Heroic Publishing Online

By | Thursday, September 13, 2007 Leave a Comment
A curious development in the online comics market that I just noticed. Per Heroic Publishing's September 11 press release: "Heroic Publishing, Inc. and Ettitudemedia.com today announced that their joint online comic book venture, ComicsOnScreen.com, will now be offering online versions of Flare, Champions, and other classic Heroic Publishing titles absolutely free." Of course, in and of itself, that's not really huge news. Lots of companies are putting their comics online, and many are trying their own development channels.

What I find interesting is that Heroic's library -- or at least a significant portion of it -- is already available for download via Wowio. Which means that they now effectively have two decent-sized outlets for getting legal copies of their comics for free. There's a noticeable difference between the two outlets in their methodologies and subsequent delivery systems.

Upon registering with Wowio -- a third party unrelated to Heroic -- users can download a PDF copy of the issue(s) they want. Up to five per day. Once you've downloaded the issue, though, it's yours to do with as you like. Copy it, print it out, delete it, whatever. You can even pass it along to friends, although the copy you've downloaded is tagged with your name on a small banner across the bottom of the cover.

ComicsOnScreen, by contrast, is owned by Heroic and only provides Heroic's comics (at least at this point). Instead of download the issue you want, you open it directly within your web browser's window. You're presented with a double-page spread, like you'd opened an actual comic and you use your mouse to literally flip the pages one at a time. There's an animation of the page turning with an accompanying "flip" noise, and you go through the whole comic like that. There are links across the bottom of the page to jump to specific pages and zoom in and such.

ComicsOnScreen is going the route of trying to mimic the actual comic reading experience. Turning pages, and hearing the noise of the paper as it turns. The problem, of course, is that there's no tactile component that allows for the same sensory experience. Moving your mouse is not really at all comparable to actually turning the page of a book. Nor do you have an olfactory experience either. No clay or rotting paper smells. Raise your hand if you DON'T enjoy getting that waft of nasal confectionery from opening a long-closed long box.

Wowio's approach recognizes that you're not actually holding a comic book. Your interaction with the computer is inherently different, and they do a better job, I think, in playing up the unique aspects of reading in an electronic environment.

My day job is that of a web guru, and I've spent the past decade and a half professionally working on ways to provide information to people electronically in a way that is most useful to them. Usability, while not the internet buzzword it was five years ago, is still a paramount concern on every page I put together. I was just having a discussion with a designer yesterday where we were talking about how web sites 10-15 years ago tried to uses visual metaphors for their designs. If you'll recall marvel's web site from that time period, it had an image of a city and your links were various buildings and billboards throughout the image. Users had to guess that the Daily Bugle building linked to their news, and the mail box on the street corner was linked to their contact information. (On this front, by the way, I don't blame marvel specifically. Everyone was doing variations on the same idea.) The problem web folks found out was that, inevitably, the visual metaphor breaks down. You simply cannot use vague visual cues like that to universally communicate exactly what you need. There's going to be at least some level of disconnect -- if part of the metaphor doesn't work at all, or the graphics provide too much/little prominence visually to insignificant/important information. We, as web developers, collectively learned the hard way that we should treat not try to treat distinctly different systems in the same manner.

But that seems to have been a lesson not learned by Ettitudemedia.com and/or Heroic Publishing.

Don't get me wrong; I'm all for getting comics out to people. I applaud Heroic for working harder than virtually all traditional comic publishers to try out new and different avenues for extending their comics publishing. I just think that ComicsOnScreen.com, while well-done in the final execution, has some significant conceptual flaws that will ultimately hinder its success.

But what do I know? I was only doing this for at least ten years before Ettitudemedia.com existed.
Newer Post Older Post Home