seemingly nine out of ten movies in the theaters tied somehow to graphic novels or comics, it's still a surprisingly tough business, marred by an uneven playing field dominated by multi-billion dollar corporations, a single distributor system, and an outdated sales force. As an independent comic creator, until very recently the challenges of competing with Messrs. Batman, Superman, Spiderman, and Wolverine seemed insurmountable. Thank god for technology.
The decision to syndicate my new graphic novel Tumor on the Amazon Kindle was an easy one. I love my Kindle. I'm an avid book reader, with a couple dozen bookshelves lining every bit of free wall in our apartment. But I also suffer from an abnormality of the eye that makes reading a difficult chore for me. The Kindle gave me back my love of books. I can read for hours on end, with no eye strain, plus I have a built-in dictionary for when Vonnegut uses big words that may or may not be made up, and access to virtually any book I can imagine -- usually for about $9.99.
The Kindle represents a new way for artist to reach audience. While the web has offered that same connection, it's always been tied to a computer, leaving you staring at a bright white screen, and thinking about all of the work you should be doing instead of reading some guy's unpublished novel which he's syndicated on his blog, backwards, meaning you have to start at the end, and work your way up the screen, thereby screwing up the flow and--
The Kindle represents a seamless method to purchase and read content. You buy the book, and it magically appears on your screen a second or two later. The playing field becomes quite a bit more even. People will still be drawn to bigger authors or titles, but, for the people who want to seek out your work, they actually can. The same can't be said of most comic shops, or, for that matter, most bookstores. In effect, by removing the physical commodity, we've opened up the marketplace to endless options. It's no longer a question of whether to stock Batman OR Tumor, because they're both there, all the time, waiting to be downloaded.
So what about the screen? Granted, the screen's a bit small on the Kindle 2 for a comic book. The dimensions are slightly off, and it's about 10% smaller than digest size (the size of a manga). We compromised by cutting the pages in half, thus allowing them to scale out further on the horizontal, while still maintaining the reading flow. The contrast on the screen is pretty impressive, considering the technology, and, frankly, I really enjoy reading my book on the device. Plus, with the iPhone Kindle App, you can also read it on the bright, zoomable screen of your iPhone or iPod Touch. It really is the best of both worlds.
Some people complain that the device is black and white, and comics are in color. That’s not true. There is an entire world of gorgeous black-and-white comics, with rich traditions in the old newspaper strips of Windsor McCay, through the sub-culture work of R. Crumb, and on to the violent dark world of Frank Miller's Sin City. Even the venerable Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles started out as a tabloid size, newsprint black and white comic. But yes, that means for the most part, you won't be seeing Bruce Wayne and his various boy targets prancing on to the device in the immediate future. If you ask me, that's not a bad thing.
The renaissance of the graphic novel means realizing that while we all wish to some degree that we were Spiderman, there's more to the medium than just guys punching each other and dating super models. There's also a rich world of story, an entire medium that's wholly born of the 20th Century, so resonant that it's what they use to explain what to do if you're in an airplane crash on the piece of paper shoved in the back of the airplane seat. Comics are in our lives, and they communicate with us in amazing, startling ways that have far more potential than whatever villain the X-Men are fighting (and then recruiting, and then fighting again where he turns bad).
Is the Kindle the killer device for comics? Not yet, but, it's getting there. With my book, we made a conscious decision in the creative process to help address the limitations of the device, and turn them into positives. At its heart, Tumor is a pulp detective story. To have it readable on the pulpy screen of the Kindle evokes, perhaps subconsciously, the look and feel of Black Mask or Weird Tales – books that were printed on newsprint during war time.
Also, Noel Tuazon's art features a very simple line, with a retro style that transfers crisply on the device. Combine that with pages reformatted into half-page intervals, and you end up with a wholly unique way to read the story. In fact, there are flourishes that will be noticeable in the Kindle edition that will be lost when the book is released in the Hardcover edition later on.
Like most things with art as commerce, there are sacrifices. I think all of the opportunities to reach new audiences, make the comics affordable to new readers, and to try something new and different make them worthwhile sacrifices.
- Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov. Joshua Hale Fialkov is the writer of the critically acclaimed graphic novel Elk's Run, the cult hit Punks the Comic, and Tumor, the first original comic on the Amazon Kindle, published by Archaia Comics. He lives in Los Angeles, California.