The Best Digital Comics Format – My Week in Comics July 11–17

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This week: The best digital comics format and what I read, with notes on some.


THE BEST DIGITAL COMICS FORMAT

I’VE MENTIONED BEFORE THAT, while I have no particular desire to read most of my comics digitally, it’s obvious to me that a lot of other people want to, making the comics lover in me eager for as much digital content to become as widely available as possible. So far, major publishers are mostly offering digital comic through restrictive, proprietary formats offered through companies like Comixology or Apple. But another format seems to have been a favorite among readers for several years, and it may be its very popularity that has scared publishers away from embracing it.

The format is .CBZ, and it’s my favorite comics-reading format for a few reasons: CBZ is an open format which play across multiple platforms, it has no copy-protection limiting what legal purchasers can do with files they buy, it requires no proprietary hardware and many of the software readers available are freeware, and it is very easy to make a CBZ file. Of course, several of these factors also make the format a favorite of online copyright infringers, which likely explains the shyness of the major American comics publishers where CBZs are concerned. Still, I hope publishers and online comics marketplace entrepreneurs eventually reconsider the CBZ format or some similar format is developed. It’s advantages to both the reader and the publisher are several.

Openness: Choosing a single open format that can be read regardless of what platform or device a reader uses allows publishers to save money by developing only one digital version of each comic, rather than developing several for different markets. The same versatility allows a customer to read the file on whatever device they have available, making it more portable and therefore more valuable.

No copy protection: Copy protection makes sense on its surface, but inevitably has the consequence of robbing convenience and usability from paying customers. It is no coincidence that Apple’s already successful iTunes store experienced even greater sales when it moved to selling unprotected music. Customers rightly distrust the changing rules that content providers are able to impose on protected files, and chafe against restrictions that take away the convenience they enjoyed with pre-digital versions of the same music, video, comics, etc.

I know this is a huge hurdle, but CBZs will be copied, illegally. It’s a fact of life and it’s a bummer, but it’s survivable. Here’s a thought experiment: what do we feel more acutely; the pain of knowing something was stolen from us, or the joy of making more money? Suppose you sell one hundred copies of something and not a single copy is stolen. Now suppose you sell two hundred, but a thousand are stolen. If you have infinite copies (as you do in the digital world), which is better? If it’s me, selling two hundred copies and having a thousand people that I know like my work and that I might eventually convince to pay for it is more desirable than selling half as many and having no additional people I know like my work that I can convert. Apple’s success is a great example of how this actually works. I can now download music from Apple and email it to my friends, but Apple isn’t sweating it because they’re selling more music than they were when I couldn’t do that. Note to Apple lawyers: I am not doing this.

Non-proprietary format: I accept that an iPad or other similar device will someday invade my home. I know it will, because I was convinced I would never own an iPod up until the moment when I had one, at which point life without one became inconceivable. Right now, an iPad feels completely unnecessary, but something will probably change that within a few years. Nonetheless, anyone wanting to sell me digital comics today will have to get around the fact that I won’t have one for a while. Selling me small, simple files that will run on my current computer and will eventually be accepted by the iPad I’ll someday forget I ever didn’t want is the obvious answer. Everyone with any kind of digital device can read a CBZ today and always will be able to. That’s a market that seems worth selling to.

In preparing to write this column, I went to www.mydigitalcomics.com, which seems poised to be an also-ran in the digital comics marketplace, thanks to carrying only a few comics from only a few publishers, Top Cow and Dynamite the only two I’d heard of before. But they do provide the option of PDFs and CBZs, which I can use, and even give away a few for free. As a result, I have now read more legal online comics from Top Cow than DC and Marvel combined. Before writing this I read The Darkness #1 by Garth Ennis and Marc Silvestri, using a free CBZ reader, FFView. Top Cow has some work to do, with an annoying watermark on each page and two-page spreads that don’t line up correctly, but neither of these are endemic to the format. The whole process was incredibly easy.

DIY: Finally, the simplicity of the format. This is great for publishers large and small, because it allows anyone to sell digital comics without a middleman, without a Comixology/Apple/whatever fee. DC and Marvel can do it, and just as excitingly, anyone else can do it. How do you make a CBZ? You make a ZIP file containing a set of image files (.PNG or .JPG), using any of a thousand free applications or even functions built into Mac OS (and probably Windows), and change the extension to .CBZ. That’s it. If your comic is called “My Comic Book,” all you need are your pages, i.e. mycomicbookpg1.jpg, mycomicbookpg2.jpg, mycomicbookpg3.jpg, etc. You zip them up and change the extension to .CBZ, and you have digitally published a comic. Now give the link to anyone who gives you 99¢ or whatever and you’re done.

Look, I made one just now using an old eight-page comic I drew for a class in 2007. Scanning the pages and doing a bit of touch up took a little while, but making and posting the .CBZ took a minute. Why isn’t everyone doing this?

For those interested, here’s me not understanding what’s going on in a church.

READ THIS WEEK:

  • Batman #701 by Grant Morrison & Tony Daniel
  • Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #39–#40: “Masks” by Bryan Talbot
    I keep wanting so say that this is like Talbot’s The Tale of One Bad Rat, but with Batman, except that’s a lie. It’s a suspenseful story with great art though.
  • Bite Me! by Dylan Meconis
    I learned from this vampire tale that I have a wretched aftertaste. Alarmingly, Meconis began serializing Bite Me!while still in high school, which, though I didn’t meet her until 2007, I suspect she did just to make me feel bad about what I’ve done with my life.
  • Booster Gold #32 by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Chris Batista & Rich Perrotta
    Bwahaha
  • The Bulletproof Coffin by David Hine & Shaky Kane
    I enjoyed the art and a lot of the wacky story elements, but I sighed once the story became about some mysterious comics. I could go the rest of my life without more comics about comics.
  • Captain America: Road to Reborn by Ed Brubaker, Luke Ross, Butch Guice & Gene Colan
  • The Darkness (digital edition) #1 by Garth Ennis & Marc Silvestri
  • Devil #1–#4 by Torajiro Kishi & Madhouse Studios
  • Family Man vol. 1 by Dylan Meconis
    Meconis’s new book, from her continuing online serialization. This one’s a rare “graphic novel of ideas,” set in the worlds of 18th-century higher education and religion, and yet another reminder that I wish I had a proper education with more English and Philosophy. Getting back to the book, even as a nonreligious person and aspiring (i.e. wannabe) intellectual I’m fascinated how academia can divorce even religion from its emotional and personal aspects, with characters talking entirely about their learning rather than their faith. Which is to say they are theologists. But, yeah, thought-provoking read. And I guess there are werewolves? I suck at following online comics, though, so I may have to wait for vol. 2 to continue reading.
  • Justice League: Generation Lost #5 by Judd Winick, Keith Giffen, Aaron Lopresti & Matt Ryan
    I’d maybe read this digitally if it were a CBZ and cost less than $2.99 (especially since buying the print version at my local store costs me less than $2.99 anyway).
  • Red Hood: The Lost Days by Judd Winick & Pablo Raimondi
  • Tales Designed to Thrizzle #6 by Michael Kupperman
  • Twin Spica vol. 1 by Kou Yaginuma
    The people who tell you this is good are right. Appealing heroine, nice mix of sci-fi and fantasy, compelling shared background for both the main character and the society she lives in, great art. Read it.
  • Uncanny X-Men: The Heroic Age by Matt Fraction, Whilce Portacio, Steve Sanders & Jamie McKelvie
    I am a big fan of Matt Fraction’s writing, but I’m beginning to think I just can’t do the X-Men. Looks like my monthly Fraction dollars will be going to Casanova instead.

Images of Top Cow comics © respective owners. Images of Bite Me © Dylan Meconis

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3 Responses to “The Best Digital Comics Format – My Week in Comics July 11–17”

  1. Moody Says:

    “Alarmingly, Meconis began serializing Bite Me! while still in high school, which, though I didn’t meet her until 2007, I suspect she did just to make me feel bad about what I’ve done with my life.”

    Yes, I had a similar response to that fact.

    Your church anecdote is fantastically surreal … I had no idea that a .CBZ file was so easy to make!

  2. maka Says:

    Interesting thoughts on digital comics. I agree with this point especially: “If it’s me, selling two hundred copies and having a thousand people that I know like my work and that I might eventually convince to pay for it is more desirable than selling half as many and having no additional people I know like my work that I can convert.”

    I lend my friends my graphic novels. Most probably don’t end up buying the comics or graphic novels themselves. But one of my friends has started taking their family to the local comic book store and buys comics and graphic novels as a family. That’s money that was left on the table before. My sharing had some part of that.

    NYTimes technology writer David Pogue did an experiment releasing one of his books without copy protection last year. It was pirated like crazy but sales actually increased. (http://bit.ly/90DFkv)

    It is going to be interesting to see how this plays out in the comic industry.

    I liked your comic. Thanks for introducing it and the FFView file reader.

    Peace, maka

  3. Brendan Wright Says:

    Moody — it’s easy as pie. I expect to see your minicomics proliferating on the web soon.

    Maka — I am a big proponent of the idea that free stuff sells more stuff. I try stuff at the library all the time, which has led to later purchases on several occasions. And yet there are short-term thinkers out there who actually decry libraries as being theft.

    As for FFView, I like it. I don’t know if it’s the best .cbz reader out there, and recommend you try a couple and see what you like best, but I’ve stuck with it for a while, as it’s simple and works just fine. At some point I may do a followup and compare some of the different ones.

    Thanks to you both for the kind words on the minicomic.

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