NYCC Panel Recap: Creating Comics the ComiXology Way

By Elizabeth Keenan

ComiXology’s announcement of its upcoming “Submit” program turned an otherwise hypothetical New York Comic Con panel into a strategic instruction session for indie comics artists and writers eager to bring their comics to the digital distribution platform.

ComiXology co-founder John D. Roberts and vice president of marketing and business development Chip Mosher described the program as a way for the company to come back “full circle” to its work with independent creators. The new Submit program will be entirely free to creators, including the conversion to the “Guided View” format that has made ComiXology into the most popular way to read digital comics.

For now, the program is in an invite-only stage, with a few kinks to be ironed out, such as the approval process. The company hopes to be out of the beta stage in 60 to 90 days.

“We really wanted to make sure we got it right,” Roberts said. “We’re excited to start looking at the amazing work and start putting that on our platform.”

Roberts and Mosher, along with "Valentine" artist Alex De Campi and "Power Play" writer Kurt Christianson and artist Reilly Brown, offered suggestions about designing comics especially for the digital format.

Roberts described the process that ComiXology takes when translating a print comic into Guided View.

“[The format] presents the story in panel chunks without breaking the page,” he said. “It's a way to guide you through with a way of reading the comic on a small screen and understand it.”

There are essentially three storytelling methods in Guided View: the pan, the zoom, and the fade. These help to bring continuity to the reading experience. For the creator, other important issues to consider are ratio, which changes from one device to another, and font size, which affect the reading experience.

"Valentine" artist Alex De Campi created her comic specifically for the Guided View experience because she “wanted to do something digital that didn’t come from the tyranny of the portrait format.”

In composing the comic, De Campi thought of it as a series of panels, rather than full pages. “I made the somewhat rash decision to make it landscape format,” which led to problems when it later became a print comic for Image.

“I had all these images, and thus began Alex’s three weeks of Photo shop hell,” she said. “All of the things you see in print are resized.”

De Campi notes that creating specifically for the Guided View has its challenges.

“Partially it restricts you, and partially it frees you, because you are pushed into choices that you wouldn’t have to make normally,” she said.

She was quick to point out, however, that her method is not the only one possible. “Do what makes you happiest,” she said.

Roberts added that there was “no one right way” to make a digital comic, and the creators for ComiXology have taken a variety of approaches.

“People think it’s scary just to do a comic for digital, but they shouldn’t,” he said.

Kurt Christianson said that he and Brown worked together for a year on planning out "Power Play" for a digital format.

“You take on the different tricks, and then it’s adapting it from there,” he said.

Even traditional splash pages can work in the digital format, De Campi said, by panning up and down the image. She described a scene in "Valentine" where the one character whispers in the other’s ear; a pan down reveals that one character has run his sword through the other.

“If there’s one thing I recommend to anyone working in digital comics, it’s to get a book on basic cinematography,” she said. “It will teach you so much for digital comics. Zooms, pans, and how you can tell stories via camera movement, which is essentially what you are doing with digital comics.”

Christianson said that he worked on developing a visual sense for the comic by studying the films he liked for establishing shots and other key moments.

“If you are a writer in comics, and you are not thinking visually, you are doing it wrong,” he said.

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