iPad Comics – Q&A with Blue Pepper Comics
I turned and the guy sitting behind table D8 said, “You’re Tim Stout, right? I’m Dan Rodriguez. I bought your book Short Notes on Long Comics last year and I’ve been following your blog. Really good stuff.”
With my ego feeling nice and inflated I stayed to chat and realized that instead of having dozens of minis for sale, his company, Blue Pepper, had only two items on the table: an iPad and an iPad, both of which displayed a new comic they had made into an app.
I was floored. The images were clean, crisp and clear. Every word was perfectly legible. And instead of zooming in on pages, trying to find the next word balloon (like I’ve done with Graphicly and Comixology), I simply tapped the screen and the next image layered upon the last. Really cool.
Immediately, I had a bunch of questions about making comics for the iPad, which I would obviously share with everyone here, and he was kind enough to agree to this Q&A post.
So, here goes my first Q&A post. I hope you enjoy.
Tim: Hey Dan! Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences about making comics for the iPad. First, give us your background in comics and what inspired you to start Blue Pepper Comics on the iPad.
Dan: Well, I got into writing comics when I was in college. At that point, I decided I wanted to make comics for a living, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to go about that. Then I read Reinventing Comics by Scott McCloud and The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. Both books are about the ways in which digital distribution holds the potential to expand the breadth and depth of storytelling genres in the entertainment industry, and in doing so, expand audiences as well.
Industry expansion has been really important to me for a long time because I feel that the comics medium holds infinite storytelling possibilities, and I don’t think comics creators should be limited in terms of subject matter. Right now, we have a very depressed market. Whenever you have a depressed market, the diversity of output is going to be limited as well.
However, I think this presents an opportunity for new publishers and individual artists. There is a vast segment of potential customers – everyone who currently doesn’t read comics – who are not being served by the established publishers. I started Blue Pepper to target that audience. I want to make comics an everyday entertainment choice for everyone, regardless of age or gender. My hope is that by creating new and exciting comics for people who never would have considered themselves comics fans, that we can expand the industry in a way that hasn’t been done before.
T: Does Blue Pepper make comics solely for iPad?
D: All of our comics have been designed to be read comfortably on any computer screen, whether it be desktops, laptops, or tablets. Right now, we’re focusing on the iPad because of the convenience that the App Store offers. Apple has streamlined the process of uploading products to the store while making it extremely easy and simple for customers to buy products as well, so we think the App Store is the best fit for our philosophy right now.
T: I’m completely new to digital tablets. I don’t own an iPad. So, explain to me like I’m a six-year-old how can I get my comics on iPad. What was your process of getting your comics on iPad?
D: In terms of production, our comics are drawn and inked on paper just as traditional comics are. Once the art is completed, we scan in all the pages and convert them to a digital file, which is simply a zip folder filled with jpgs or pngs at 1680×2087 pixels. At that point, we upload the file into our comics app, which is what allows the reader to click through the comic. Since you don’t own an iPad, I should clarify that an “app” is just a software program that can be downloaded onto an iPad, usually through the App Store. In terms of designing the actual software program, Apple has a lot of tools for developers, and there are companies who sell prepackaged programs for those of us with little or no programming experience. I contracted Dark Bear Interactive to design the Blue Pepper comic app.
Once you’ve got your app ready, you need to sign up with Apple’s developer program, which is a very simple process. From there, you submit your app and wait for it to be approved and uploaded to the App Store. Typically, the app approval process takes anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
T: Would you recommend people go with a prepackaged program to design their comic app or find a programmer?
D: I think if you’re working with a programmer, you have a lot more options and a lot more flexibility. It may seem cost prohibitive for a lot of young artists, but I think it’s worth pooling resources with your friends and associates if you can’t finance development on your own.
If you absolutely can’t hire a programmer, don’t be intimidated by the development process. As I noted above, there is a lot of assistance out there for first time developers. It might take time to get accustomed to software development, but it definitely can be done.
T: What problems have you encountered with converting to iPad and what have you done to overcome them?
D: Well the biggest issue involved in going digital is how to deal with reading comics on a computer screen. The problem is pretty straightforward; comics are drawn in portrait format and computer screens display in landscape format. The first decision I made was to simply produce comics in landscape format to better fit the aspect ratio of most computer screens.
The other issue was readability and accessibility. I didn’t want people to have to squint to read the word bubbles, and I was also concerned about people who were new to the comics medium. Those of us who have been reading and producing comics for a long time forget that there is a learning curve involved when you first start reading comics. Some layouts are harder to follow than others, and there are people who will have difficulty understanding what’s going on. Ultimately, we settled on a format that emphasized clarity and simplicity.
Our comics are designed so that anyone, even if they’ve never read a comic before, can easily follow the action and become immersed in the story. We use larger panels relative to the size of the screen which creates an experience where the reader is sometimes clicking their way through the comic panel by panel instead of page by page, enabling them to focus on relevant narrative information and eliminating distracting elements.
T: How has the public response been, thus far?
D: Our first public showing was at last weekend’s Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art 2011 festival. The response we saw there was overwhelmingly positive and I’m really happy with how everything turned out. A lot of people commented on how simple and engaging the reading experience was, so I think we’re really on the right track.
D: The next step is to finally release our comics on the App Store, which should be happening in the next few weeks. I can’t go into too many details about what we’ll be releasing right now, but we have a lot planned. As I said before, our goal is to expand the comics industry, so it’s going to be interesting to see how non-comics readers respond to our product once it’s released.
T: Thanks, Dan!
D: Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.
To keep tabs on Dan and the new releases from Blue Pepper, visit here.