I’m tired of seeing creators who seem to completely miss the mark about Digital Comics and Piracy. This article was written in hopes to make some creators better understand and give suggestions on how to combat piracy.
Creators seem to talk about digital pirates as if they’re picturing this when they do:
The fact of the matter is, it’s not true. People who pirate digital content (comics or otherwise) range from people’s grandmas to the neighbor kid next door that asked you to buy Girl Scout cookies. They are everyday people who have Internet access. More importantly they are CUSTOMERS and POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS. When you keep treating them like BatBeard the Pirate up there you keep telling them, “I don’t want your business.” Which leads them to more pirating.
Oh and before you start getting into the “They shouldn’t be doing it because it’s wrong” argument, stop. Stop right now. No matter how often you make that argument people who pirate your work WON’T STOP. Are they people? Are there ways to guilt trip them into buying your stuff? Yes, in fact almost all of them know that it’s wrong to pirate. Is constantly telling them what they’re doing is a sin the way to guilting them into purchasing your work? No. So, please, stop beating that dead and buried horse. The music industry has tried, the movie industry has tired, hell the porn industry has even tried. It sure as hell hasn’t done anything for them. Why should it all of a sudden work for you?
There are pretty much three ways that should help you fight digital piracy. I write this article for Creators, because I know publishers won’t listen. If they did, they wouldn’t be making every single mistake that every industry that has entered the realm before them have (and continue to make for some).
1. Do Something New
This is both simple and hard to do at the same time. But at the end of the day, what makes YOUR digital comic different than another digital comic? If the answer is story or art, you need to rethink your strategy. We live in a shitty economy. I dropped almost all of my Marvel books because I could effectively use that money to buy more DC books and get more story for my dollar. I value more story. Which is something you need to pay attention to: Value. You need to add some to justify the price that you set for your comic. Price does not equal Value.
Doing something new or different can be simple. A great example of this was when a bunch of creators took their collections and started offering them for 2 bucks. Two examples were Misery Loves Sherman and The Adventures of Bernard the World Destroyer. It was brilliant because they set a price that was way below print and people were at least talking about it. Did it work? Apparently Skottie Young said it didn’t too bad for him a few weeks later. So much so he said he wanted to look into doing Digital Comics alongside print releases.
Another fine example is the announcement that Darwyn Cooke made at Boston Comic Con on how he wanted to do a Digital Comic with different interactions. He mentioned ideas that would push the digital medium forward. I don’t know all of the details, but I heard Character Bios and Map integration to show you were events happened. Both cool ideas.
2. Meet Demand
Time for Economics 101 (although it was technically 201 when I went to college where they talked about this topic at length).
Supply and Demand. A simple graph can answer one of the biggest reasons why your content may be pirated.
The graph on the left is a simple Supply and Demand chart. I guarantee that someone somewhere at a publisher you work with has used one of these at a point in time to decide that comics should be X price. Obviously a lot of factors come into play, but at the end of the day, Supply and Demand really explains the piracy situation better than anything else. For quick reference the line that slopes up is Supply, the line that slopes down is Demand.
For a lot of creators (and publishers, but like I said I’m focusing on creator owned content) when it comes to Digital, your graph is the graph on the right. There’s a demand for your product, but no supply to meet said demand. The graph on the left is Bit Torrent. It has the supply that you’re not offering legitimately, so people who were on the right hand side have gone to your competitor, who by the way is currently FREE.
If you can make the Supply happen, you’ll find out what price works after a while, but you’ll never know if you don’t have the product that people want. And before you say, “I can’t compete with Free!” Read number one on this list. You can compete with Free, you just need to make it happen.
Lastly, you need to engage your customers. Some of you might think, “I’m hip and on the Twitters with thousands of followers”. That certainly helps, but you need to expand. Your customers and potential customers include people who don’t follow your blog, are friends with you on Facebook, or follow you on twitter. They also reside on forums, other blogs, and even seedier sides of the Internet.
There are two great examples that exist in the comics industry of how engagement works and how the failure to engage leads you no where.
Example 1: No Engagement
Not too long ago Colleen Doran wrote a post on piracy that was posted on The Hill’s Congress Blog. It sparked a lot of conversation about piracy and comic books. A lot of people felt sorry for her and in a sense I did. Her work was being pirated by people, then I realized she made no mention of actually engaging her audience. I checked out her site for the comic, A Distant Soil and immediately noticed a GIANT PROBLEM with her webcomic that probably was one of the number one reasons she wasn’t seeing any traffic back from piracy. She doesn’t even have the freaking web address on any of her pages? This is webcomics 101 people, put a border around your strips or pages with the address and page number. It doesn’t take long to do and doesn’t completely distract from your work. Also almost any pirate isn’t going to go through the trouble to remove it. When someone posted her pages to a torrent site, no one would have any clue on how to get back to her stuff. In fact the only place they would know to get A Distant Soil at the point would be the torrent site they got it from in the first place.
In a sense there’s really nothing on her site that engages the reader other than a tiny blurb on the bottom from what I saw. There are no permanent links to Facebook, other than in her blurbs, or twitter. She could easily put something on her site that shows her tweets that she does; hell my site has that.
That all being said, she waited and waited to engage her audience. When she finally did it wasn’t “hey here’s where you can find my stuff” it was her finger wagging at everyone. If Doran had spent more time and effort in reaching out to people on piracy sites and her audience in general, she probably wouldn’t be having so many problems.
Example 2: Engagement
Techdirt, a site you should know and love, did a case study on this very example. Steve Lieber had his book, Underground, pirated. The case study shows what happened when he engaged the pirates. It’s an amazing read and you should really check it out. To sum it up this is what happened.
Lieber’s comic was pirated to 4Chan.
Lieber jumps into the conversation on his book. He mentions it sucks that his book was pirated, but what could he do to stop it. He also mentions he was actually flattered someone took that much time to post each page on 4Chan. Not only did he make those comments, he legitimately joined the conversation by giving insight into what happened to the book with Image and how he was proud of his work. He also gave everyone an opportunity to ask him more questions via twitter OR IN THE SAME THREAD AS HIS PIRATED WORK.
Guess what happened?
The above picture is from Lieber’s site. Lieber showed that simply by going and jumping into the conversation makes a difference. He also made himself readily available, which makes things even better for potential fans. It showed he was a real person and not some robot tied to a desk making comics. (Which some fans think you are. I could write a whole post on that thought as well.)
I hope that this reaches some creators out there. I know that you have no control over how your work is distributed with some publishers, but hopefully you can make a change when it comes to your creator owned work. If you continue to not get into the game you’re saying you don’t care. I’m not a creator of any brain nuggets that I would need to protect at this time, but if I was told that my stuff was free on the Internet. I would be doing everything in my power to offer a legitimate alternative for a reasonable price. Because anything else isn’t going to get things done.
Angry with Jon about this post? You can post your thoughts below in the comments OR you could email me: jmstump [at] paperkeg.com. I also wouldn’t be opposed to hearing if you have any suggestions for Man Crush of the Week.
So I did 5 Predictions on DC Comics’s Reboot. How did I do? Not all that fantastic really.
1. Young Justice will be the New Teen Titans. I mean the comic will have a similar storyline as the current TV Show. This will be a way to bring in kids who are watching the show into the Main DCU. Can you say Cross Media Synergy?
I’m actually shocked that I was wrong about this one. My only guess is they wanted to keep the comic already based off of the show going. Although I wish they had made the book more like the cartoon. I’ve always been a firm defender of Superboy’s not costume. Not so much with the new one.
2. The Batman Earth One book that Geoff Johns and Gary Frank have been working on, for what seems like forever, will essentially become the new Batman monthly title.
Another way wrong. The worst part about this is, it makes me thing we’re never going to see this book. How long ago was it announced? My guess is it’s residing in the same desk drawer that Johns put his All-Star Batgirl into.
3. My favorite DCU book will no longer exist. I’ll pour one out for Jonah Hex when the news is official.
Seriously you don’t know how happy I am that I was wrong about this. I really hope they retain the one and done formula along with the themes that has made Palmiotti and Gray’s Jonah Hex run so good. I’m glad I got this one wrong.
4. Barbara Gordon will return to being Batgirl. *crosses fingers* My friend Jake (who just giggled with glee reading this) predicted this a little differently. Barbara Gordon will return as Batwoman with Stephanie Brown as her Sidekick Batgirl.
BOOM I got one! I guessed this pretty early on. One of the big reasons being that Didio said they were pretty close to bringing her back almost two years ago when they relaunched Batgirl then.
5. Digital Comics will be priced at 2.99 for Day and Date. I sadly still won’t buy them because PHYSICAL PAPER WILL BE CHEAPER. I hope that this prediction is not true, but I don’t think DC will get it right. If DC did their titles at .99 I would buy all of them. That’t right, I would buy all 52 titles at that price.
I’m also calling this one a slam dunk. I may have missed that they are going to lower the cost a month later, but either way I will still be able to purchase a physical thing that wastes more resources for less than the one month later decreased price.
So how did I do? Not great. I got a whole whopping 40% of my predictions right. How did you do with your predictions?
Turf is an Image property that Slim recommended that I read back in the old Comics Podcast days. It’s a cool story about Vampires and Aliens in Prohibition Era United States, but it’s not as ridiculous as it sounds. This is a great book that seamlessly interweaves many different sci/fantasy elements by inserting well written ‘real characters.’ Think of it as Boardwalk Empire meets American Vampire and Star Trek. Imagine if a HBO or a Showtime made it adult oriented with a good budget. I’d subscribe to either one of those channels if I could get some Turf. Rumor has it that this might be Matthew Vaughn’s next film, but I can always dream.
I’ve got to give credit to the Paperkeg boys, especially Farrington, for this gem. They imagined a procedural police drama where the main characters interact with Batman’s Rogues Gallery and the character of Batman is used only sparingly and would rarely, if ever, be seen on screen. If the problem with having Bruce Wayne/Batman on TV is that you have him slated for movies then just don’t include him, I’d settle for a Nightwing cameo. There goes your movie property conflict issues right there. If they try though, even once, to put some camp in the show then the dream would be dead. The property has to play everything absolutely straight or it won’t work. What an awesome opportunity to draw in new comics fans by fishing for them with the next NYPD Blue. The prospect of this being a TV show is giving me chills.
D.O.G.S. of Mars
A local favorite from the boys at South Fellini, D.O.G.S. of Mars is perfectly poised to fill the gap left from sci-fi shows that have run their course. There’s no Star Trek, Farscape, Firefly, etc anymore so where do the fans turn for good Sci-Fi action? BOOM! D.O.G.S. of Mars! As a runner up, a strong female cast could definitely pool off some Moon Girl, but I think you’d have more luck starting off with D.O.G.S. in prime time on the SyFy Channel. Great action, great characters (I love comic book bad ass women) and that quirky comic relief that’s missing from the genre, sign me up to be a D.O.G.S. (which will be what cult fans of the show will call themselves).
The Stuff of Legend
Think Toy Story but Andy gets kidnapped by the Boogie Man so the toys must travel in to the Closet to go save him, along the way they become real(ish) world versions of themselves, and you have Stuff of Legend. I could definitely see this is either a well done Saturday Morning Cartoon or even on the other end of the spectrum as an Animated-Spawn-like bad ass series. If this property doesn’t actually get picked up some day that would be an absolute crime.
Brubaker’s book combines all the best elements of nitty-gritty modern Cape stories with the double and triple crosses of Fox’s 24. While this property would probably be better suited to HBO (think The Wire with super powers) I think a toned down version could be a hit for network TV. With some of the most compelling comic book characters I’ve read in a long time and an atypical ‘happy’ ending, I could see Sleeper become the next ‘Lost’ replacement (read: water cooler hit). A whole generation of people could argue whether it’s pronounced ‘Tao’ or ‘Dao.’
I’ve generally been a fan of the DC Animated flicks over the Marvel brand, mostly because it seems DC has the freedom to go a little darker and edgier (Under the Red Hood being the best in my opinion). With that in mind it looks like they brought their A-Game for Year One.
The trailer itself only clocks in at about 1:11 but they manage to show you a ton of delicious tidbits in that short of a time. In fact, if you’re a fan of Year One (as I am) be prepared to feel like a kid on Christmas Morning (Or Easter Morning if we’re using DVD slang here). We start off with a snapshot of what is perhaps my favorite sequence of the comic: Batman’s escape from the GCPD in the abandoned building. Right away my heart jumped in my throat and I gave the old nerdy, ‘looks like they’re going to remain faithful nod,’ as nerds often do when pleased.
Cut to the murder of the Waynes then another geeky treat as the next cut shows us the scene where Bruce is smashing bricks and trees in an old grey sweat-suit as he debates on how to go about fighting crime, another popular segment in the Year One run.
A series of staccato cuts shows us some more GCPD escape shots, Catwoman, the Batmobile, and the conclusion is one of the most powerful scenes in not just Batman: Year One, but in comics as a whole: Batman’s appearance through the blasted out wall in the Mayor’s Mansion. Even Kevin Smith’s blasphemy can’t take the magic away from that moment here.
The only thing I thought that was peculiar was that with the amount of time Miller dedicated to Jim Gordon in the comic, the character got zero screen time in this debut trailer. One can hopefully assume that future trailers will introduce the character, maybe to spot light Gordon’s affair with Sarah Essen? One can only guess at this point.
Now to the point that will get the most press on the web is the next few days: Ben McKenzie as the voice of Batman. I swear more nerds get their collective panties in big sweaty bunches when it comes to Batman’s voice over any other issue ever debated in comics ever. Listen folks, it’s a young Batman. The character is fleshing out how he should sound and probably shouldn’t have that gravelly tone we all fall in love with when Kevin Conroy steps up to the plate, yet. We all recognize the fact that Kevin Conroy is the voice of Batman and no one is trying to take that away from him when DC casts new actors to voice him.
Slim, you can cut my soapbox music now.
The way I see it is that Conroy is perfect for Batman in his prime and for Batman at an older age. Bruce Greenwood was perfect for Batman in his middle age. Let’s give McKenzie a fighting chance and see if he’s the new perfect voice for a young Batman. He can’t do worse than that guy from that ‘The Batman’ cartoon.
After viewing the trailer a couple of time I know already that I can’t wait to pick up the Blu-Ray and watch this thing until my wife start’s complaining that she has to keep taking it out of the player to watch her stories. This will be the best DC animated feature yet, prepare for my being wrong streak to be broken!
People say imitation is the ultimate form of flattery and that idiom is also true in the realm of story telling. Fanfiction (or fanfic for short) is the collection of stories written by authors with no official affiliation with the properties they’re writing about. Because of the wide range in the quality of fanfiction, it’s generally regarded as a less than serious craft.
While fanfic itself is often broken down into many, many sub genres, fanfic writers usually fall in to two categories:
The aspiring writer: This fanfic writer might have hopes to eventually make it as a writer in the mainstream. They may focus on writing in one particular fandom, or branch out into many different fandoms that might interest them. Their stories are generally structured around concepts that they feel could ‘flesh out’ an existing universe (sometimes called Expanded Universe Fanfiction). These writers are often inspired by taking a good theme/character/mythology and running with it as they weave tales with a beginning, middle, and end. Once they’re done finishing the story they started out to tell, they usually move on and leave their completed works untouched.
The fandom writer: This fanfic writer is absolutely dedicated to one fandom, and one fandom alone. While some fandom writers strive to tell good stories, establish fanon (fanfiction canon; fanfiction mythology that fans consider part of the actual property’s story canon), and make a name for themselves in the fandom universe, other writers choose a fandom just to create situations they feel should exist. These writers in this category generally focus on telling one page stories about two characters who they feel should ‘get together,’ or get killed, or have some strange reversal of fortune. Just as aspiring writers use a concept to build a story around, fandom writers seem pretty happy with just jotting that concept in to a couple of lines on a txt document and then beg for a positive review on a fan board. Fandom writers generally have the super wide range of quality that I mentioned already that seems to bring the entirety of fanfiction in to question as an art form.
The fact of the matter is, people have stories to tell, but they may not yet have found their own story. So they either practice writing in another universe (I myself wrote Batman stories at a young age while trying to develop a ‘voice’) or they generally love the creations of others and want their stories to continue. In fact, one could make the argument that comic book writers in the Big Two are really some of the world’s most talented fancfic writers. They take beloved characters from fifty years ago and are still finding ways to tell new stories about them, and we love it!
Now the purpose of this article isn’t to send you digging through fanfiction.net looking for the diamonds in the rough, but just to give you a little insight in to the mind of a writer. I think that fanfic can be powerful practice for writers. It can teach you how to structure a story, write realistic dialogue, and better understand complex characterization. There are pages upon pages of stories I’ve written that will never see the light of day, but are really fanfiction stories that helped me streamline something of my own.
For your consideration, an excerpt from a Batman story I wrote close to eight years ago that helped me learn how to strike a balance between action and descriptive writing. It’s not a particularly original or interesting story, but as a tool it was extremely useful as a self critique. It’s for this reason that I think writers truly write fanction. We crave critiques and feedback, positive or negative.
_To put it simply, John “Deuce” Drummond was a lookout. He didn’t see it that way, of course, but for all intents and purposes the teenager was merely watching for cops. According to Deuce, he was providing a very versatile service to a group of his constituents inside the room he was standing silent guard over. And, although the abandoned “Gotham 9 Motel” was not exactly a glamorous locality, he could always work his way up.
He put his hands in the pockets of his blue jeans to ward off a sudden chill. The full moon provided pale light over the windy, cracked, and weeded (not to mention secluded and starkly surreal) parking lot. Deuce, suddenly warding off a chill in his spine not brought on by the cool night’s air, glanced over his shoulder.
The dim yellow light in the motel room allowed shadows to pass over the window’s torn curtains and Deuce shuddered to think what was going on at that very moment. His older brother and three of his friends had robbed a state liquor store earlier that evening and, moreover, kidnapped the young female (and very terrified) clerk.
The boy lit a cigarette and took a long drag. He let the smoke curl from his mouth as he abandoned his gaze at the lonely parking lot to focus on the dancing shadows within the room. Deuce was seventeen and while, admittedly, he had never been with a girl before, he knew well what his brother and his friends had intended. He pressed the thoughts from his mind. Deuce was in. That’s all that mattered. He was part of something now. He repeated these thoughts as a mantra to crush out the guilt. Somebody needed him, relied on him for something important.
What happened next would haunt the boy long after his stay in jail that night, or his overnighters that would occur later in his misguided life.
A new shadow passed over the light now, but this shadow took form behind him and he could feel its presence. The boy trembled as he ripped his pensive gaze away from those tattered curtains and gasped at the terror before him. He would later describe the specter to police as resembling a giant, horrifying, black bat.
In motions too fast for Deuce’s mind to really comprehend, the bat/man was merely inches in front of him. Pure and unadulterated fear locked the scream in the boy’s throat as he could do nothing but stare into soulless dark eyes. Deuce felt a sharp pain in his neck and a strong arm grab him, and then, there was nothing…
Deuce’s older brother, Jerry, very inebriated and half naked, stumbled from the room. With a croaking laugh he slurred, “Hey, bro, you can have what’s left over in there.”
For a moment he chose to laugh loudly at his clever observation when he noticed that his little brother was gone. He blinked as the bright moonlight stabbed at his eyes and he belched before saying, “Hey, where in the -“
He was cut off by a heavy fist to the stomach. Too unfocused to see who had delivered the blow he was content to vomit on the porch and pass out in the resulting pool of bodily fluid. The shadow-cloaked bat moved beyond the human heap, silencing his disgust, and prepared to reap havoc inside.
He took the first drunk down with one blow to the head and sent his body through the bay window.
The second cohort, who had been sitting at the small table hunched over a small mountain of cocaine, was satisfied to scream as the dreadful black hallucination picked him up and sent him through the window as well.
The last of the group, who appeared more semi-lucid than his brethren, grabbed an over turned chair and flung it at his attacker. The amalgam of bat and man seemed to brush it aside and continued forward.
Enraged, the young man lunged at the figure in black. The ghostly bat deflected the man’s flimsy jabs and grabbed him by the sides of his head. The young man pounded on the bat’s unprotected sides, yet he stood unflinching. One look at the shadow’s hard eyes drained the youth of his fury and he attempted to break free of his grasp, giving over to sudden and hollow panic.
Obliging, the man-bat flung the frightened teen into an ancient television. He writhed for a few seconds before finally attempting to stand. Fortunately, he failed, and remained still.
The lone figure turned his attention to a young girl in the corner. From her frail form locked in the fetal position, he could only really make out the fact she was breathing, but only shallowly. He silently wrapped her in a ratty comforter and laid her on the bed. After a moment she began to cry softly and let her matted blond hair dry her tears. Without words the Batman left the room.
What seemed like an eternity later, sirens filled the air outside._
Multiple sources have reported the release of a short clip from the forthcoming DC Animated Feature based on Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One (and titled the same). The clip clocks in at 0:55 seconds but you’re getting quite a bang (hardy-har) for your buck in such a short span.
Featured in this snippet is the famous ‘dinner scene’ where Batman blasts a hole in the wall of the mayor’s mansion and threatens the major players of Gotham’s greed and corruption. This scene is iconic and is the subject of great reverence in the comic fan community (unless your Kevin Smith, then you just make a pee-pee joke). I’ll be honest when the clip started and I saw the smoldering brazier in the center of the table I nerded out a little bit and shouted a sultry “NICCCEE.” It’s ok though, no one else was in my office so I got away with it.
My fellow keggers have made it known that they don’t have high hopes for the Year One feature. I believe when I mentioned to the group how much I liked the trailer on the show every one politely let me finish my gushing review before pouncing on my heart and ripping it out of my chest. I’d call them ‘haters’ but the fact is I’m looking at Batman: Year One through the lenses of a young comic fan that used to read that book once a week. In my eyes this film will be nothing less then perfection. Like Planetary levels of perfection.
The voice acting was tight but I have sympathy for Ben MacKenzie because, as I’ve stated before, every one will automatically hate him because he’s not Conroy (‘Whine, whine, whine, why can’t they get Kevin Conroy back?! Everybody knows The Mask of the Phantasm is the best Batman movie every made WAAAHHH! Why does DC hate the fans?!’). Seriously, I don’t see the comic book community having a collective apoplexy every time Tim Daly doesn’t reprise his Superman role.
Although, the kid did over pronounce his “T’s” which makes me wonder if he’s new to voice acting. It’s okay, Ben, you were the bomb in the first season of the O.C. and you got to make out with that Barton chick, so life can’t be all bad.