I got a Nexus 7 for Christmas. As you might expect, the first thing I did was root it. The second was to get all my usual apps -- E-Mail, RSS, emulators -- set up and working. The ones I'm used to from my phone.
But the third thing? Comics.
I've been very excited about Mark Waid's digital comics endeavors for years now. He gets it. Release your books in DRM-free standard formats, and treat pirates like they're potential customers instead of treating your customers like they're potential pirates.
In a nutshell, I'd been waiting to get a tablet just for the opportunity to see what it was Waid was up to.
Well, for starters, his books up on thrillbent.com are just straight-up free downloads.
Want to download all of Thrillbent's marquee book, Insufferable, by Waid and artist Peter Krause, for free? (Hint: yes. Yes you do.) Here's a simple, handy bash script to do it:
for((i = 1; i <= 9; i++)); do
for((i = 10; i <= 34; i++)); do
And presumably next week #35 will be out with a "2013" in place of that "2012" in the filename and it'll go on from there.
From a nuts-and-bolts storytelling perspective, Insufferable is a perfectly compelling superhero book. It's a Batman pastiche, but I happen to like Batman pastiches. (I often say that my all-time favorite Batman comic is Astro City: Confession.) The setup here is, loosely: What if Nightwing was a total douchebag?
It follows that moment of the sidekick -- named Galahad, in this case -- striking off on his own, no longer able to work with his mentor (Nocturnus). And Galahad isn't the class act that Dick Grayson is -- he's an insecure, spoiled celebrity. Nocturnus, meanwhile, has seen better days; he's something of a has-been and is now superheroing on a budget.
That, by itself, is enough for an intriguing, human superhero yarn. Insufferable would be a thoroughly enjoyable book on the strength of good old-fashioned traditional comic book storytelling.
But instead, it innovates. Waid and Krause make a point of doing things with a digital comic that can't be done on paper. Frames appear one swipe at a time; characters' facial expressions change. In one case, Nocturnus does the classic Batman entrance -- in one panel, the room is empty; swipe your finger and suddenly he's just there. As Galahad rides off after the bad guy, he receives a tweet making fun of him. Swipe and a few retweets appear over the scene; swipe again and the screen starts to fill with them.
Waid discusses these techniques in a recent Robot 6 interview. He cites the master, Bernie Krigstein, as his greatest inspiration in thinking of panel composition as a tool for pacing.
Waid's got the right idea, and it almost always works. As I read Insufferable I keep thinking of how smart he and Krause are in their use of these techniques, how they're not flashy and they're not there just for the sake of Doing Something Different; they actually serve the story in a way that -- while original -- has its roots in decades of traditional comics.
For my money, there is one example where it doesn't quite work: repeating the same panel exactly. I get what they're trying to do -- hell, where would Bendis be without that technique? -- but while you can repeat a panel exactly on paper as a pacing tool, it throws me to see it in a digital comic. There's a simple UI design reason for this: when a user interacts with a program, the program is supposed to do something. If I swipe a page, I can't tell the difference between "the same panel repeats" and "nothing happens". My first thought isn't "Oh, that's a beat", it's "Did I not press hard enough?"
There's a simple solution -- just change something, anything, in the panel. Make somebody blink, or change a facial expression slightly -- anything at all to give the user some sort of feedback that yes you turned the page and now this is the next image.
But you know, the occasional false note is the price of innovation. Yes, I found something small that, in my opinion, doesn't quite work in Waid and Krause's book. But there's so damn much that does work, and works astonishingly well.
I've said before that now is the best time to be a comics fan. Insufferable is one more example of why. Go give it a read -- it won't cost you anything and I think you'll be glad you did.
I haven't gotten around to the other Thrillbent books yet, but I intend to. But first -- well, it's Wednesday. I've got some traditional, paper-and-toner-and-staples comics to go pick up.