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01.12.11

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Comic Display

Can superheroes thrive on the iPad?

By Daedalus Howell


Someone in every generation claims to have had the inaugural issue of [insert comic-book title here] stowed in the attic, garage or under the bed, only to discover that his mother disposed of it with the one-eyed teddy bear and the cummerbund from prom. If this well-worn tale is true, millions of dollars of collectible comic books are now moldering in landfills across America. When your progressive mother claims to have "recycled" your pristine first edition of Action Comics No. 1, remind her that having $317,000 pulped into toilet paper is little consolation.

How the ephemera of children's entertainment transforms into high-end obsessions for collectors requires more analysis than this space allows, though we might surmise names like Freud and Peter Pan would come up as frequently as Frank Miller and Stan Lee. (Also, notice how it's always the mother who dumps the comics in these tales of multipanel woe.)

Entrepreneur Alex Komarov has a product that will prevent comics from ever being dumped again—keep the content, ditch the medium. Komarov's latest foray into the iPad app market (coming on the heels of his popular Accordéon app, which replicates the squeezebox in nothing less than HD) is an elegant addition to the growing library of graphic novels now available on the tablet device. Komarov's, however, is a standalone application called Sad Comics, a clever anthology written and illustrated by Roman Muradov that invites readers into a "world of delight and dismay" and features the ruminations of a dying fish (and its notion of seducing Hitler's bride Eva Braun) and a bear negotiating an existential entreaty with his terminal brain cancer. That both Komarov and Muradov hail from Moscow might account for the distinctly Dostoevskian sensibility of the material rather than the muscle-bound, Spandex-clad tortured redeemers one often finds in comic books.

This is content for its own sake. Whereas a traditional comic book is collectible as an artifact, Komarov's product is only collectible in a sense—you can purchase all five issues on iTunes for $3.99 (the first issue is available for 99 cents). There is no inherent value, however, to the digital ones and zeroes that are ultimately comprised in the experience. In fact, since digital media is infinitely replicable, it's tantamount to ubiquitous, which in terms of market scarcity equals worthless. Sad Comics, however, is worth far more the aggregate pixels that form its tastefully murky palette; like the best graphic novels, Sad Comics is a diverting, contemplative and beautifully rendered hybrid of art and literature.

Its method of delivery, however, raises intriguing questions about how we not only consume media but how and why we value it and, by extension, art. Hang an iPad frozen on Sad Comics on your wall and you've saved on a frame by wasting an iPad. However, a lithograph of the tumorous brain signed by Muradov might fetch you some rubles on eBay. Will this valuation model ever change? Komarov, one can safely assume, doesn't care. For him, it's about the content, not the debate.

The eponymously named Alex Komarov Inc. is a "mobile interaction design and strategy" company, which generally creates solutions for clients in the digital mobile space. Publishing Sad Comics and other material under the Pretentious Press banner is a relatively recent development for the technology firm, which quickly realized comic books represented an entirely different kind of challenge.

"I think the biggest challenge is the content," Komarov says. "No matter how good your eye is, at the end of the day what matters is, are the comics interesting enough and do people want to read them?"

The technological aspect of the project rolled straight out of Komarov's wheelhouse. "The iPad does not present too much of a challenge because the format of the screen is perfect. You can read it on the screen as if you're holding the real comic book," Komarov says. "This is exactly what we're trying achieve—the feeling of the real comic book, to basically transfer the magic of the comic books that you have on your shelf to the iPad."

Sad Comics will soon release a "premium app" that will feature high resolution artwork and "extras" reminiscent of DVDs, including "making of" material like early sketches, additional illustrated short stores and "secret bonus content." Which sounds kind of collectible, but only kind of—so far.

Daedalus Howell leaps tall buildings in a single bound at FMRL.com.


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