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Digital Revolution Transforms Comic Books


LOS ANGELES – From Superman to Batman, many Hollywood heroes started out in comic books.

Creators of comic books say while the books themselves are not as popular as they were decades ago, comics are undergoing a technological revolution that many in the industry think will generate a new generation of readers.

For the past 30 years, Golden Apple Comics in Los Angeles has been selling comic books to adults and children like eight-year-old Evan Cray.

“I just like holding the pages and reading it,” he says.

The look of those pages has not changed much over time, but Golden Apple owner Ryan Liebowitz says now, there is something new in the comic book business.

“In the last year or so we've seen a major transition into digital comic books,” he explains.

The idea of reading a comic book on a digital device is catching on worldwide. Comixology has more than 25,000 titles in its online store, says Chip Mosher, the company's vice president of marketing and business development.

“For the last six to nine months we’ve ranked as the top-grossing iPad app in the entire iTunes app store,” notes Mosher.

Last year the company had $17 million in sales. This year it expects sales to reach $70 million. For about the same price as a paper comic book, readers get a digital version.

The new platform has many in the industry experimenting with the look of digital comics.

"Things can change focus within a panel sort of to draw your eye from here to here," explains Mark Waid, who created the digital comic site, Thrillbent. He designs his work to fit the digital screen.

“Most screens - whether it’s a television screen, your laptop screen are that landscape format - they’re wider than they are tall. So stop producing digital comics that don’t fit that format," he says.

Daniel Burwen, founder of Cognito Comics, features sound and motion in his spy thriller/historical fiction work, Operation Ajax. Readers can get extra historical information outside of the story if they want to learn more.

Burwen says the virtual world allows his work to reach readers worldwide.

“If we had done this as a printed book only we’d be lucky to sell 5,000 copies," he notes. "Right there we have international distribution and we have the ability to reach a really vast audience.”

Creators of digital comics say many in that 'really vast audience' are looking for something other than violence, which seems to be the trend in comic books fueled by video games and movies.

“You could see the covers of these comic books, these don’t look like happy people," says Golden Apple owner Ryan Liebowitz. "They all have guns, they’re all out to hurt each other.”

Liebowitz says the growing popularity of digital comics is helping his business. He offers them on the store’s website, along with traditional comic books, and customers like Dan Cray are buying both.

“There are some comics, like my favorites, that I actually do prefer having a hard copy, " Cray says, "but for a lot of them it’s just really convenient and really nice to be able to, I can read them on my iPad, it’s a really convenient format.”

Many in the industry say they hope the digital format will attract a new generation of comics readers, boosting business for both the virtual and real worlds.
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