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DC's new digital comics offer interactive features, layered multimedia

Andy Ihnatko | June 6, 2013
On Tuesday, at the opening of a new exhibition at the Time Warner Medialab in New York, DC Entertainment's President, Diane Nelson, and Co-Publisher, Jim Lee announced a new storytelling technology that would soon start appearing in DC's digital comics line.

DC was one of the last publishers to embrace digital comics. Their moves indicate that their late entry was less a case of cold feet than a desire to jump in with a considered plan and full commitment. DC says that their strategy has paid off well so far: their first-quarter digital sales figures of 2013 are up 35 percent over those of the same quarter in 2012, and even their print comics are experiencing double-percentage-digit growth.

Are they using digital and quirky concepts like "Batman '66" to "incubate" ideas for the traditional print comics, I wondered? Nope, say Nelson and Lee.

"Part of our digital initiative is about experimenting and bringing in new fans," Lee said. "We're doing things that wouldn't be economically viable. Like shorter-form storytelling. We have 10 page chapters in some of our stories and doing them at a price point that's viable." "We'll reinforce doing what will be great for digital, while making sure it's available in print," said Nelson. "Not to the extent of using digital publishing as an R&D space. We have a pretty good understanding of what works in our print business and for our retailers."

Which is a great thing to hear. By publishing digital content day-and-date with printed comics, DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, and other publishers have completed an important step towards embracing phones and iPads. It's still just a transitionary step, though. Movies didn't truly flourish until they stopped being filmed versions of stage plays. As a reader, I'm eager to see digital comics that aren't just rasterized versions of printed pages, and a digital publishing plan that would move forward and engage audiences even if the dead tree-ware business all went away.

At press time, I've only seen static screen grabs of "Batman: Arkham Origins" and "Batman '66." By definition, that can't convey anything of the interactive DC2 experience that Nelson and Lee were describing to me.

Comics publishers have been experimenting with new digital formats and content types for years, without much success. So we'll have to wait and see. Pricing and release dates have yet to be announced, but DC2 titles are expected to show up in late summer or fall, and to be priced at about the same level as a digital comic.

When that day arrives, it's possible that the most valuable opinions about DC2 successes and failings won't come from readers like me, who first experienced Batman and Captain America on sheets of blotchy newsprint. The best arbiters might be the readers who first got hooked on these characters through a screen, whether it was by playing a game, becoming a fan of a TV show, or watching a movie.


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