Guest Commentary: Paul Allor on Embracing the Freedom of Digital Comics

Paul Allor is the writer of Clockwork vol.1, a collection of twelve short form comics ranging from wild west tales to epic space operatics. A second Clockwork anthology is forthcoming. 

Clockwork vol. 1

Print comics can be a cruel mistress, especially for a self-published creator. The possibilities are not endless. They’re limited by price, by printing technology and even by common practice.

With digital comics, the price drops dramatically. The printing press is non-existent. And common practice is determined by us.

So why do so many digital-only comics still stick to the rigid formality of a 22-page comic, released monthly? For print, that format makes sense, from a marketing, financial and logistical standpoint. It’s accepted by fans, it fits well within a 32-page staple-bound floppy, and it’s a reasonable goal for many artists.

But most of that doesn’t apply to digital. Let the needs of your story dictate its format and length. Experiment. Make digital publishing as a tool, and not just a platform.

Take some time to explore Graphicly, and you’ll find countless examples of writers and artists telling great stories of all different lengths. For example, I highly recommend Double Feature from Four Star Studios. Each issue contains two ten-page stories from top-notch creators. The genre changes in each issue.

I would love to see more high-profile writers and artists branching out through projects like this. But even for a lesser-known creator, there are countless ways of making the digital format work for you and your story. Here are just a few.

· Start Small. If you’re a first-time comics writer or artist, chances are you aren’t ready to come out the gate with an epic ongoing series. Or even a four-issue mini-series. Instead, why not create a story that’s five pages long? Or four, or eight? You would have a hard time selling this in your LCS, but the digital format is the great equalizer.

· Provide a sneak peek. If you do have a mini or ongoing coming up, why not use the digital format to market it? Create a digital-only prologue to your longer story. Give people a short, low-cost preview of what your book has to offer. In Gutter Magic, coming soon to writer Rich Douek works with a number of artists to create a series of short comics that follow different characters through one intricately-constructed fantasy world. It’s a wonderful introduction to a world Rich plans on visiting again, in a future mini-series.

From 'Hell, Nebraska' by Shaun Manning & Anna Wieszczyk

· Explore a side-route. If your mini-series or ongoing is already out, then why not use digital comics to provide value-added content? Focus on an interesting minor character. Explore a different aspect of your world. Tell the same story that’s in your issue, but through someone else’s eyes. Fill in a missing timeline. Invite your readers in, and gain their trust through consistent, high-quality stories at a low price.

· Change the frequency. Instead of a monthly 22-page comic, why not release a weekly four-page comic? Or a series of 60-page OGN’s, released quarterly? It all depends on what’s best for your story. A zany, action-packed romp might be better served by small, frequent installments, while an sweeping, character-based epic could use much larger installments, delivered at a slower pace. Shaun Manning and Anna Wieszczyk are releasing the excellent Hell, Nebraska in 11-page installments. In the first issue, 11 pages was the perfect length to introduce the delightfully creepy concept and leave readers wanting more. It’s the right length for the story they’re telling.

The bottom line is, not every story needs to be told in 22-page chunks. Take a look at your story; decide what it needs; and then go for it.

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  • John Eddings

    Paul, I like your observations on rethinking comics for the digital age. It’s ridiculous for on-line publishers to stick to the 22-page, once a month format but have you given any thought to layout? Graphicly does a wonderful job adapting vertically oriented pages into something easily read on a horizontal screen but why? Why are comics that never appear on paper still being drawn vertically when they’re going to be read horizontally? Why are there multiple panels per page, when each panel is going to be read seperately in zoom mode?
    Or am I the only one bothered by this?
    I recently started publishing with Graphicly (E-Spinner Rack) and would appreciate it if you could take a quick look at my comic. Let me know if I’m on the right track or full of it.

  • Adam Geen

    John, I think most people would rather stick to the portrait mode. Most devices are viewed in portrait mode anyway as opposed to landscape. Sticking to that mode also makes it easier for when you have a print product as well. You won’t have to cut and paste everything all over again for it to work correctly.

  • John Eddings

    I agree, Adam, that if you’re going to publish in print as well as online, portrait mode makes sense. Maybe your eyes are better than mine, but I can’t read a six panel comic page on my i-phone without zooming and scrolling.