With our THREE QUESTIONS series we ask different digital comics innovators the same three questions. The similarities (and differences) in their answers is often enlightening. This week we’re happy to continue the series with digital comics writer, artist, and speaker Dan Goldman!
Dan has been at the forefront of experimenting with progressive storytelling for years, first as a co-founder of the webcomics collective ACT-I-VATE, where he serialized his webcomic KELLY, and then with the critically acclaimed webcomic SHOOTING WAR (with Anthony Lappé), originally published by Smith Magazine.
SHOOTING WAR was hailed as a “must read” by Entertainment Weekly, “a subversively buzz-worthy online comic” by USA Today and earned him an Eisner nomination for Best Digital Comic. He follow up with 08: A GRAPHIC DIARY OF THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL (with journalist Michael Crowley), an ambitious – and successful – long-form comics journalism project written and drawn in real-time during the historic 2008 Presidential election.
Dan was kind enough to take some time from his current project, RED LIGHT PROPERTIES, to answer our Three Questions. Here the are!
PERAZZA: What is the best thing about comics specifically made for digital reading?
DAN: Letting the storytelling be led by the capabilities of its medium is always the ideal situation, that’s why digital-first comics sound so sexy when you describe them like that. But there’s a huge problem already from that point: digital-first comics all seem to be designed for iPads by default, but “digital” doesn’t mean one screen-size (or even a standard resolution), so you get a range of varying results from beautiful to quite shitty. If you have the right device (read: the iPad), the reading experience is downright delicious.
But that lack of standards makes for an unevenness in a new medium that print simply doesn’t have to contend with, being a fixed-form medium. These are of course fits and starts as “comics” slow-morphs into its next evolutionary phase, but it’s hard to hold digital comics up as something revolutionary if they only look right on some devices, y’know?
PERAZZA: Absolutely. The freedom inherent in digital original work comes with it’s own challenges. So with that in mind, what is the worst thing about comics specifically made for digital reading?
DAN: The extra steps you take in innovating for digital are all storytelling beats you can lose going “backwards” to vanilla print pages… which unfortunately is where the majority of the comic-reading audience is.
The other worst thing about digital comics is the fact that they’re digital, which means a majority of the current US comics readership will simply not engage with them until they’re in print. I know that probably comes off bitchy, but I’ve seen a huge jump in the readers willing to give my RED LIGHT PROPERTIES a shot now that it’s available in book form. Like, it never even existed for them before.
Granted, any second chance to make your big debut is cool, but that doesn’t negate the hair-pulling freakouts trying to connect with that audience when you’re digital-only. RED LIGHT PROPERTIES lived digital-first in various formats/platforms for years, and it’s only now that there’s a book will most comic readers try it out. Obviously I find that thinking frustrating (even kinda neanderthal) after many years in the digital trenches, but that’s my recent experience in our #comicmarket right, having a book out for 29 days after it lived digitally for several years.
The saving grace here is that I deeply believe this is is already changing with the generation coming up now raised reading all kinds of digital media content on tablets, and Comixology/etc are instrumental in helping this shift happen, even if they’re feeding into a broken distribution system instead of creating a new and better one. We’re just part of the transitional generation, so it’s our hurdle to overcome for now.
PERAZZA: Speaking of that new generation, what do you see in the future for digital comics?
DAN: I see an actual functioning marketplace developed around digital comics that’s not just a direct market-dependent digital extension of a system that never really worked well. A true digital publishing system with new digital-first publishers with a business model that produces (i.e. pays) creators to develop a new digital medium that is the great-grandchild of what we now call “comics”. What that looks like, I’m not sure yet, but the screen-native stuff happening now that stems from Balak’s work is certainly the beginning of it.
And as much as comics’ jump to digital formats need mutation/evolution, the thinking of comics’ readership has to embrace digital as an end-point in and of itself before if it’s ever going to fully blossom. Comics’ roots in pulps/collectibles really is holding this generation of digital comics back, if only that it keeps creators reliant on other mediums just to make a living off stories we’re already producing fully-realized versions of. Sadly, that’s nothing new in comics… but it’s even sadder that this cycle perpetuates itself over and over again from newsstand to comic store to digital app and (hopefully not) beyond.
PERAZZA: Hopefully not.
Thanks to Dan for going above and beyond with his answers! Dan’s RED LIGHT PROPERTIES has been featured on Boing Boing, Nerdist, Wired and Publisher’s Weekly. You can find more works by Dan on Amazon, visit his website, or follow both Dan and RED LIGHT PROPERTIES on Twitter.