Digital Noir Story: Fialkov Takes Tumor to Kindle

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Last week, Archaia Comics announced it was releasing a new property called Tumor directly to the Kindle 2, the improved model of Amazon’s increasingly popular digital reader. Since appearing on the comics scene a few months back, Archaia’s chosen the route of reducing its floppy production, turning to the trade paperback and hardcover graphic novel editions instead. Hence, striking a deal with Amazon to produce a digital comic leaving the single issues for what they are was a logical step.

For the man behind said digital comic, Joshua Hale Fialkov, the move made a whole lot of sense.

"From just about the day I got my Kindle, I started dropping comic art on it, I was just amazingly impressed at how great black and white art looked on the device.  I dropped some of Noel's work, and I'll be damned if I didn't like it even more than I would've expected. 

"With Noel's sample work for Tumor on my Kindle, I jumped on the train, and came down to Hollywood to see Stephen Christy who'd just acquired Tumor for Archaia.  When I showed it to him, he more or less said, "I've been thinking the same thing."   So, right then we started playing with formatting and adjusting the art to really display well on the device, and be readable without totally losing the experience of reading a paper comic. 

"I think we've done a fairly admirable job at it.  Tumor reads great on the device, and, thanks to Noel's canny storytelling, there's a lot of subtleties that I think people will pick up on Kindle that may be missing from the final printed edition.

Such as?

Tumor is a book about duality, as the main character is living in two stories, 'reality' and the hallucinatory memory world induced by the tumor growing in his brain.  So, for example, on one of the pages in issue 1, on the Kindle version, you'll see a page set in the fantasy,  and a page set in reality, and they're mirror images of each other.   

Literally, the action is the same in both, as well as the framing and structure, so there's this beautiful echo effect.

When you read it in the printed version, though, as the pages are joined into one, I think that effect is lost.  It's still there, sure, but, when you see the images replace each other perfectly, it really drives home the narrative device in a unique way.

Perhaps it's a question better suited for the sales people at Archaia, but how was the deal with Amazon reached?

I get the impression that Amazon wants to be in the space.  The big problem, of course, is the lack of a color screen.  But, that makes the device perfect for the kind of graphic novels that mainstream, non-graphic novel reading audiences are looking for. 

Books like, say, Scott Pilgrim, Persepolis, Owly, or Darwyn Cooke's Hunter graphic novels, and, hopefully, Tumor, all of which have less appeal to the capes and tights crowd, but more appeal to fans of more traditionally literary genres.  The audience for these books, and the audience for the Kindle are really pretty much the same demographic, from what I can gather, so, it's a good match.

How's the book been doing so far?

So far, so good.  We topped out at around number six on the Graphic Novels sales charts on Amazon, and that's for all graphic novels, not just digital.   I think that it's certainly a learning experience, and it seems like the comics press don't quite know what to make of the whole thing. 

The comics industry, as a whole, and, mind you, probably the whole publishing industry in general, are terrified of change.  As an independent creator, working on books that genre-wise make up a tiny margin of what's actually read in comics, I've had no choice but to go it alone, so to speak, and find different ways to reach my audience. 

I've tried to make a point with all of my work to really focus on out reach, and getting in touch with my fans, and helping them to grow along with me.  That's a lot of what inspired me to set up http://www.tumorthecomic.com.  The idea was to have a resource that not only put the fans in touch with Noel and myself, but, gave them easy access to the things I get most asked.  You'll find scripts, concept work, pitch documents, soundtrack material, and the raw materials that got the book from my head to the (digital) printed page. 

And it's stuff that while there will certainly be bonus features in the printed Hardcover edition, it's material that's metatextual in a way that makes it hard to present in just book form.  I'm hoping to enhance the experience in a way that most of the big publishers don't see a reason to spend time, energy, or money on. 

Not that it's strictly necessary for this device, but did you write the story differently since it's being put on a digital platform?

Aside from having Noel try to shape the pages so that they could be split apart to fit properly on the screen, not really.  Noel's story telling is so sharp that within each page the beats are so clearly defined that your split points are pretty easy to find, and really manage to have the same impact as that right hand corner flip that we all love.  

Part of the challenge, obviously, is that we're going to print at the end of the process, and the limitations of the Kindle 2 mean that the experience will be slightly different, but, like I said, I think there's something unique about the reading experience, that for me, is actually pretty pleasurable.

What do you think of the Kindle as a device? Will it become more popular to read comics than mobile phones?

It depends how people embrace the screen.  A lot of the book publishers have put up their previously printed graphic novels (including my own Elk's Run from Villard/Random House) and, they essentially haven't done anything other than upload a PDF.  Most of these books were lettered to be full size, and the Kindle2 is about the size of a manga or digest-sized book.

That means that the lettering gets shrunk so badly that it's unreadable.  I've seen really poor quality files that are far too low resolution to be read.  But, then there's companies like Archaia and Top Shelf who are taking care in how they put their comics no the device, and I think that's going to be a world of difference. 

As far as ubiquity... Look, it's an ever changing landscape out there, with technology running laps around the economy.  There's a reason that the new iPhone saw record sales while everybody and their mothers were unemployed or at least under-employed.  We culturally strive for the newest, sharpest, fastest things.  So, making a prediction of what's going to happen is damn near impossible. 

What I can say is this:  The Kindle is a revolutionary way to read traditional literature.  I think that it's the closest experience I've had to reading an actual comic book in digital form.   That's not to slag off the iPhone or digital comics platforms, it's just a big part of the success of the device.  It feels so much like reading a piece of paper, that it leaves everything else in the dust.

Does your hard bleed now that we're seeing more comics published in digital form? Or are you someone who's not really attached to print?

Not really.  I mean, we're going to have a beautiful hardcover collection of the complete story at the end of the process, so I get my print version.  Here's the thing.  Floppy comics are profitable for the big companies, and here and there for the little guys. 

For the most part, they're a no win situation for independents, and, because the price point is so low, unless it's one of those huge books, retailers are losing money on the things too.  Or, at least, they're not making enough money to spend the hours on end searching for the independent books that are both good and sellable to their customers. 

For quite a while now, the monthly or floppy version of books have been a loss leader specifically geared towards selling the trade paperback collection.  What I think we're trying to do is to get that marketing and brand awareness about the book, without asking retailers to take a low reward risk on the issues.  Instead, they get a package that everybody's been talking about for months that's priced at fifteen bucks, and allows them to actually make some profit on the thing. 

Fill us in on Tumor: there's a big gun on the cover, there's espionage and... cancer. How does it all fit together?

Tumor is a Los Angeles Noir about a down in the dumps detective who gets given one last case the same day he's diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor.  Which, y'know, makes a helluva ticking clock to race against.  The tumor causes him to suffer hallucinations, seizures, time lapses, and to slowly have his senses and mind desert him.  It's certainly a dark book, but, I think there's a bit of hope in there, somewhere. 

The story really combines themes that I've been working with my whole career, in terms of being trapped in yourself and set in your ways, and how does a person find who they are in a world that just doesn't care.    If you like crime and suspense books, you should definitely check it out.  It's sort of a heightened reality noir, and I'm immensely proud of the work Noel and I have done on it.

So, what does the actual release schedule look like?

The plan is to release an issue every three weeks. We have the first issue available right now for free on the Kindle and over on the tumorthcomic.com website.   Issue 2 should be hitting this week for only one measly dollar, and the rest, should follow like clockwork.  
In theory.  Like I said, we're the first ones doing this, so, every step is a bit of an experiment for us.

What I can say for sure is that it's being serialized in eight parts on the Kindle, and, you can also check out the issues a few days after their Kindle debuts over at http://www.tumorthecomic.com.

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  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Aug 4, 2009 at 3:11am

    loved Elk's Run so I'll be awaiting this hardcover with baited breath!

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