Most publications are transitioning from physical paper and ink to electronic text—so where does this transition leave graphic novels? Not so far behind, in fact. Like standard ebooks, graphic novels are also easily making the transition from print to digital. The first ebook, the United States Declaration of Independence, was typed in 1971 by Michael Hart. In 1985 Shatter was written and illustrated by Peter Gillis and Mike Saenz, respectively, becoming the first digital graphic novel.
Though there are many graphic novels now that are created partially or wholly through digital means, those that are widely known are still published predominantly in printed books or magazines. However, many publishing companies are trying to expand out of physical print and into fully electronic versions of their graphic novels, in the same way that ebook publishers are expanding.
Many companies, like DC Comics and Dark Horse are allowing people to download both free and fee electronic comics. By providing versions that can be downloaded directly online, these publishing companies are allowing their publications to be viewed on multiple platforms. In fact, Idea and Design Works (IDW) publishing has publicly introduced a line of digital graphic novels modified specifically for viewing on the iPad. Even magazines such as Wired and companies like WOWIO are providing the public with issues of digital graphic novels for free or reduced prices. Barnes and Noble is also in the process of obtaining the digital rights to graphic novels that they already sell in the physical forms. If they succeed, readers will then be able to read these graphic novels on the Kindle.
Even schools are pushing the transition to digital graphic novels. Colleges specializing in art have started to help the graphic novel branch out into the digital world. Many art colleges have courses or full programs that specialize in helping students create digital graphic novels. This not only helps authors to expand past paper and ink, but also to learn the process of networking their creations and to possibly even self-publish their works.
The ease at which authors and artists can provide self-publications, however, has a few drawbacks. Just as with self-published ebooks, self-published graphic novels are by no means perfect. Self-publications generally do not have the benefit of going through the same fine-tuning and editing processes as professionally published works, which can lead to something simple—like grammatical mistakes—or something more noticeable. Self-publications also do not rely on the creator’s artistic or literary ability. However, self-publications have helped artists expand their ideas and gain followings that are not usually possible without publishing their work professionally.
Webcomics have also become widely popular because of the access and freedom provided by the internet and social networking sites. Webcomics can range from simple strips to full graphic novels, yet very few webcomic artists can actually become professionals. While webcomics are only electronic graphic novels in the broadest sense of the term, they do help to show the direction all graphic novels are taking in this not-so-new digital age.
By Kelly Wagnon—As an English major and Asian Studies minor at TCU, I have interned with TCU Press as a copyeditor and hope to one day become a professional copyeditor for a graphic novel publishing company, as I have an interest in Japanese graphic novels (manga)