My time collecting single-issue comics far outpaces my time reading collections-only. When I switched from issues to collections, it was for specific reasons: the price of a single issue no longer justified the time it took to read it; single issues no longer provided a complete reading experience, requiring multiple months to get a "full story"; and juvenile advertising increasingly junked up every other page of single issues. All of this pushed me squarely to the collected side of things.
There are things that I miss about reading single issues, however. Collections don't come out as frequently (though the DC Comics New 52 is challenging this) so I don't always have the ceremony of the weekly trip to the comics shop. I certainly serial fiction, and when comics were both full stories and had a weekly aspect -- i.e. the Superman "Triangle Titles" -- that was fun to "experience" week after week. And the internet, I believe, has only increased the value of serial fiction -- you can go to your comics shop, pick up an issue, and then chat about it with almost the entire world for a week before you go back and do it again, something that's tougher with collections.
In part to recapture my enjoyment of some of these aspects of comics, I've wanted to get in to a webcomic for a while, but hadn't quite found the right fit. With no offense intended to anyone involved, I wanted to read a "webcomic" and not a "comic strip," so to speak (an involved story and not a one-off "joke" strip, not that there's anything wrong with that -- been loving Little League lately).
I didn't want a print tie-in -- something that would require me to pick up a print book in addition to reading the webcomic to understand what was going on. I wanted something self-contained; I wouldn't pass over a webcomic from the major publishers, but I wasn't interesting in having to learn about a new universe for this experience.
And -- as if I'm not asking for a lot already -- given that I'd be reading the comic online and not technically owning it as I do with my print comics, could it be free, as well? I wouldn't balk at some unobtrusive ads around the corners in exchange, as long as they didn't break up the reading experience as they do with single issues.
I have found all of that, at least for the moment, in Mark Waid's Thrillbent series Insufferable.
I'd seen mentions of Thrillbent around the edges of the sites I visit for a little while now, but it was the headline of Waid's recent attention-grabbing post "Marketing Through Piracy" that drew me in. (That Waid is releasing Insufferable as both CBR and PDF files in addition to it being readable online ought not be as controversial as it initially seemed to be, considering Insufferable is, after all, already free.) Waid's decision to release Insufferable in these "offline reading" formats has paid off, at least for nabbing this reader -- I was much more likely to become (and now am) a regular reader of Insufferable if I could download and read the comic in the e-reader of my choice than if I was limited to just the web console.
(Maybe this takes the "web" out of webcomic, but it remains that Insufferable otherwise fits the criteria of being weekly, being an "involved story," and being -- wonderfully -- free. I don't stress the web/offline digital reading difference too much.)
Two other things grabbed me and made me what I'd now call "an Insufferable fan." The first is Peter Krause's art, which is quite attractive, evocative of Michael Lark on Gotham Central (a comparison which earns anything special notice from me). I actually remember Krause's 1994 Metropolis SCU miniseries (itself a spiritual precursor to Gotham Central, and notably published alongside a Newsboy Legion miniseries) -- Insufferable seems to me not a bit like Gotham Central, except that there are some interesting down-to-earth conversations between Nocturnal and the friendly neighborhood police detective especially in this week's installment #5. Regardless, the professionalism of Krause's art (with no offense meant to anyone else, since my sampling in this field is admittedly limited) is one thing that drew me in and has kept me coming back.
(I'll reserve talking about Insufferable's story until we have more installments in hand; I do expect to be offering a formal review at some point.)
The second is Thrillbent's digital comics-reading process. I didn't have a problem with Comixology's "guided view," rather liked it actually, until I experienced Thrillbent's. I realize we're talking apples and oranges here -- something Warren Ellis goes into good detail about, in that Comixology's "pan and scan" approach is meant for printed comics going digital, and Thrillbent's approach works for digital first -- but since I experienced the "Thrillbent method," something about the alternate ways bugs me a bit.
By "Thrillbent method," I mean a kind of glorified flip book approach, where panels seem to "move" when you flip pages, when it's actually a new page with the previous panel copied over and subtle changes made.* Given that Insufferable is free after all, you might as well just go over there and see what I'm talking about.
In a nice coincidence, at about the same time I was starting to read Insufferable, Collected Editions' digital comics guru Mark Sims emailed to recommend to me Marvel's Avengers vs. X-Men: Infinite. This comic uses the "Thrillbent method" via Comixology (Mark was nice enough to "gift" it to me through Comixology), so none of this is to say that the "Thrillbent method" is actually exclusive to Thrillbent (though Mark Waid also wrote Infinite); this "flip-book method" works just as well in Comixology. I know DC Comics is releasing digital-first content via Comixology (Smallville et al), but I have no idea if theirs also uses the "flip-book method" or if it's still "guided view" even though the comics are digital first -- anyone?
Infinite is enjoyable, though it's the very definition of a prologue -- the character Nova mainly just thinks to himself for three-fourths of it, and the attraction here is most certainly supposed to be the digital "movement" and not the story. It reminds me of the black-and-white preview comic that DC released for Final Night prior to that crossover -- matter of fact, I'm surprised Marvel even charged for this and didn't just give it away free. I'd be happy to see more such free digital preview comics with real story content come out of DC, Marvel, etc. I'll also mention that the first "pages" of Infinite, viewable at Gizmodo, do remind me slightly of beginners' Flash or animated GIFs, where text flashes in and out in the suggestion of movement. None of this is reinventing the wheel, necessarily, so much as repurposing the wheel in a new and different way.
Also this week, DC released twelve issues of Watchmen for digital purchase via Comixology at $1.99 each. As David Uzumeri pointed out, that's $24, more expensive than the trade paperback list price, and Jason followed that the Kindle Fire-exclusive edition is only $9.99 -- so whichever way you slice it, it makes purchasing these digital issues seem less than ideal.
As a collections reader, that we have even have exclusives in this manner befuddles me a little. I can understand how a single issue and a collection are different -- single issues have advertisements and collections don't, collections have covers made of sturdier material, and obviously collections follow one chapter to the next whereas you have to physically change objects to read the next part in a single-issue series. A set of digital issues and a digital collection, however, are entirely almost the same thing -- the former requires switching from document to document on your device, the latter simply flipping page, but neither takes more than a few seconds or requires you to get up from your seat. It's inconceivable (and yet true) that a collection could be considered "exclusive."
And while I understand why one might buy disparate issues of various series digitally, I can't understand selling digital Watchmen in single issue form -- does anyone want just Watchmen #5 and no others?
This was going on at the same time that Bleeding Cool broke news that someone posted a method for saving comics out of Comixology, and then was promptly shut down by Comixology. Now, piracy is not for me (you can make your own rules yourself), but this was another unpleasant reminder that at the end of the day, you own your print comics but you don't actually own your digital comics. That's a fact that makes me very uncomfortable and has gone a long way toward pushing me away from "going digital" until these issues are worked out. It's another check in Thrillbent's favor -- I don't know how Waid and company ultimately expect to make money on this, but I'm pleased that they're making Insufferable "keep-able" -- if a print collection of the comic comes about, especially with Waid's blog posts or additional text or Krause's sketchbook or something included, I'm happy to support the digital initiative by purchasing one.**
(Started writing this post earlier in the week -- as it turns out, the New York Times had a bit on all of this Thursday.)
The takeaway from all of this, aside from the ins and outs and complications of the digital revolution, is that I'm reading Insufferable now, and I think you should be, too. I'm happy to talk about it, if you like. And there will be more to come here about my experiences with digital comics as I go. See you next week!
* For further discussion is whether any "movement," even the same panel appearing twice on the screen with different narration boxes such that the narration boxes "move," negates the definition of the item as a "comic." The confines of a comic, previously, have been that the creative team has to fit what narration, dialogue, and so on in a panel as best they can, and then if they want additional beats they have to move to a new panel. The "Thrillbent method" offers potentially infinite use of a single panel to present dialogue or tell a story (though such would get boring pretty fast). What we have with the Thrillbent method is something not-quite motion comics, but not quite traditional comics, either, and I wonder if that begs some kind of new terminology.
** Mark Waid: Covers on the Insufferable PDF installments so they look nice on our digital bookshelves, if possible?