In recent years, there’s been an explosion of comics into the digital frontier. Comics being downloaded into phones, comics for digital readers like the Kindle and the iPad, comics on the internet, and the special category of motion comics. It seems everyone’s trying to figure out what comics will be from all different angles and presentation styles. Both Marvel and DC have their own unique formats (with Marvel Unlimited and Zuda respectively), and a mainstream book publisher is entering the fray as Tor.com has recently begun running webcomics.
Tor.com is an outgrowth of Tor Books and it’s parent company Macmillan. Tor is well known for its rich tradition of novels in the science fiction and fantasy realm, and if you’ve read any comics or been to any conventions – those fanbases and tastes overlap well with comics. Over the past year Tor.com has been running short one-shot comics, but recently it launched its first ongoing series: Red Light Properties by cartoonist Dan Goldman (Shooting War, Kelly). For this new comic they’ve developed their own engine for viewing comics, which uniquely blends the panel-by-panel viewing commonly seen with iPhone comics with a more subtle pacing that gives the comic creator an opportunity to control the pace of the reader not unlike a film.
With Red Light Properties being serialized online every other week and at the 100 page mark this month, Newsarama.com spoke with Tor.com’s Web Producer Pablo Defendini, who acts as both a project manager, content developer and editorial director for Tor.com – both the comics and non-comics content. We spoke to him by email about Tor.com’s comic reader and the Tor/Macmillan publishing giant’s plan for digital comics.
Newsarama: Pablo, the recently debuted comic Red Light Properties makes use of a new comics viewer Tor has. Tor has run comics online before – so what was the big push to come up with a new comics viewer in 2010?
Pablo Defendini: It’s all Dan’s fault. I met Dan at NY Comic Con in 2008, at a panel he moderated about digital art. We hit it off immediately, and I bought a short piece from him for the site. After that, we’ve continued our conversation, and we always came back to talking comics on the internet: modes of delivery, reader experience, etc. He approached me with the idea for Red Light Properties, and we realized that it was the perfect excuse to develop a comics viewer specifically with our concerns in mind: allowing the artist to control pacing on a fine level, but also allowing the reader to control their reading experience, much like in printed comics.
Nrama: What was it about Dan’s project that made it one you wanted to with, and make a comics viewer specifically for it?
Defendini: In many ways, Red Light Properties is Dan’s baby in a way that his previous work hasn’t been, and he was adamant about taking it somewhere where it could shine. The story is very compelling, and as a latin american living in the U.S., his characters and settings really resonated with me. Additionally, Red Light Properties is giving us a chance to experiment with online publishing, which is one of the central missions for the site.
Nrama: Will the older Tor webcomics be redone in this format?
Defendini: All the old comics have been migrated to the new viewer, but Dan’s is the only one that takes advantage of the panel-by-panel navigation, and that’s by design. Since none of the older comics were created with this type of navigation in mind, what we did was develop a viewer that could work both ways: with traditional page-by-page navigation, or panel-by-panel. The cool thing is that if other artists want to take advantage of the viewer, they can do so, or they can still do page-by-page comics, no problem.
Nrama Besides Red Light Properties, are there other webcomics in the pipeline for Tor.com?
Defendini: We’ve got a another long-form comic by Jim Otavanni and Leland Purvis slated to start at the end of 2010, which I’m really excited about. It’s a biography of Alan Turing, who is one of the fathers of modern computer science and cryptography (and the namesake of the famous Turing test). That in itself is enough to get my geek-antennae humming, but additionally, Turing was a homosexual who refused to be closeted, and suffered greatly at the hands of the British government for it (yes, the same government that he helped save during WWII by cracking the Nazi’s infamous Enigma code at Bletchley Park–the UK government finally apologized for this last year). So I’m really excited about that.
Additionally, we’re still running with Kurt Huggins and Zelda Devons’ delightful King of an Endless Sky, which I like to think of as a mashup of Antoine St. Exupery’s Le Petit Prince and Windsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland, but with killer robots and sentient gerbils. Kurt and Zelda are wonderful to work with, and produce gorgeous work. We’re also running more A Softer World strips, and we’ve got a couple of pitches in from some well-known webcomics people who have reached out to us now that we’re making a bit of noise with our comics (but I can’t really go into those just yet–still in the works!).
Nrama: While digital comics seem to be a new frontier for the comics medium, the inevitable question with any online comic is “when’s the print edition?” Will Tor be publishing print editions of Red Light Properties?
Defendini: Well, Tor.com is a separate imprint from Tor Books within the corporate umbrella of Macmillan, so we don’t generally track with their publication schedule, nor they with ours. While a print version of Red Light Properties isn’t entirely off the table, we really haven’t contemplated it too deeply just yet- Red Light Properties is made for the web, and that’s where it will live for the foreseeable future.
Nrama: Tor.com does more than webcomics – can you give us a idea of what all Tor.com encompasses?
Defendini: Tor.com is a community site for fans of science fiction and fantasy, first and foremost. Our main feature is a robust blog with contributors from all walks of fandom: professional authors, as well as bloggers and straight-up fans. Additionally, we have a strong short fiction and comics publishing program; we generally have weekly comics and a new short story or two roughly every two weeks. Tor.com also has an extensive sf and fantasy artist gallery, curated by Tor Books and Tor.com art director, Irene Gallo. We’ve also got a print book store, and are dabbling in ebooks here and there.
Nrama: Before we go, we have a lot of comics fans who also read SF and fantasy books like the ones Tor published. Could you forsee any Tor books being adapted as comics for the Tor.com site?
Defendini: Hm. I would absolutely love to see Tobias Buckell’s wonderful series of Caribbean-tinged science fiction books translated into comics. I’ve been trying to find a way to do this, actually, but the opportunity just hasn’t arisen yet.