Comics were easy to spot at this year's SXSW with high profile appearances by Comixology and Marvel as well as cartoonists Matthew Inman delivering a keynote address and Ted Rall offering a short presentation on models of syndication for political cartoonists. But there were also other comics professionals on hand, among them Erin Polgreen, cofounder of Symbolia: The Tablet of Illustrated Journalism.
Comixology and Marvel certainly made their presence felt, even beyond the spectacular meltdown of the Comixology servers after the Marvel announcement offering 700 free #1 issues of Marvel comics—let’s be clear, this is a really great deal, maybe a little too great—through the digital comics vendor over two days. Unfortunately the mad online rush to take advantage of the offer brought the House of Ideas down, crashing the Comixology servers and Web site and the promotion is on hold until further notice. The Comixology and Marvel announcements were made at SXSW Gaming Expo, now held at the Palmer Center, on Sunday on a stage plunked down in the middle of a giant (and darkened) exhibition hall constantly exploding with the crackling, blaring, chaotic sounds of hundreds of videogames of all kinds being played in every corner of the hall.
Marvel also made other announcements the same day, including the expansion of its Infinite Comics line of digital-born comics designed to unfold image by image rather than page by page. The expanded line of digital comics will debut in July 9 with Wolverine: Japan's Most Wanted. There is also Project Gamma, digital comics with music audio tracks that will “adapt” to how the comics are read and to events in the comics themselves. And for fans of the former G4 network and the now defunct Attack of the Show and Fresh Ink, the network’s web based comics news and review show, former host Blair Butler has been tabbed by Marvel to host Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, a comics interview and variety show that seems patterned after Fresh Ink. The new show will feature Butler hosting interviews with top comics writers and artists and, we were told, there's even a reality show. More to come on that.
But Comixology (which also sponsored the closing party for the Gaming Expo on Sunday night) had a few announcements to make about itself at Saturday's Comixology panel at the Palmer Center (PW Comics World also sat down with cofounder David Steinberger for an interview running on the More to Come Podcast this week). Steinberger and cofounder John Roberts were joined by Too Much Coffee man creator Shannon Wheeler (who is from Austin) to announce the launch of Comixology Submit, its digital comics self-publishing platform, with 35 titles including many from well known artists like Wheeler and Becky Cloonan. Submit lets artists upload comics and, if approved by Comixology, they will be converted into the Comixology format and supported with nonexclusive distribution by the vendor. Comixology and the artist will split sales 50/50 and the platform offers artists global distribution of their comics.
Steinberger also used the panel to recap the vendors extraordinary growth since it launched in 2009 with 80 comics from 8 small publishers (yes, no Marvel or DC). The vendor now offers more than 30,000 comics and is adding more than 300 comics a week to its inventory. The vendor hit 100 million downloads last year, released a Windows 8 app this year and was the #3 top grossing book app on Apple. Comixology just keeps on growing—indeed, more than 40% of its sales come from overseas and in recent weeks the vendor launched a French version of the app with French language comics. And in 2012, Steinberger said the digital comics vendor’s sales out grossed all previous year's sales combined.
Calling himself a “standup comedian whose platform is comics," Matthew Inman gave a keynote speech that described his efforts raising money to pay off a nuisance law suit that eventually raised more than $200,000 for charity. “Inspiration is like food poisoning, it spews out of you when you don’t need it.” And Ted Rall was on hand giving a short presentation, "Political Cartooning: From Dead Trees to Live Wire"—he was forced to blitz through a dense and history-laden session at breakneck speed in order meet the 15 minute time limit—outlining the difficuties of making money when you’re a cartoonist. Concerned about the shrinking outlets for cartooning in print, Rall speculated about plans to get payment for cartoonists and the possibility of an ad-supported package for forwarding the content around the world by email. PW offered a comics panel of its own at SXSW this year, Publishing Graphic Novels in the Kickstarter Era, organized and moderated by this reporter. And PW photographer Jody Culkin (who is married to this reporter), who is really a tenured professor in the Media Arts and Technology Department at the Borough of Manhattan Community College in New York, also gave a lively 15 minute session on instructional comics and technology called, “Making and Drawing: Comics and The DIY/Maker World,” in front of a crowded and enthusiastic audience, surveying the history of the genre from Will Eisner’s 1940s PS magazine to the How-Toon features of Make magazine today.
At last year’s SXSW Erin Polgreen announced her plans to launch Symbolia: The Tablet Magazine of Illustrated Journalism, an iPad publication with multimedia effects and content focused on the use of comics for journalism. This year Polgreen was back, but this time as a judge for Accelerator, the SXSW competition for new tech startups, and for a chance to walk the floor and sit in on a few panels. The first issue of Symbolia was released in December and the newest issue, We Don’t Belong, a look at family issues, has just been released. Polgreen said the mag “is well on its way to our goal of 3,000 subscribers and we’re happy with the rate of growth. Polgreen said in the coming year she’s looking to raise more revenue and raise the pay rate to artists and writers. An Android version of Symbolia, “is coming in several weeks.” The third issue of the iPad comics journalism magazine is called The Mating Ritual and will feature stories on “sex, relationships and interpersonal encounters.”
[Additional reporting for this story was supplied by Jody Culkin]