The Future of Digital Publishing – DRM-Free Comics and New Imprints

We have seen two pieces of exciting news for fans of digital comics earlier this month. Both of the new developments may offer us a glimpse into the future of digital comics, and indeed, digital publishing as a whole.

jet-city-comicsThe first is the launch of Amazon’s new digital-first comic imprint, Jet City Comics. The first of the books released by them, Symposium #1, is already up. Written by Christian Cameron, the comic is a spin-off to the Foreworld Saga, by Neal Stephenson. Comic adaptations of G. R. R. Martin’s short story Meathouse Man, and Hugh Howey’s bestseller Wool are set to follow. The books will be released on Amazon’s Kindle platform first, but collections will be available through their online store in print form. While by themselves this news may not be hugely exciting, it does open up the door to exciting possibilities. The first step, naturally, would be original comics. Amazon previously made headlines by allowing users to get paid for their licensed fan-fiction, based on the properties that signed on for Amazon’s Kindle Worlds initiative. The strides Amazon is making in publishing may soon allow independent, first-time comic book writers and artists to put out their work independently, and make some money on it.

image-logoImage Comics, in the meantime, was the first of comic book companies to launch a DRM-free digital comic storefront. Whereas digital comics are now common, and apps such as ComiXology are hugely popular, they have so far only allowed customers to download and read comics through their applications. This has the effect of the reader not owning the comic he paid for, but instead effectively buying the right to read it from their library, and nothing else. Image Comics, on the other hand, the third largest comic book publisher, now offers direct download of the comics from their website. Once a title is paid for and downloaded, it can be read on any device that supports the format, as well as shared and distributed freely.

This, naturally, opens the publisher’s comics up to piracy. In a bold statement, however, the publisher of Image Comics Eric Stephenson said the following to Wired:

My stance on piracy is that piracy is bad for bad entertainment. There’s a pretty strong correlation with things that suck not being greatly pirated, while things that are successful have a higher piracy rate. If you put out a good comic book, even if somebody does download it illegally, if they enjoy it then the likelihood of them purchasing the book is pretty high.

That certainly correlates with my own experience – I initially started reading pirated scans of Image Comics’ Spawn, but after catching up and deciding I really liked it, I started buying the issues as they came out, spending much of my hard-earned money on new releases of the title as a teenager.

The decision to launch their own storefront may not be completely idealistic, however. Image comics have been making headlines recently with two of their series, Saga and Sex having issues removed from the ComiXology iOS app, due to sexual content. The move appears to have been dictated by Apple’s iTunes policy, rather than by ComiXology itself, and the issues are still available through their website. This is, of course, hardly an ideal situation for Image, which has several titles aimed at adult audiences.

ComiXology also had a period of downtime one weekend in March, when Marvel announced it would be making over 700 issues available for free on the app, all on a single day. It turned out the servers were not prepared to meet the demand, as ComiXology was not accessible for users for the majority of that weekend. This meant that not only were users not able to purchase any comics during that time, but also that they were not able to access comics they had already purchased. The precedent set by this situation is a dangerous one, as the customers of the service evidently will not always have access to material they have already paid for. Image comics’ move, therefore, brings about the alternative that had been talked about as the ideal solution for customers for ages now, but until this month was not a reality due to fears of piracy.

Do you think these experiments will pay off, or is Image and Amazon being naive? Let me know in the comments!

Fuck for Forest

Fuck for Forest is a documentary about the world’s first ever group of eco-pornographers of the same name. They create amateur pornography which is then put up on their website. To access the content of the website, the public is required to make a donation, and the funds collected in this way are subsequently used to finance various ecological projects. The film explores the dynamics of the group and follows them to the Amazon where they are hoping to help a group of natives save their forest.

Below is an interview with Michal Marczak, the director of the ambitious documentary, conducted during his visit to the Vilnius International Film Festival last March.

So the subject of your film is very interesting. So, how did you first learn of the group, and how did you first meet up with them?

It was a coincidence. A friend of mine gave me a little article, a snippet of a newspaper with just the fact that they exist, and it just seemed intriguing. So, I went to the website, payed the 15 dollars, and started watching the films. What I found is that there’s all these random people in these films, and it’s hardcore porn; a lot of these people, I could tell it’s the first time they’re participating in hardcore porn. A bunch of the people were met at random in streets and parks and just, right there, in the master shot, went from saying hello, to taking of their clothes, to fucking people. And then sometimes they would show snippets of conversation, and I though, “What the hell is going on? What is the common denominator here? Why are these people doing what they’re doing?” So from a documentarian point of view there are these moments in these films, although they really don’t care about emotions in those films, there are moments of truth and warmness and sincerity amongst all this hardcore porn. So I wrote them an email, and half a year later, I met them. And it took kind of eight more months to decide to actually go ahead and make the film. That time was very beneficial in actually setting up a relationship, so I could be very close to them with a camera.

How soon did you actually start filming, or how soon did you have an expectation of it becoming a film?

Well, it tool about eight months of me sort of filming a little bit, and a couple of scenes from those months are in the final film, but most of the stuff was shot after the eight months of getting to know them. At that time I was just working on other projects, and they decided they would go to the Amazon, and this new guy Danny showed up out of nowhere. So, those things, it was like, “OK, if I’m gonna do this movie, I need to do it now.”

So you began actually making the film when the adventure to Amazon came up?

Yes, yes. That, and appearance of Danny, the leading character, was the spark. And the summertime, because the summertime came, and they and again you had all these people coming to Berlin, the city becomes vibrant. So all these factors contribute to the decision.

What was the expectation, going to the Amazon?What was the expectation in the group, and what was your expectation going into the adventure?

Well, you know I knew that probably something was gonna come out of it. I knew that we were embarking on an adventure, and that’s what I love most. Just throw yourself in, and live something with people, and capture that energy on camera. Whatever it’d be, I knew we definitely were gonna come back with something. I didn’t know if we were gonna fail, or succeed. But I had a feeling that if you’re traveling with six half-naked Scandinavians through a very Catholic country is gonna cause some problems, and on the other hand, they’re probably gonna run into somebody very like-minded, because there are people in the country who still live according to the shamanic rituals, embrace open sexuality, nudity, multiple partners, live in harmony with nature, and embrace all those things that Fuck for Forest believes in and likes. So, on the one hand, I knew we were probably gonna run into moments of problems, but on the other hand I thought that for sure there would be problems of bliss, and understanding, and ecstatic joy, and of coming close to a culture that is so distant, but on some primal level is actually very close. I was hoping to capture both, but I really had no clue what I was getting myself into.

And I think you do capture both really well. The interesting think about this to me is, did Fuck for Forest have an expectation of what they were going into when they were embarking on this adventure? Was there an actual misunderstanding in terms of the open sexuality in that country, for example, or was it more a case of them not caring about the image they created on this trip?

They were in different parts of the Amazon before, so they kinda knew what they were getting into, but in that world right now you really don’t know exactly what you’re gonna get into, because everything is so screwed up there. These idealistic communities that lived in harmony with nature, and in control of their resources, the myth of the noble savage, is a myth. So these idyllic times were made up by anthropologists that wanted us, the white world, to look at ourselves more. They underreported the rates of crimes, and atrocities, and rape, and genocide, and so there were really gruesome times reported as idyllic. So, those places never really exist. Some places, of course, were better, others worse. So Fuck for Forest, they came very close, one could say, to finding people that still live according to all the traditions, but it’s really screwed up, because you have a village where the grandfathers live according to shamanic rituals, still have many wives, remember the times when everyone lived in a large house; and then you have the children, which are Catholic, do not embrace the ways of the elderly, but at the same time, respect the elderly, so they’re very conflicted people. And you have so many missionaries that came and told them completely opposite things, and it really depends on how often the missionaries came, and what they did during the rubber boom, and all these things that affect what they are now, and a lot of these people are extremely lost, and are very shattered inside. And I think it’s very difficult, I think, to find a community that is not shattered, that still lives to a very uniform principle. And there were some voices in Fuck for Forest that said we shouldn’t have gone to such a Catholic village, we should have gone to some other place, but it’s difficult to find another place. And in the film, at one point, when we landed in the one village, hey actually embraced us, and there were moments of this ecstatic unity. We sang, and danced together, and took Ayahuasca, and they were genuinely open to Fuck for Forest. And that was beautiful for me to observe that these cultures, that don’t speak a common language, they’re so far apart, come together in ways that very few travelers ever do without all of this huge anthropological knowledge, just with an open heart. But then at the end, when all of these representatives came, that’s when everything went wrong. There are two tribes living together, they are fighting each other, and there are so many things that are messed up in the Amazon that once you start speaking about money, it just all goes to hell. They’ve been scammed so many times in just unimaginable ways, so whenever they hear the words land, money, it’s a red light for them, because people promised so many great things to them, and they never got anything in return for it. So that’s why they were saying that they want work, cause that’s something that’s safe to have, something they can’t really cheat you out of. They can cheat you out of a month’s salary, that’s not really that bad. So, in order to really understand why they didn’t succeed you have to look at the bigger picture of how bad the situation is there, how the legislation is really not providing for these small NGOs to go help out, how corrupt it is, and all of these down to earth things, like they can’t read or write. They’re scared of contracts, they don’t have anybody to translate it to them, they all speak different languages. Who’s gonna take the money? How are they gonna administer it? None of them have a bank account, who are you gonna give the money to, and how’s he gonna split it with the rest? Like, all these little things, that first have to be sorted out, and only then can you help.

And even then, right after the meeting, there’s this rather shocking image of them being sold a chainsaw?

Yeah, that is why I love documentaries, because you would just not think that up. And if you would, writing a screenplay, you would think “I’m overdoing it, nobody’s gonna believe that a chainsaw peddler is going to show up out of nowhere in this deep jungle, where you have to travel three days by little boat to get there, and it’s not even on the map. “ And yet, it’s true, this guy show up and peddles chainsaw, and he was just waiting for this meeting to finish to peddle his agenda, his chainsaw, which was just, completely, completely absurd, I just couldn’t believe my eyes. I looked at the guy, and I missed his intro cause I was just so baffled, and I had my camera but only after a minute did I realize “Oh man, I gotta film this. “ It’s just unbelievable. He was offering them a rate plan for the chainsaw.

Some of the scenes in the film felt very intimate; obviously physically, but also emotionally. Was it hard to capture those moments? How hard was it to get these people to let you into their lives, with a camera no less?

I think it sort of evolved, as I was following them around with a camera, and Danny got deeper into the group, so did I.

Also, Danny’s first scene, the very first scene in the film, is so intimate, and so raw, it almost feels like invasive watching it.

Of course, sometimes I do feel not comfortable, but I always try to get the ups and downs of life, that’s why I like to shoot for a long time. We all have our moments of good performance, where we’re the best we can be; we also have moments where we’re down, and depressed, so I try to film for enough time to capture all the intricacies and ups and downs of life. So where I have this scene, it’s a very sad scene for the character, it is a scene where he is not getting along with his family, where everything is not going well in his life, I try to film enough to show that there is life, and show all the other aspects of what he is. So I try to balance out as much as is possible. Of course it’s not always achievable, but I try.

In Berlin in particular, I’m curious if you lived with the group, or how often you met up and filmed?

We had an apartment in Berlin, so although we spent like a year together, of course I was doing other projects at the time, and we didn’t film every day, but we lived nearby, so whenever anything was happening we came over. And sometimes they would say we are just going out for an hour, and it turned out to be twenty four hours. They live a very spontaneous life, and their motto is to not have anything to impede their freedom. So we had to take a lot of batteries with us to prepare for whatever. Sometimes we would stay overnight, if we just fell asleep in the corner, but we didn’t live together. Especially, for this kind of film, I didn’t want to shoot for hundreds of hours, I wanted to come back at the end of the day, watch the footage, download it, charge the batteries. There’s a lot of logistical details, and especially if you only have a two person crew. But that also helped keep distance, and vision, and focus. If you have a five-person crew, it’s really easy to make a film about everything, and then you can make a film about each of the five characters, and then maybe make a film about nothing in the end. Instead, it’s better to keep focus.

I think the film does a really good job of refraining from any sort of judgment towards any party, I think, in the group. Obviously, you have personal feelings about what was happening; how hard was it to refrain from putting that spin on the film?

I mean, I think that’s the easiest. It’s so easy to make a postcard for somebody, “Save the Whales”, or play on someone’s emotions; and then it’s also so easy to destroy somebody. In just editing, any conversation can be edited to make somebody look stupid. But to get that in-between, where the audience can make up their own mind, and bring their own experiences into the film, their desires and wants, is something I’m interested in. So I try to have some of my point of view come across, and to hint at certain things, but really leave it up to the audience to decide. Because that’s when, I think, you really do the most work as a viewer of the film. You actually have to put in the work to make something out of it. Those are the types of films I like to watch the most. And especially in documentaries, where you’re dealing with reality, with real characters, everything is real, those are the films where that should be the case the most; whereas of course in fiction, you’re creating the characters, so there really isn’t as much depth in there, cause it’s just create, whereas here there’s so much off-screen, that you can research, read about… So you have access to other tools that can help you make up your mind. That’s why I hate when documentaries are very didactic, and very pretentious, and play on emotions, and fight for causes. That form is way overused.

So, as much as we have a problem with sexuality in the western world, we also have a problem with language that refers to sexuality. So did you have trouble marketing a film called “Fuck for Forest”?

It was a long discussion. For example, the New York Times wants to do a feature about the film, and they have a problem because they can’t even write “f-star-c-k”, so I got an email from the journalist that said, I’ll do my best, but I’m not sure how to do it. We can’t promote the film on Facebook. There are so many things we were completely limited by, which I was not necessarily aware of when I made the decision to call the film “Fuck for Forest”. I think it’s a good title, but of course, it is hurting promotion a lot. But it is what it is. It’s weird, I know it’s a curse word, but also because it has sexuality in it, limits our options – we can’t show it on iTunes, we’re not sure if Netflix will take it, we’re just…

I saw promotion on the website that it is going to be on iTunes, though?

It’s gonna be on British iTunes, not on American iTunes. I mean, American iTunes, it’s weird, because you have a movie like Saw. The Saw trilogy?

I think there are seven, actually.

Yeah, seven, and you can see them when you’re fourteen, or sixteen, and you can’t see sexuality. Which is completely skewed, and very weird.

You mentioned in the Q&A last night that you were fired at in the Amazon? Nobody was hurt, I hope?

No, fortunately not. They once shot at us when we were staying in the Manaus and we were shot at there once, and the other time we were just walking down the street. In the Manaus, we were staying at this one place, a horticulture compound, which was set up 30 years ago when it was a very small city, just 30,000 people, and now it’s over 2,000,000, but we were trying to get kebab on the corner, and that is when they arrived and shot up the compound, but we weren’t there. So we were lucky we went to get food at that time. And the other time we were just walking down the street, and a guy pulled a gun on us, but we were lucky because there were two undercover police officers following us, because they saw on the camera that the guy had a gun. And they’d just set up the cameras a week prior to this, because they were getting ready for the soccer championship. So we were very lucky twice.

That’s incredible. Thank you very much for your time.