The last holdout has come in, and it’s one of the biggest and best. After years of staying aloof from the digital world, Fantagraphics has announced they are going with ComiXology to release digital versions of the Love and Rockets back catalog, as revealed today on the Love and Rockets panel. We caught up with Fanta’s associate publisher Eric Reynolds to get the who how what and why of bringing some of the greatest cartoonsits in the world to the digital platform:
Q: First the facts: what will be available and when?
A: L&R New Stories 1-4 will be the first official releases and they will roll out via ComiXology after the announcement at the Hernandez Brothers panel on Saturday. The new issue, #5, will be a day and date release with the print iteration in early Sept. After that we will begin rolling out more titles, somewhat steadily, if not aggressively.
Q: Every time I ask you about digital over the years you have said you are thinking about it. Can you walk us through the evolution of your thinking on the topic?
A: It’s convoluted. For a long time, I was just waiting for technology to catch up to what I thought was a minimum standard for even considering this. I wanted an experience that was as close to print as possible and that maintained the integrity of the units in the work (pages, panels, etc.). Digital has plenty of room for more bells and whistles, but if we’re simply talking about a digital version of a print book, I don’t want the digital experience to deviate that much. The iPad certainly sped up the process, it was the first platform that really lent itself to reading comics comfortably and in a way that didn’t feel like you were forcing a square peg in a round hole.
But then it was also a matter of figuring out the right path to take, whether developing an app or apps, partnering with 3rd party digital providers, who can get what on which platform, etc. It was sort of like the old “Let’s Make a Deal” where you can choose between door 1, 2 or 3, except in this case there were about 500 different doors to choose from.
Q: What finally pushed you over the edge to go digital?
A: Oh, I dunno. I’m not sure I’ve actively resisted digital for several years. I knew it was an inevitability. But I was admittedly dragging my heels for as long as I could, just waiting to see how things shook out. For an “alternative” publisher, we’re pretty conservative in some ways. It’s not so much that we’re anti-digital as much as we really are just hardwired for print. So I’ve taken my time. David Steinberger at ComiXology has been actively “courting” us for a couple years now and the more I’ve gotten to know him, the more I personally like him and respect what he’s doing. Once we decided to take the plunge, it wasn’t very difficult in choosing ComiXology to be our initial digital partner.
Q: How have Fantagraphics authors reacted to the idea? Have any of them been pushing for it or conversely have some said over my cold analog body?
A: Mostly the former, at this point. When the notion of “digital comics” first became a reality, I’ll admit that many of our authors and many of us in the office actively resisted the idea and pretended to tell ourselves we’d never embrace it. But I think we’re all pragmatic enough to understand the realities of where the future is headed. A lot has changed in a just a few years. I still prefer print. I don’t think I’m being particularly contrary or analog in saying so. A book can have physical qualities that contribute to the aesthetics or experience of enjoying a book in a way that I still don’t see on an iPad. The paper, the binding, varying trim sizes, pantone colors, etc. I’m not sure a library of eBooks can convey a similar visceral pleasure. But digital has its advantages, too. The new high definition screens on the iPad certainly present artwork in a new light, it’s pretty impressive. If I were interested in more multimedia components, that would certainly be an advantage, even though that still doesn’t particularly interest me, in and of itself, although it’s not to say if an artist had a really creative idea, I couldn’t change my mind.
Q: I know this is probably confidential, but what can you say about how you have approached digital rights with authors prior to this? Was it a consideration or have some authors had their own deals?
A: We’ve been securing digital rights for our books for a few years now. Obviously, for books that predate that, digital rights have to be negotiated from scratch. But I will say that I think our revenue sharing is as progressive as any publishers that I’m aware of, certainly moreso than what’s become standard in the New York publishing world.
Q: Did you start out knowing you were going with Comixology or did you shop around?
A: I would say that I probably resisted ComiXology at first, just because of their dominance in the market. Much in the same way we were probably the largest publisher in the industry to not go exclusive with Diamond until long after the dust had settled and there really was no other competition. I like there being access to the marketplace for the little guy. But the more and more I researched, the more I realized that simply put, ComiXology really was the standard-bearer for digital comics processing AND distribution. They have the most intuitive guided view software I’ve seen and they are well-positioned to get the books out there on the most popular platforms. It’s not an exclusive deal and I am definitely continuing to keep our options open, but I’m excited to see what ComiXology can do.
Q: Although I know that the physical presentation of a book is key to a lot of Fantas top authors, digital also opens up new possibilities for publishing. How do you see Fantagraphics evolving into the digital space down the road?
A: We’re first and foremost a book publisher and I see digital purely as a component of our primary core business of book publishing. At this point, I have very little interest in doing any kind of R&D here that tries to parse the future of comics as it applies to the infinite canvas of the web. We’re no Scott McCloud. But you’re right, there are opportunities there, for things like out-of-print books that we can’t afford to reprint. So it depends on how you define those “possibilities”.
Q: Rolling out with Love and Rockets is a great start…any hints as to what might be next? How big do you foresee your digital catalog growing?
A: The next title will be a periodical series that I think will be very well-received as a digital comic. The only reason I’m not telling you is because we haven’t finalized the schedule with ComiXology just yet as Comic-Con has taken over everyone’s lives. But it’ll be announced this month.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.