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The Next Chapter

David Pollock explores the phenomenon of comics going online as sci-fi staple 2000AD hits the net

While movies based on superhero comics are still doing big business (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and The Dark Knight are coming in 2008), comic books remain as ghettoised as ever. The genre’s mass appeal has been on the wane for 20 years, with comics’ traditionally youthful target market now more drawn to videogames. It’s up to the industry to meet new technological challenges to remain in the game.

While certain independent publishers have been producing online comics for years, many of the bigger names are playing catch up. Marvel has already made a large chunk of its back catalogue available as an onsite-only subscription service, while seminal sci-fi anthology 2000AD – owned by Oxford-based videogames company Rebellion – has linked up with online downloadable comics provider Clickwheel. The site started out life formatting and distributing comics for iPod with over 100 independent creators making a wide variety of material available. Clickwheel has since expanded into the digital distribution of comics at large, offering downloadable PDF files and content for mobile devices.

‘Our goal is not to exclude our print customers, but to reach new ones on a global scale,’ says Clickwheel editor Tim Demeter. ‘This would be a bonus as 2000AD is such a solid British institution that isn’t distributed internationally like Marvel or DC titles. From our first couple of weeks of having it up there we’re seeing new readers coming in already. By making comics available on mobile devices, with the portability of an actual book, we can reach out to people who might not have tried them before.’

Demeter continues: ‘It’s much harder to find a comic book you might be interested in than a book, CD or DVD. We’re looking to reach out beyond hobbyists, and making comics available digitally removes that obstacle of accessibility.’

Demeter agrees that the misconception of comics being simply about superheroes can only be broken down by making them easily obtainable and portable. He sites the mainstream bookshop trade in collected graphic novels as being equally important to the development of the industry.

‘I wouldn’t be doing the job I’m doing if I didn’t believe that comics are just as enjoyable as TV, movies and videogames,’ he says. ‘But just as not every TV show is for everyone, neither is every comic book. There are a lot of audiences out there that aren’t being served right now, and we’re going to see if we can get their attention.’

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