A Life Lived in Comics Day 19: Self-Promotion 5/2

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It’s funny. I feel like I subscribe to a lot of stapled comics, yet a week like this week where there’s only one waiting for me at the store is pretty common. When the Wednesday crowd made the crossing from Dark Horse to the Milwaukie Things From Another World, I only came back with Jeff Lemire’s latest issue of  Sweet Tooth. Good timing; I just caught up on the previous two issues last night, but I do always wish more excited me on a week to week basis.

Probably there are some good recent indies and minis, which I’ll check out on Saturday when I hit Floating World for Free Comic Book Day. There are several good events around town, but Floating World is my favorite FCBD spot because you can try all of the comics instead of having a limit of three or five or whatever, plus there are often small press and local FCBD books not found anywhere else in town. I don’t think I’m up for a repeat of last year, with eight posts in one day and visits to three stores, so Floating World it is.

Today was exciting for me, though, as Dark Horse released both Andi Watson’s Skeleton Key Color Special in print and digital and the first of Matt Kindt’s MIND MGMT Secret Files 8-pagers as a digital exclusive. Totally Matt’s idea, the Secret Files shorts are a weekly series of free stories meant to whet appetites for the first issue of the MIND MGMT ongoing series debuting on the 23rd. It’s something Matt had been talking about since I was first assigned to edit the book, but it wasn’t a certainty for a while, since like so many companies, Dark Horse was still working out the shape of its digital program.

By the time we had the green light, the timeline had tightened. I had worked out a schedule for the first six issues, and to make the three shorts work, we had to essentially drop a seventh issue into the middle of that schedule. I would never have attempted this with almost any artist out there, but Matt immediately sent a few ideas, I gave some feedback on them, and he sent a few more. One thing Matt Kindt readers know is that he is never short of ideas.

Between us we worked out what order the three shorts we’d picked should be in and he started sending scripts. The first gives a taste of MIND MGMT’s world through the eyes of an enemy spy, the second shows journalist Meru in action and delves into her previous book, and the last reveals where the agency came from. Our work method for these was pretty much as I described back in Day 11, except that for speed Matt went straight from the edited scripts to finished art and then I gave notes on that, and somehow he not only made the insane schedule I had to set for him, but he beat it, turning in the final, corrected version of the third short a day early. I actually ended up approving the digital version of the third story today, the same day that the first one was posted to the digital store.

The whole thing’s exciting for a lot of reasons, but one is that I think it’s a Dark Horse first. We’ve done some digital series before, like the Dragon Age and Prototype II game tie-ins that I assisted on, and we’ve done free advance previews of comics on the digital store, but I think this is the first time that we’ve created free, original content for the store to lead up to a new release. Again, it’s Matt’s idea, and it’s only because of his speed and talent that it was possible, but I hope my enthusiasm for the concept and continuing to bug all the right people until it was okayed helped make the difference.

I’m a big proponent of using free material to sell paid material, and am currently tasked with an initiative to make a few more DH books free online, at least for a while. I realize that it’s far from a settled question, but I believe that the paradigm of the Internet is that how much you sell is based on how much of a destination you are, and free content is the best way to become a destination. It’s no coincidence that digital comics stores like Comixology are constantly working to increase the amount of free material they offer.

Chris Anderson’s book Free: The Future of a Radical Price makes the case that the future of selling things is in the increasingly common Internet model of free services that charge a premium for the very top features, and while the vast majority of users won’t pay, the cost of keeping them on will be small enough that it’s well worth it to attract the smaller number of uses who do. This model is more about services than goods, but the book also includes fascinating case studies of how real profits have been made on the releases of free books, CDs, etc. It’s not all that different from Free Comic Book Day. Get me in the door with some free stuff, and I’ll almost certainly drop some money on minicomics and such.

Speaking of free, I did try out Mark Waid and Peter Krause’s Insufferable #1 today, so that’s kind of a Wednesday comic. It went live yesterday, but thrillbent.com was undergoing some scheduled downtime when I went to look at it, so I had to wait until today. Overall, I was more impressed by this than Marvel’s Nova comic that I tried out at work on an office iPad last week. Not counting the fact that really nothing happens in that comic, this one felt more assured and less like it was working hard to justify its digitalness by loading each screen with effects.

The Marvel comic has no sound or motion, but it uses fades and changing panels on every screen, whereas Insufferable uses them more sparingly, making them more effective. The first transition, in which a villain recording himself on video appears from static, is cute, but a later sequence in which panels appear and disappear one at a time to slow a moment down to microseconds is very effective. It culminates in a choice I’ve not seen before in a digital comic, hitting a point where there are two panels and a click to continue simply removes one of them, making no change to the other and adding nothing new. It’s one of the smarter uses of digital comics pacing that I’ve seen, narrowing focus for pacing and effect when the general mode is for each successive click to expand what we’re seeing.

MIND MGMT Secret Files isn’t like that. As you read it, you’ll notice that it’s suspiciously regular-comic shaped, because while there isn’t yet an exact plan for where these stories will end up, it’s a good bet they’ll see print sooner or later. As exciting as digital is, and I’ve found it in some ways more pleasant than reading stapled comics, the money is currently still in selling print comics. Waid and the Thrillbent team are currently supporting the effort out of their own pockets, though I wish them the best of luck in picking up advertising and eventually selling digital comics for money. I enjoyed Insufferable #1, and at the right price point I’ll be there for what they’ve got in store next.

The first prequel story has already gotten some great buzz, so May 23 is even more exciting!

On the flip side of my continuing (though admittedly light this week) acquisition of comics, I’m always looking to get rid of some, and I packed up my first shipment of random comics in response to a letter, set to go in the mail tomorrow. My offer still stands: want a dozen or so pieces of randomness? Write me.

Tomorrow: The ritual of First Thursday.

Why’m I doing this, again?

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