Joining the fray of Emerald City Comicon, Seattle’s annual convention/madhouse of tens of thousands of rabid comic and genre entertainment fans, the Communication Leadership program on Saturday hosted four leading innovators in the comics world for TED-style talks and Q&A sessions in the inaugural Comics and Digital Culture Series.
Four innovators followed the invitation of organizer, moderator, and CommLead instructor Rob Salkowitz to discuss two questions: How is digital changing the business of comics, and how is it changing the medium of comics? Here are the insights, tips, and strategies for engagement and content creation that each speaker had to share with the audience.
Ted Adams, IDW Publishing
Ted Adams (@therealtedadams), CEO and founder of IDW Publishing, gave a wide-ranging talk on IDW’s past and future, highlighting a strong line-up of content based on licensed properties like Transformers, Star Trek, and My Little Pony, and original properties like 30 Days of Night and the upcoming series, V-Wars, to which fans in the audience were treated to free copies of a collection of short stories.
“There doesn’t have to be this dividing wall between physical product and digital product,” Adams told the audience. He proved his point with examples of transmedia engagement like original My Little Pony content delivered in toy, digital, and traditional print form. A similiar example is V-Wars, which will consist of prose works, print comics, and possible development for television. A sustained effort of building their unique and huge library of licensed and original titles combined with new ways to engage with those properties helped IDW grow to be the fourth largest comics publisher in the US today.
Allsion Baker, Monkeybrain Comics
Monkeybrain Comics’ Allison Baker, a TV producer, and her husband, New York Times bestselling author Chris Roberson, started Monkeybrain as a passion project to publish new, original voices in comics. They used digital to publish straight to cloud-based comics platform ComiXology. As a result, Monkeybrain grew from a library of just five titles in 2012, to 48 titles now available.
Baker sees the digital space as transforming the comics world into more of a meritocracy: “The people we’re seeing do really, really well are the people who don’t have names,” she said. And while the delivery methods have changed, Baker emphasized the importance of quality content and passion for comics as a pathway to success for the would-be comic titan. “We look at story, art, how the book is put together. The most successful books are the ones that come out on a regular basis and have creators who are very engaged with what they’re doing.”
Colin Goh and Yen Yen Woo, Dim Sum Warriors
Colin Goh and Yen Yen Woo (@DimSumWarriors), along with their very not-stage-shy five-year-old daughter Kai Yen, charmed the audience with the story of their educational comic app, Dim Sum Warriors. Goh, a former attorney and professional newspaper cartoonist, and Woo, an associate professor at Long Island University, collaborated on multiple artistic endeavors before being inspired by the birth of their daughter to try a completely new project which combined their artistic passions with an interactive and educational element that would reflect their daughter’s multi-cultural heritage. Dim Sum Warriors, an iPad app which tells a story in comic form while also allowing the young reader to translate dialogue in English and Mandarin, is the result.
“We knew from the beginning it was going to be a tough sell to get a comic book publisher to take on Kung-Fu fighting dumplings,” Goh said, emphasizing that a do-it-yourself approach was necessary to create their product, which they envisioned as moving beyond a print or PDF comic. After putting all of their “sweat equity” into developing and releasing the app, Woo and Goh ran a Kickstarter campaign to release print copies of Dim Sum Warriors.
While Dim Sum Warriors got a lot of praise for its innovative combination of comic storytelling and education since its release, Goh also emphasized the importance of respecting the intelligence of their young users to make an engaging product, noting a Common Sense Media study which claims 40% of children learn how to use a touch screen before they can speak. “We wanted to be respectful of the things kids can figure out.” The panel ended with Woo and Goh giving a sneak peek at their plans, including possible development of a Dim Sum Warriors stage musical!
Liam Sharp, Madefire
Liam Sharp (@LiamRSharp), a renowned comics artist who has worked on books for Superman, Batman, and Spawn, to name just a few, closed out the session with a passionate presentation of the Motion Book Tool developed by the company he co-founded, Madefire. With a background in print comics but a desire to engage with the digital space, his company created the Motion Book Tool to make a traditionally static medium like comics more interactive and engaging. “You can have a lot of fun with the digital space. It blows things open in a way you’ve never been able to blow things open before.”
Sharp displayed samples of Batman comics brought to life in a digital format with sound and timed animations, and the ability to the change the path of the story at key decision points in the narrative. Beyond offering a new medium for comics, though, Sharp believes the digital space can bring artists together in exciting ways. As an example he pointed to a painting for which the artistic direction was partly crowd-sourced on Facebook, and the turns his own career has taken since engaging with digital. “I spent the first 25 years of my creative experience in a shed at the bottom of my garden on my own. This is changing things, we can have social skills, and we can talk to people. As a public process it makes it a lot of fun.”
And with that, the series wrapped, with an audience hungry for more exciting tales of creation and innovation next year – and just enough time to catch Karl Urban’s talk too!