The Future of Digital Comics is Now: iVerse Media

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Iverse Media. Comics. Anywhere.

I’ve tried a lot of comic readers for iPhone and have been unhappy with what I’ve seen.  Largely, my dissatisfaction with those apps grows from a poorly imagined transition from print comic to PDA.  Much of what I’ve seen fails to consider the differences in medium and the specifics challenges of a digital handheld device.  That is until iVerse Media came along with its comic reader application.

Instead of scanning entire pages and having the reader zoom in and zoom out, iVerse Media scans each panel rendering huge on the handheld detailed action.  Comics in iVerse, then, read very much like a comic strip.  I love it!

Further, the greater attention to panel detail provides a much different experience than the print page.  I find that with comics I have already read in the floppies, I am discerning more detail and catching things I didn’t see the first time in the iVerse application.

I first started using the iVerse app back in November of last year shortly before I met iVerse Media founder and cheerleader, Michael Murphey, at Wizard World Texas.  I spoke to Michael recently about his application and the future of digital comics…

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Atomic Robo: Just one of many EXCELLENT comics available via iVerse Media. Issue #1 is still free in the Apple App Store!

Before Apple announced the App Store, what were you doing?

Since 2006 I had been working full time as a blogger and podcaster for the Bloggy Network. There I covered a variety of topics, including both comics and Apple specifically. So before Apple announced the App Store I was actually covering and tracking Apple every day. Comics, however, has been a part of my daily life since I was about 12. Breaking into comics has been an obsession for about that same amount of time as well. I actually have a very clear memory of being in the 7th grade (so I guess I was 12 or 13 at the time) and cashing in my lunch money into quarters so I could go to the school pay phone and call Wizard to find out what the ad rates were for a full page color ad. Afterwards I gathered my group of friends together and tried to convince them that we could raise the $5k to advertise the book we were working on that we intended to self publish. They weren’t as convinced as I was that we could do it.

So going that far back I have followed the industry very closely. I actually worked at Ape Entertainment for a while as a Marketing Co-ordinator, and I’ve written a few scripts for them and others as well.

I actually am still writing and podcasting for Bloggy, because I just love doing it.

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iVerse: The Final Frontier... In the Star Trek Archives, IDW releases gems from the Star Trek back catalogue in iVerse!

It’s kind of funny actually. I was lying in bed trying to go to sleep one night, and I was thinking about comics and blogging. I already had a readership from my Apple blog and podcast and I had a pitch that I had recently finished that I was considering publishing online as a web comic. I had a sort of “Eureka” moment where I literally sat up in bed because I thought I’d figured out how to do comics on the iPhone. So I got up and spent the next 2 hours or so converting the sample pages I had into images that were formatted for the iPhone. I loaded those into the photo viewer on the iPhone and read the comic. I thought it was the perfect for comics to be read on the device. So I showed it to my wife and a friend – who both agreed that it had potential.

After that I decided to see if I could put it together. So I hired a developer to put together a crude version of what I wanted. At the time, I was thinking this might be a good publishing option for my own concepts, since I already a readership on my blog. After the app came back to me and actually had some art running on it, I decided to post a video of the app on a message forum to get some feedback on it.

The response was absolutely insane. Within a few hours I had creators emailing me about the business model, and wanting to know how to get their comics done this way. So I wrote up a business model over the next few days, and really tried to hammer out what would be a fair deal for the creators, and also enough to make it possible for the work to be done. Everyone seemed very responsive to the terms I came up with, and a few legal documents later “iVerse” was born.

I really felt like this was something that could be big based on the response, so I hired a much more experienced developer who completely rebuilt the app from the ground up, and we hit the ground rolling. It’s been a roller coaster ride ever since. Now we have a developer for each platform, someone doing ad sales, and several freelancers helping adapt the books. It’s really grown…and we’re just getting started.

From the time you had the big idea to the time you submitted your first app to Apple, how much time?

Roughly 4 months.

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Deneen & Green's Flash Gordon #1 is FREE from iVerse!

Well, “Total Digital Distribution” is what we’ve been tentatively calling what we do. Simply because we’re not fixed to one platform. The Digital Age of comics isn’t going to be about one device. I love my iPhone – I am completely addicted to it, and I have yet to find a mobile device that I think even comes close to it…but the iPhone isn’t the only game in town, and putting all your eggs in the Apple basket is a risky move. We obviously love the iPhone, but Google’s Android platform is shaping up to be just as compelling – and sometimes for totally different reasons than the iPhone. The Desktop is another space that needs to be addressed for people that don’t have a mobile device, but still want digital comics.

Creators and publishers need to get on all these platforms to reach as wide an audience as possible. By offering a “Total Digital Distribution” system for them, they only have to come to one place to reach those users. With us, they only have to upload or mail one set of files, and their work is available on millions of screens. Plus, we’re not stopping with just these platforms. If there is a screen out there that looks like a viable place to put comics – we’re looking into it.

Is your digital publishing arrangement with publishers like Blue Water and Red 5, or is it with the specific creator?

That all depends on how those companies have structured deals for titles they’ve published. Typically we deal directly with the publishers, but with Image, for example, it’s a different deal just because of the nature of how that company works.

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iVerse Media's Publishing Partners

So, iVerse Media is the neatest thing since sliced bread. What’s next?

We’ve just scratched the surface of where digital comics are going. This is really just the very beginning of digital comics as a paid medium. Webcomics have been blazing the trail for a decade now, but we’re just now starting to see people paying for the actual comics themselves in a long-format digitally. We have some really fantastic updates coming to the iVerse Comics Reader on iPhone, and a new way of “Collecting” your comics on Google Android (which may also make its way to iPhone…sometimes it can be difficult to work past Apple’s restrictions…but we’ve got some ideas).

Mainly, though, it’s all about the comics. The Application itself should be an after thought. It shouldn’t get in the way of the reading experience, and it shouldn’t be constantly reminding you that its there taking up screen space…so our software enhancements will be evolutionary…we think we’ve got a good thing going here, and we plan to keep it that way.

The biggest thing you’ll see happening is more comics, more creators, more publishers…more everything. It’s going to be an amazing year.

What about bonus content or extras? Are y’all entertaining animation ala “motion comics” or sound? What about creator interviews? Essays, etc?

All of that stuff is interesting, but there is a very specific reason why we don’t include too much of that right now. File size. See, if you make a comic more than 10Mbs it can’t be downloaded over the cell network. On Android sometimes it can’t be downloaded at all because that phone simply doesn’t have the storage capacity right now. When you take away the ability for someone to download the comic while they’re in a line, for example, or at a restaurant waiting to eat…anytime they may have some extra time…you’re preventing people from getting to your comics. The same goes with simply having to connect to wi-fi. If you’re browsing through the App Store, and you come across a comic…you may think “hey, I’ll try that” – but then when you find that you have to exit the application, connect to a wi-fi source, then open the App Store back up…THEN download the comic…casual readers may choose to just skip it and try something else that they don’t have to leave the App Store to download.

So creator interviews and letters columns – things like that, are certainly a possibility – and you might see those in the future. Motion comics and animation, however, are not something we’re all that interested in. I feel like a “Motion Comic” is a form of animation, not a form of comics. When you get into voice acting and moving pictures, I think it ceases to be a comic, and becomes something else entirely. I like Motion Comics. I enjoyed the “Watchmen” motion comic, and I’m looking forward to seeing how “Spider-Woman” works out…but iVerse isn’t planning on doing Motion Comics anytime in the near future.

Sometimes a series of panels transfer a bit awkward to the app given that a layout may have been designed to cross several pages of a floppy book. Do you foresee creators designing their “books” with applications such as iVerse in mind. Or is that already happening? Do you have suggestions for such?

I would hate for print comics to ever just become squares and rectangles that were meant for mobile screens – so I really hope not. What I hope will happen instead is that artists start creating alternative panels for mobile viewing. So if a panel doesn’t work well on the device, it could be redrawn to something that fits the format a little better. I’d much rather see that, then see one format compromised for another.

Involved in both the iPhone and Google Android as you are, how familiar are you with other digital comic formats? Have you looked at something bigger such as the Amazon Kindle or Sony Reader devices?

Yes, we have looked at both of them – and I think they would make for a great comic reading experience, even in their current states as black and white devices. The problem there is that (Sony does not) offer a deal that even comes close to resembling a “fair” deal for creators and publishers.   So if those terms ever change, and become something that we can work with, we’ll certainly be interested in doing so.

And as for the Amazon Kindle?

Ask me again in a few weeks.

Blogger’s Note:  Following iVerse on Twitter, I see that Michael recently had a Kindle 2 delivered… hrmmm…

Okay, clearly I love the app. Here’s what I’d like to see. I’d like an iVerse application that provides a suite of services. Ala iPhone’s Watchmen app, I’d like it serve as a one-stop shop to preview some of the other books available from iVerse that I might not have thought to search for. I’d like it to have a pull list function alerting me to when the next issue of books I’ve already purchased is availble. I’d like to be able to save artwork from the books as screen shots. Plus, it’d be a nice place to link the iVerse Insider podcast. I guess what I’m wanting is a central app that supports the iVerse community.

We’re all for that idea, and have something very much like what you’re describing in development now. Once we get it nice and shiny I’ll be able to tell you more – but most of the things you’re describing are in the works… and I’m probably going to have the developer read this and incorporate the rest of them as well!

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