Welcome to SBC’s The Panel, a chance for you to put your burning questions – comics-related or otherwise – to a group of comics professionals.

The Panel REALLY does live or die by your contributions; please email them to panel@silverbulletcomicbooks.com and we’ll need them NOW!!

This week’s question comes from The LIVE Panel at Bristol this year… and is as follows:

“Should comics be available to download from the internet at a price? Will this help stop illegal downloading? How about an i-tunes for comics? Or an official Podcast from DC and Marvel highlighting their new releases? How can comics benefit more new web based technology… DISCUSS”

Baz Renshaw:

Yes I think comics should be available to download. I don’t think downloading could ever replace actual physical comic books, in much the same way that games and TV and the motion picture will never replace literature, but exist side by side. It’s just another delivery system for a concept, in this case sequential art. There may be a point in the next ten years where digital paper can hold every issue of Action Comics for example in one sheet, but I think it will be another decade before that technology is affordable enough for everyone to use.

Some people compare downloadable comics to the mp3 revolution. Where as it’s obviously a different medium, publishers can learn from record companies and make available back catalogues for downloading rather than be cheated by piracy. They can’t simply ignore the demand or the technology. I’ve even heard of cases where the pirated copies of comics are in better resolution and condition than those reprinted in archival editions, because the fans, those whose money these companies gladly take, also care about the material so much that they have spent hours in Photoshop fixing every tear and mark, because they believe everyone has the right to read it in its original glory.

Once the comics are made readily available, whether on a publisher based archive or in a central i-tunes, then yes i believe piracy will begin to fall just as it did in music, except for those items that for whatever unresolved legal reason can’t be reprinted.

Downloadable comics are also an excellent way to reach a massive audience for indie publishers. An example: on www.enginecomics.co.uk, we’re offering both downloadable (Comic Book Reader) and print versions of our titles, with more to be archived. People outside the UK, who don’t (understandably) want to be stung by high international postage costs, can still read and print off a downloaded version. If they really like the book we hope they’ll come back and invest in the work by buying a print copy.

Marvel and DC are missing out on a massive opportunity to reach new readers by not doing a podcast. They only need to see the success and listening numbers of the likes of http://www.comicgeekspeak.com/ or
http://indiespinnerrack.blogspot.com/ to realise that they can provide some excellent creator based content to the fans. Interviews, features, promos of upcoming titles. But as with every other medium, its the fans who lead the way first, before the publishers follow.

Writer, artist, editor and Liverpudlian Barry Renshaw is behind the ENGINE COMICS line of publications and a founder of the ACCENT UK collective, makers of among other things, REDEYE MAGAZINE, a quarterly for the UK comics scene.

Kev F Sutherland:

As I said on the panel, I think downloading is good, technology is inevitable, and it needn’t kill off the printed page.

They said VHS would kill cinema, and instead it saved cinema.

They said downloading music would kill record sales, and last year album sales hit an all time high.

They said radio would kill books and newspapers and that TV would kill conversation, it didn’t happen.

They all laughed at Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round, they all laughed when Edison invented sound…

You see where I’m going here. You can use free downloads to your
advantage, and I am one of those who foresees a “MySpace” comic, following the phenomenon on MySpace bands who’ve crossed over to the mainstream, and ad and film directors who are flourishing that way too.

One good example recently is the Perry Bible Fellowship online strip which now appears regularly in The Guardian newspaper.

I’ve seen the future and it’s not necessarily pear shaped.

Writer and artist on most genres of comic from (currently) The Bash St Kids in The Beano, thru Tarquin Hoylet He Has To Go To The Toilet in Viz, to Star Trek and Dr Strange for Marvel, plus Dr Who, Red Dwarf, Gladiators, Goosebumps and heaps more.

Kev Clark:

“This is a tough one for me, as a retailer. On the one hand, I’m against the idea of anything that takes fans away from comics shops. On the other, it might help comics reach a much wider audience, which would be of enormous benefit to the industry. If someone wanted to download a book to give it a try and that led them on to collecting, then great. But would it stop illegal downloading? I doubt it. People who don’t want to pay for their books, won’t.

If it’s a matter of being unable to track down or afford a rare back issue, then perhaps it’s a viable option to provide a downloading service, though. Some sort of comics archive for books older than say, six months. But as far as an iTunes for new comics goes… to use myself as an example, since I got iTunes I haven’t bought a single CD, and probably won’t again. It’s far cheaper and easier, and doesn’t take up all my shelf space. Still, my local HMV isn’t going out of business, so perhaps I shouldn’t worry yet.

I for one enjoy the look and feel of an actual comic in my hands, rather than reading one on a screen or printing it out myself and I’m sure there are a lot of people out there like me (scary thought). If this serves as a window to introduce that to more people, then I’m for it. After all, you can’t fight progress (although, if Terminator 2 is to be believed, you can).”

Kev Clark is living the dream. His comic shop is FireBall Comics and can be found at www.fireballcomics.com – check it out!!

James E. Lyle (a.k.a. Doodle):

I don’t know if this is a “SHOULD” question at all. It’s more likely that it’s just a matter of time. I find myself agreeing with Scott McCloud on this subject. While I prefer the paper variety, the method of delivery isn’t the issue as much as getting it to more people at a fair price in whatever form they want it in. Micro payments on the web are a trick, that’s got to be worked out.

An official download site doesn’t necessarily preclude piracy. In fact, as long as comics are in printed form, not electronic, there’s considerable work to be done just scanning a comic and sending it out on the web. Probably not worth the pirate’s time. If I can’t make a living scanning and sending out MY work, how would a pirate make money scanning something that you can pick up for a buck or two? He’s not only got to invest the time in scanning, but he has to promote it as well (sure, he’s not paying creatives, and there’s some built in market drive for popular characters) while still running “under radar”.

But as soon as DC or Marvel sets up an iComics website, there will be a lot of piracy taking place by people who’ve legally downloaded a story then send copies out to friends. They probably won’t think of it as piracy. I borrow comics from my sister-in-law from time to time, and vise-versa. We give them back, since they’re the only copies we have. But imagine in 20 years, will she send me the latest JLA via the internet? Comics publishers have to address this possibility, and either make downloads copy-proof, or make them so inexpensive that people don’t mind paying for an additional download for a friend.

I think this may be the very reason that comics have been slow to adapt to the internet revolution. It’s still nearly impossible to convince folks that what they access on the web should cost anything! Whereas people don’t mind paying for an actual physical item on Amazon.com or eBay, etc. they feel as if anything that comes in file form (with the exception of maybe the latest system software) is something they should be able to download for free, and share with everyone once they do.

So creatives are forced to make tangible goods for sale on the web. Files just aren’t cutting it. And the “advertising banner” model doesn’t work too well unless you’re some big corporation like MSNBC.

I should point out that there already ARE some publishing entities doing the free download deal. I get my pal Greg Cravens’ “The BUCKETS” every day (except Sunday) from United Features’ Comics.com. But if I want Dilbert and Peanuts too I have to pay them for access. A reasonable attempt, but I can’t afford to do that ¦or maybe I just don’t want to. Who can figure people out?

I guess this will take a while, won’t it?

James E. Lyle is a cartoonist and illustrator, including co-creating titles Escape to the Stars, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and DoorMan, plus work on Fright Night, Cynicalman Sells Out, and the accurately-spelt Wiindows. More recently Lyle worked on Turok, the “missing” Paul Gulacy T.h.u.n.d.e.r. Agents, and DRASTIK #1.

Bart Thompson:

I’m the wrong person to ask about this stuff. I’d rather read a comic in print than on a screen any day. Personally I think all this comics on the net stuff is a waste of time. We should be looking for more ways to make printing cheaper and affordable along with making our distribution channels more easy to use for all parties involved.

Bart Thompson is the founder of Approbation Comics and creator of “Vampires Unlimited”, “the Metamutoids”, “ChiSai”, and “Chaos Campus: Sorority Girls vs. Zombies”.

Terry Hooper:

Downloading comics has always been a big bone of contention with good arguments on both sides but I think it’s going to be impossible to stop ‘illegal’ propagation of comics on the internet.

We have to remember than even selling second hand copies of comics [according to the legal stipulations in the comics themselves] at shops or via mail order catalogues is supposedly illegal!

I belong to groups that search out, scan and make available, to members, comics from the 1940s-1970s. These are comics that are rare or near impossible to find and, in many cases, going to be too expensive for any fan/collector to buy if they did find them.

Personally, I will NOT scan new comics unless it is for a friend in India or other parts of the world where [a]they do not get these comics, or,[b]it is VERY expensive to post to those parts of the world.

I draw the line at scanning comics after 1980 -unless very rare.

But I have to say that I do not believe pay-per-comic downloading will work. There was a huge rise in pay-to-view ecomics in the mid 1990s and these never worked out very well. Most, if not all, of these have vanished. If people were that desperate to get a comic there are plenty out there willing to supply it for free.

I’m a registered old fart: I prefer to hold comics. There’s the texture of the comic, the smell of the ink and even high quality scanned versions on the net do not compare to actual copies.

For people who cannot afford to print comics of their own, yes, the internet is a good place to get them seen -though Print On Demand through some service such as lulu.com might be a better idea.

But let’s look at it another way. Okay, DC and Marvel have been ripping us off on cover prices for years and are part of huge multi-billion dollar companies and, so long as it doesn’t affect creators fees I guess most people would consider them fair game.

The smaller companies are where my concerns lie. Companies producing great titles such as Ape Entertainment, Abstract Studios, JGM and so on WILL suffer if there are illegal downloads. Creators work for very low amounts in smaller companies and the companies themselves rely on every -every- penny. Is it worth their taking the time to scan and prepare pay-to-view comics? I’d guess that would be a decision they need to make as publishers.

Of course, there are plenty of people who sit at their computers for days and if it cuts out a walk to the comic shop -download!

Comic shops -thanks to the efforts of various distributors- stock limited Independent comic titles and when titles are stocked the price can be really hiked up -Love & Rockets is £2.80 in one local shop and £3.40 in another -on a limited budget a download is cheaper if illegal but if Fantagraphic Books offered pay-to-download would it be cheaper?

I’ll keep buying comics but with large distributors squeezing out the smaller companies from distribution collectors MAY have to resort to legal downloading if the companies set such systems up. But, having studied human nature for years I can tell you that if it’s Legal vs Illegal[free] downloads I know which will win out!

Writer, artist and freelance editor as well as Small Press publisher. Has toyed with writing for magazines, TV and radio outside comics. Drew and wrote for Marvel UK, London Editions [Manchester],Blue Comet Press, Fleetway/IPC as well as for Fantagraphics imprints Monster and Eros Comics where he wrote the best selling Two Hot Girls On A Hot Summer’s Night [!]. Has also worked in Europe, India comics and, more recently has been putting together projects for Chinese comic publishers. Published Zine Zone International between 1983-1995 and Comic Bits since 1999. Recognised as a talent spotter and got several well known artists their breaks into comics. Comic historian to boot and currently working on The Who’s Who of British Diamond, Golden & Silver Ages Comics.

Donna Barr:

Mine are. “Keeper” — Desert Peach #31 – is running here now:
www.moderntales.com This is just one WebComicsNation site. Google webcomics.

This isn’t a should be – might be – what if? – discussion. This is an already here – how do you hook in? – question.

Hardcopy at http://www.lulu.com/desertpeach And ebooks!

Donna Barr has books and original art at www.stinz.com, webcomics at www.moderntales.com, www.girlamatic.com, and has POD at www.booksurge.com Nothing she won’t try, at least once…including writing a column for SBC at this link!

Jesse Leon McCann:

I honestly don’t know what to think of this matter. I would hate to see paper comic books go the way of the Dodo, but I embrace the new technology that makes e-comics possible. If fans were willing and able to read comics exclusively online, then distributors and comic shops would cease to exist. Publishers would sell direct. But, this would not stop illegal downloading — anything that costs money and can be pirated, will be.

I will say this–the posting of new comics online for fans to read for free is troubling and wrong. It takes money out of the hands of comic retailers, and if this practice continues and grows uninhibited, in the long run, it will hurt publishers and even creators eventually. UNTIL comics are sold in a regulated manner online and safely transferred without the ability to upload illegally, people are going to get hurt.

My wife owns a comic shop. She buys comics from distributors at about half their cover price, on average. Out of the profits she makes, she has to pay her employees (including half their health insurance costs and workers compensation fees), rent, taxes, utilities and all the misc. other things it takes to run a comic shop. After all is said and done, what money the store has left is where she draws her salary from. Let me tell you, she’s not on Easy Street–she still has to fret when it comes bill-paying time. Why someone would want to buy a new comic, put it online illegally so people can read it free, and take money out of the hands of hardworking business people is difficult to understand. It’s hurtful and twisted. I guess they like being that way.

Jesse Leon McCann is a New York Times Best-selling Author. He’s currently writing KRYPTO, THE SUPERDOG for DC Comics, as well as LOONEY TOONS and CARTOON NETWORK BLOCK PARTY; editing the fifth SIMPSONS TV Episode Guide, and writing BART SIMPSON stories for Bongo Comics.

Welcome Back to The Panel guys… after a long break which unfortunately was down to a family illness. But we are back and raring to go – BUT we need your questions!

If you have a question you are burning to ask a panel of the finest comic book creators and experts and retailers then what are you waiting for? Email me at j_redington@yahoo.com with those questions and keep the panellists and me busy!!

This week I must say I agree with Bart Thompson, I love reading my comics in hand. I really don’t like reading PDF and such. I never like to review books that are sent to him over the internet because a PDF or a computer screen for that matter never does the printed book any justice.

The Internet however is a wonderful tool and more should be done in way of promotion from the BIG companies and the smaller to some extent.

The views and opinions expressed on the panel are solely those of the panellist who has written them. They do not reflect the views or opinions of silver bullet comic books or myself. Freedom of speech is great, isn’t it?

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