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Digital ComicsAlliance 5/6/11: Burger King Thor, Hitman, and Free Square Enix Comics

We’re constantly striving to find the best way to deliver to you the information you need to know about digital comics. So, pardon our dust as we demolish Digital Comics Weekly and erect something new in its place: Digital ComicsAlliance, your headquarters for digital comics news and recommendations. In our weekly post about digital comics, we’re going to give you three important things: the major news, the big sales where you can get good books cheap, and of course, our recommendations for the comics you should be downloading.

1. Name: Hellboy: Makoma; Or, A Tale Told By A Mummy In The New York City Explorers’ Club On August 16, 1993
Creative Team: Mike Mignola (script & art), Richard Corben (art), Dave Stewart (colors)
Platform: Dark Horse
Price: $1.99 each ($2.99 bundle)
Format: Two issues, one bundle
Why: Mike Mignola’s Hellboy is moody, beautiful, and more than a little scary. It’s easy to see how Mignola’s art made Hellboy into such a beloved character, but when Mignola works with other artists, magic happens. Mignola provides a framing sequence in Makoma, while Richard Corben draws the story of Hellboy in Africa, battling animals, beasts, time, destiny, and his own evil nature. While it isn’t as unbelievably sublime as Hellboy in Mexico (Or, a Drunken Blur), Makoma is more than worth the money. Corben’s monsters are ugly as sin incarnate, and Hellboy looks like he’s right out of Jim Henson’s studio. Makoma is great, affecting, and funny stuff, and at three bucks, there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t read it.

2. Name: Hitman: Ten Thousand Bullets

Creative Team: Garth Ennis (script), John McCrea (art), Carla Feeny (colors)
Platform: ComiXology (web, iOS, Android)
Price: $1.99 each
Format: #4-8
Why: Hitman is, in all seriousness, a classic. I actually like it a bit more than I like Preacher, Garth Ennis’s collaboration with Steve Dillon and everyone else’s favorite Ennis book. Hitman is the story of two good friends, jokes, love, honor, and a whole lot of dead bodies. This short arc is where it kicks off in earnest, and features the introduction of Natt the Hat, several running gun battles, and tons of Ennis’s unbelievably believable dialogue. McCrea is no slouch, either. His Gotham City is several orders of magnitude dirtier than what you’d normally see in a Batman comic, his characters are realistic at first glance, but McCrea maintains a very cartoony aesthetic to his work. Together, the two of them did some of the best work DC Comics has ever seen, from characterization to action. You really feel for Tommy Monaghan and Natt, and you cheer when they win the day. If you like action comics, you need Hitman in your life.

3. Name: Officer Downe

Creative Team: Joe Casey (script), Chris Burnham (art), Marc Letzmann (colors)
Platform: ComiXology (web, iOS, Android)
Price: $2.99
Format: One issue
Why: Let’s say Hitman is a little tame for you. There’s not enough violence, and nowhere near enough shouted obscenities. You need a bit of the old ultra-violence in your comics, a few busted heads, broken necks, and severed limbs. Rise of Arsenal and Cry For Justice woke up a beast inside you that just won’t be satisfied until you see some four-color carnage. You’re in luck, because Joe Casey and Chris Burnham’s Officer Downe more than fits the bill. This is the story of Downe, a hero cop who always gets his man, even if he is dismembered, crushed, disemboweled, defenestrated, run over, beaten half to death, or shot all the way to death. No matter what: Downe gets his man. It’s Judge Dredd meets Hard Boiled meets pop comics, and the result is vicious. Everyone dies bloody. This is murder comics, and it is viscerally entertaining.

THE NEWS

-Visit Burger King, Get Thor Comics: As CA writer John DiBello explained this week, as part of the run-up to the release of Thor, Marvel and Burger King have teamed up to deliver digital comics written by Bryan JL Glass and drawn by Ig Guara. To get access to the comic, you’ve got to purchase a BK Kids Meal and get a special code. This sort of deal is a no-brainer on several levels. Children who have grown up with the internet are incredibly savvy these days, for better or for worse, and this type of deal is aimed directly at their brainpan. I’d expect to see something similar aimed at non-comics reading adults for other upcoming comics movies. Everyone likes free, and if the content is as well done as Thor‘s, then the results will be good. Marvel should definitely be pushing their own Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited service, in addition to their other distribution partners, as part of this promotion.

-Archie and Graphic.ly Now On NOOK: Amazon’s Kindle may have the full weight of Amazon behind it, but it’s got one important problem when it comes to comics: there’s no color. While Amazon’s rumored tablet could be a game-changer, right now, the NOOK rules the roost when it comes to comics. Archie has signed on, Graphic.ly offers a few graphic novels, and more publishers are sure to come. The Android platform has proven to be both flexible and popular, though the variety of hardware that uses the operating system can lead to issues. The NOOK may not be an iPad-killer, but if you don’t want to bow down at the altar of Apple, it’s looking more and more like a good choice for comics reading.

-Viz Manga Trickles Down to iPhones: Brigid Alverson at Publishers Weekly broke the news that Viz Media has released versions of their manga reading app for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Those platforms join the iPad app in offering extraordinarily cheap (Five bucks!) volumes of manga for mobile reading. You can download the iPad app here, or the iPhone/iPod Touch app here. Take note: the app will not work on iOS devices that don’t support iOS 3.2 or higher. If you have an old iPod Touch, you’re out of luck.

-Yen Press Doesn’t Understand Digital Comics, Is Still Adorable: Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&! is probably the most adorable comic on the stands. Yotsuba lives life with an innocent joy that is infectious. She’d undoubtedly approach reading digital comics with the same glee or earnestness that she does when buying candy or calling Fuuka fat, but I think even she would balk at Yen Press’s plan to sell digital volumes of Yotsuba&!. Instead of the almost standard price point of around five bucks for graphic novel-length works, Japanator reports that Yen Press’s iPad app is going to begin offering Yotsuba&! at the absurd price of $8.99. This pricing is in line with the other manga on Yen Press’s app, so that is clearly working for them, but these books retail for $10.99 and volume one is currently $8.79 on Amazon.com. This price point seems entirely too high for digital comics, which should be cheaper and more convenient than printed books. Having one, but not the other, just isn’t good enough. Follow Viz’s example. Halve the price and see how that affects sales.

-Teenage Satan Needs Love, Too: Stephanie Buscema, Marsha Cooke, and Candis Cooke are launching a multimedia comics project called Teenage Satan. This project is going to mix a comic formatted specifically for digital viewing with games and other widgets to create a deep experience. I like where this is going. Digital comics right now are mostly translations of old media into a new container, rather than being genuinely new media in and of themselves. Teenage Satan suggests that digital comics need to be more than just something old wrapped up in something new. I approve of that idea, and I love Buscema’s art.

-Teenage Romance At The End of the World: Brigid Alverson is always on top of the latest digital comics news, as her interview with Darwyn Cooke about his upcoming digital project proves. In short, Cooke refuses to be pigeonholed as “the crime guy” or “the retro guy.” His next project is a digital-only romance comic. Specifics are a little rare right now, but c’mon: it’s Darwyn Cooke. It’ll be nothing less than entertaining, whatever its final form may be. Something worth paying attention to is that this will be a strictly digital project. That’s a big step, particularly for a creator who has seen the success in the Direct Market that Cooke has. I’m very, very curious to see how this shakes out in the end.

-Square Enix Releases Free Multimedia Digital Comics: My hope for digital comics is that they become more than just “floppies on the internet.” Teenage Satan is a step in the right direction, but I figured that Marvel and DC would push to innovate in the realm of digital comics. Adding games, puzzles, and other additions to the comics experience seems like a no-brainer, and there’s no doubt that their comics would lend themselves very well to action-oriented gameplay. What I never expected, however, was for Square Enix, of all companies, to beat them to the punch. The venerable developer released Imaginary Range on iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches this week, with an Android release coming later this month. You progress through a comic book panel by panel, complete with animation, pop-up word balloons, and easter eggs. Along the way, you play minigames to progress to the next stage of the story. The games are short, most of them beatable in a minute or less, but it still adds an interesting dimension to the comic reading experience. It requires active participation above and beyond what floppies require. Oh, and it’s free. This is a steal. I would throw money and/or credit cards at people who continue on in this vein.

THE SALES

-ComiXology runs Marvel Mondays sales every Monday. Certain Marvel comics, usually ones from a specific series or united under a theme, are offered for half off. You can check their blog for the current sale on Monday mornings, and sometimes Sunday nights. Once Monday is gone, though, so is the sale.

-ComiXology is currently offering Jonathan Hickman and Carlos Pacheco’s four issues of Ultimate Thor for $0.99 each. Considering that these comics cost four dollars at retail, and four dollars online, this is a great price. Four dollars for a digital comic is positively absurd, but it’s hard to ignore $0.99. Regular Thor, by J Michael Straczynski and Olivier Coipel, is on sale for $0.99, too. You’ll need to open up the Marvel Comics or ComiXology iOS apps to purchase these comics, since you can’t read this specific type of digital comic via the web.

-Free Comic Book Day is this weekend, as long-suffering Chris Sims has noted, and Graphic.ly is going all out. Every Graphic.ly user gets a free copy of Mouse Guard, Archaia’s Free Comic Book Day 2011 book, when they login. That’s not all: logging in or Twittering about Graphic.ly enters you into the giveaways that Graphic.ly will be doing all day. But wait, there’s more: there are over 30 free comics from Graphic.ly’s publishers. This deal lasts just for Saturday, so get on it.

-To celebrate the launch of their iPhone and iPod Touch apps, Viz is offering select first volumes of the manga on their app for $2.99–40% off. This sale lasts until midnight on May 9th, so get your shopping done this weekend.

-Dark Horse is offering The Guild for $0.99 all weekend! It’s not quite free, but that’ll do nicely.

THE PLAYERS

There are a few different ways to get digital comics right now. Here’s a selection of the methods, listed by company in alphabetical order, and the formats they support:

Archie Comics
(iOS)
Boom! Studios (iOS [identical to the Boom! offerings on ComiXology and syncs with your ComiXology account])
Comics4Kids (iOS [ComiXology for all-ages comics])
ComiXology (iOS, Web, Android)
Dark Horse (iOS, Web)
DC Comics (iOS, Web [identical to the DC offerings on ComiXology and syncs with your ComiXology account])
DriveThru Comics (CBZ, PDF, ePUB, and more)
Dynamite Entertainment (iOS,Web, Android [identical to the Dynamite offerings on ComiXology and syncs with your ComiXology account])
Graphic.ly (iOS, Web, Android)
IDW Comics (iOS)
Image Comics (iOS [identical to the Image offerings on ComiXology and syncs with your ComiXology account])
iVerse’s Comics+ (iOS)
Marvel Comics on Chrome (Web)
Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited (Web)
My Digital Comics (PDF, CBZ, and more)
The Illustrated Section (PDF)
Viz Manga (iOS)


THE BASICS

There are a few things you need to know. You no longer need an iOS device (you know: iPad, iPod, iPhone), but you will need an internet connection, web browser, and, usually, Flash. Generally, you don’t get to actually own your digital comics. You’re paying to read them, and while this has been a fairly smooth process this far, that may rankle for some readers.

Are all these distributors different? Functionally, no, they aren’t that different at all. Most of them allow for panel by panel reading (or a variation thereof) or page-based reading. The main differences are in selection. Frustratingly, certain comics are offered on several services, but released at different times. Marvel alone offers five choices. Most other publishers keep to one distribution method, and if they don’t, they tend to keep their stuff mirrored across the various methods. If you want DC Comics, you’re using ComiXology, for example, but Boom! Studios has comics on both. For Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited, you’ll have to pay a subscription fee. It’s essentially Netflix for comics, however, so that may be worth it for you.

Personally, I use a mix of all the services, which is far from an optimal configuration, but one that works well. Poke around and see which one you like the most.

When do digital comics come out? Marvel has a weekly schedule, with an option for viewing the next month’s releases. That’s as close as you’ll get to a release schedule. To see what’s new on ComiXology, subscribe to this RSS feed. IDW generally releases books four weeks after they ship in print. ComiXology updates on Wednesdays, Graphic.ly updates throughout the week, and IDW’s app updates on Tuesdays, with day-and-date books arriving on Wednesday. Dark Horse updates on Wednesdays. This category on iVerse’s Comics+ site lists the updates for the week. Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited releases books every Monday.

I’ll update with RSS feeds and landing pages that show new releases as they appear! If you’re a digital comics publisher and you don’t have a feed or page that users can visit… well, please create one. We’d all appreciate it.

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