I'm sure you've heard it by now-- "The internet is the future of comics. Digital comics are where we need to go. Blah blah blah, iPad, blah blah blah Kindle, blah blah killer app." No one quite knows how digital comics are going to work out yet, though there are several different attempts on the market. Manga publishing giant Viz seems more than ready to blaze a few trails, as they've leapt into the digital comics arena with both arms swinging. Rather than playing it safe and taking it slow, Viz has leapt into the fray with SIGIKKI.com.

There are no gates or subscription fees when you visit SIGIKKI.com. All you have to do is load up the site, select one of the thirteen series currently serialized on the site, and begin reading. A built-in review system allows the editorial team to judge which series are making a big splash and which aren't. Series are regularly collected and printed as part of the Viz Signature line, assuming that the reader demand supports it.As far as publishing schemes go, it makes a certain amount of sense. It's the same method that has brought popular webcomics success, and offering up free stuff is a surefire way to get people to come to your door. By limiting their print publishing to series that have the fanbase to support them, Viz also limits its risk, giving themselves a chance to gauge success and reader reaction way ahead of time.

"IKKI," the ongoing manga magazine from Japan whose model SIGIKKI.com follows, is five years old and has made a name for itself as being a source for what we'd consider alt-comix -- books that tend to differ from the usual shonen or shoujo adventure tales, lack overt commercial appeal, or are just weird when compared to the usual stereotype of manga.

The site keeps up that tradition of diverse content with a line-up that'd make any indie comics publisher jealous. There are currently thirteen series available for reading on SIGIKKI.com, ranging from a drama about a slacker samurai, a high school featuring clones of historical figures, and a tale about children raised by dugongs. "Bokurano: Ours" is the story of fifteen children who find themselves piloting a giant robot. Even a concept as simple and Shonen Jump-ready as that ends up turned on its ear, as the price for piloting the robot soon becomes clear and the children become trapped.

While SIGIKKI.com is a worthy entry into the field of digital comics, it has another, perhaps under-examined bonus: it shows what the comics landscape might be like in the future. SIGIKKI.com will probably never have a "Naruto" or "Bleach," one of those runaways hits with a cartoon, a series of movies, and a bunch of toys. Despite that, SIGIKKI.com has enjoyed some measure of success, with several books now in print and "Children of the Sea" ending up on a few best of lists for 2009.

It also provides an example of how publishers can battle online piracy without alienating their paying fanbase. The Flash-based reader is simple and unobtrusive, allowing for ease of viewing for brief or extended periods of time. While the updates for certain series are infrequent, it is simple to move from chapter to chapter, and even to link directly to a chapter if need be.

SIGIKKI.com has the potential to become an alt-manga Top Shelf, with a carefully curated stock of manga for grownups. Viz is licensing the best and brightest from Japan, and giving series that might not have as much mainstream potential as their usual fare a chance to shine.

More From ComicsAlliance