After conducting extensive research into a graphic novel publisher for a company case study last term, I learned that despite the overwhelming preference of print by authors/illustrators and publishers alike, digital graphic novels are gaining traction and growing in popularity. This is largely due to companies like Sequential creating digital formats of graphic novels that offer extra content for the reader. Despite this, I believe that the printed format of the graphic novel is ideal and possibly essential for interpretations of its meaning. For example, the temporality a physical edition provides can be very important for the reader’s interaction with the story. While the “extras” provided with e-books may be enjoyable and a convenient way for creator and reader to connect, would a digital format ultimately detract from the experience?
A major market for publishing in general has, in recent years, been in the technological medium. As e-book publishing has expanded on a global scale, it has given graphic creators and small publishers the ability to reach an all-inclusive audience. Ultimately, readership is increased by digital technology, which makes it more simple for the consumer to buy and enjoy graphic novels. By adapting graphic novels for an electronic format, they become more accessible. In fact, the sales of e-books in the United States, specifically digital download-to-own comics, has grown over the years, peaking at $100 million in 2014, an 11% increase over the year prior, according to Publisher’s Weekly journalist Calvin Reid (“Graphic Novel, Comics Market Rises to $935 Million in 2014”).
The question, in regards to graphic novel publishing, becomes one of practicality: how do graphic formats translates in a digital medium? Almost all of the digital market share belongs to the “print mimic”-style of e-book; surely the significance of a comic’s use of “spatial temporality” – utilising the space of the page, looking for meaning through the disjunctive back-and-forth of the panels – would fail to be expressed. By adding additional extra features in their digital content, some companies are hoping to resolve this issue. These representations, formally called “enhanced e-books,” usually contain special audio and video features. By adding this supplemental layer, the narrative is expanded to accommodate the digital format.
In some ways, enhanced digital editions of texts can have certain unfavourable limitations. Enhanced e-books are rare in publishing as they are expensive to develop and do restrict the audience – some enhanced editions can be read only on an iPad using particular applications. Additionally, while the technical performances themselves are deceptively simple, “…the effort behind these types of books is a magnitude of somewhere between seven and 15 times as much effort as a typical illustrated e-book,” explains Liisa McCloy-Kelley, who was the head of the digital production group at Random House (to Slate’s Kim O’Connor in her article “The Ghost in the Machine”).
In March I attended the Dunfermline Comic Con (hosted by Little Shop of Heroes) hoping to talk to writers, illustrators, and other creators about their thoughts on the direction of comic and graphic novel publishing and the place digital content has in this particular medium. I first spoke with Olivia, a student at the University of Dundee getting her PhD in Girl’s Comics. When I asked her for her opinions on digital graphic media, she explained it from an interesting perspective – many women, particularly young girls, feel more comfortable with digital comics and graphic novels as opposed to going into a comic book shop or reading physical copies. The world of comic books is, unfortunately, not yet all-inclusive, especially for children and young adults.
I also had the opportunity to speak to Clare Ferguson, Managing Director of Scotland’s own Diamondsteel Comics. Ms. Ferguson said that she saw both sides of the argument (if it can be called an “argument”), but that the ultimate answer is quite straightforward; while physical printing is costly (paying for production, a colourist, an illustrator, lettering, inking, etc.), and people do enjoy digital, publishers will never get as much money if they don’t print in the physical format, in her opinion. I spoke to a number of other illustrators and writers at the Comic Con who seemed to share Ms. Ferguson’s view; online content is incredibly helpful to gain and cultivate a fanbase, but they still like producing physical content because it seems as though it is what consumers prefer, particularly when it comes to such an artistic format.
While I believe that digital representations of comics can hinder one’s understanding of or alter one’s experience with certain artistic media, there seems to be pros and cons to both sides. I never got an answer from anyone on their thoughts of the “ideal” medium for graphic novels and comics, but perhaps that means that there isn’t one.