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Digital ComicsAlliance: ‘Hellboy in Mexico,’ ‘Gingerbread Girl,’ and ‘Friends With Boys’

Welcome to Digital ComicsAlliance, your headquarters for digital comics news and recommendations. At the top of our list, we have what may be the best single issue of anything ever in Hellboy in Mexico, and then Gingerbread Girl and Friends With Boys, a couple of print comics that are (or have been) serialized for free online.

1. Name: Hellboy in Mexico or, A Drunken Blur
Creative Team: Mike Mignola (writer), Richard Corben (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist), Clem Robins (letters)
Platform: Dark Horse (iOS app that syncs to your account on the web)
Price: $1.99
Format: One issue
Why: Here it is: the best single issue of any comic series released in 2010. Mignola, Corben, Stewart, and Robins created a done-in-one tale that knocked my socks off the first time I read it, and kept me interested the second time through. Hellboy meets a trio of luchadores in Mexico while hunting monsters. He hangs out for a while, they become good friends, and then, as happens so often in Hellboy comics, things go terribly, terribly wrong.Hellboy in Mexico manages to pack humor, menace, and horror into one tale. Mignola exposes Hellboy to some pop culture, in addition to folklore, and the results are fantastic. Corben’s art is perfect, with a bobblehead version of Hellboy and round, meaty luchadores. Two bucks for one of the best: a steal.

2. Name: Gingerbread Girl

Creative Team: Colleen Coover and Paul Tobin
Platform: Top Shelf 2.0 (Web)

Price: Free! ($12.95 in print)
Format: 33 chapters

Why: There’s something really nice about getting creator-owned work from people whose work you know mainly from their mainstream books. Paul Tobin’s written quite a few Marvel tales I’ve enjoyed, including the recent Spider-Girl series featuring Anya Corazon, and Colleen Coover has contributed page after fantastic page to books like X-Men: First Class and Girl Comics.

They’ve taken their show on the road to Top Shelf, publisher of many a fine graphic novel, to create Gingerbread Girl, a coming of age story about a girl named Annah who might just be a little bit insane. She’s definitely off-kilter, as the host of rotating narrators explain over the course of the book. Several people attempt to shed light on Annah’s condition, or lack thereof, and the result is a pretty entertaining round-robin fourth wall-breaking story. Top Shelf 2.0 serialized the entire tale online before publication, giving you a choice of ways to read the book. Check it out, and pick up the print copy if you like it.

3. Name: Friends With Boys

Creative Team: Faith Erin Hicks (cartoonist)
Platform: n/a
Price: Free
Format: Webcomic

Why: You probably know Faith Erin Hicks from Zombies Calling or The War at Ellsmere, which I recommended ages ago. Friends With Boys is out now, so you have absolutely no excuse not to get familiar with her art. Maggie’s a homeschooled kid going to high school for the first time. Her brothers have already made the jump, but now it’s her turn, and to say that she’s a bit nervous would be understating things a little. Hicks’s facial expressions are pretty special. She’s got a great grasp on that stuff, as you can see on page two. I like how Maggie’s face looks stunned in the first few panels, and then her nervousness gives way to a grin in panel four, seen in her reflection. And then the next page — sadness.

I assumed that Friends With Boys was going to be good just from what I know of Hicks’s work, and it looks like I was right. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that Maggie is friends (kinda) with a ghost. I get the feeling this won’t be a simple coming of age story, so check it out. There’s thirty-something pages up right now, and it will update every weekday until the book comes out in February. And if you’re into that, check out The Adventures of Superhero Girl, too. Free work from a talented creator: it’s tough to say no to that.

THE SALES

-ComiXology runs Marvel Mondays sales (wait for it) 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. Keep an eye on their blog for other sales, too.

-Dark Horse runs themed sales every weekend. They’ve run sales on Serenity, The Goon, Conan, and Fray, among others, so you’re pretty much sure to find something to like at some point. This week’s sale hasn’t been announced yet, but stay tuned to the Dark Horse Digital blog. There is also a page on Dark Horse Digital that lists ongoing specials.

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 app that syncs to your account on the 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])
eManga (web)
Graphic.ly (iOS, Web, Android, Nook Color)
IDW Comics (iOS)
Image Comics (iOS [identical to the Image offerings on ComiXology and syncs with your ComiXology account])
iVerse’s Comics+ (iOS, Nook Color)
Marvel Comics on Chrome (Web)
Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited (Web)
My Digital Comics (PDF, CBZ, and more)
The Illustrated Section (PDF)
Square Enix Manga (web)
Viz Manga (iOS, web)
Yen Press (web)


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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