Digital Comics in Foreign Markets

Today iVerse Media announced an exclusive deal with Marvel Entertainment to distribute foreign-language digital comics and graphic novels. This is potentially a big deal at the corporate top-end of the industry, where Marvel’s superhero franchises command massive attention and dollars. It’s also an interesting alliance given how highly Disney, Marvel’s corporate owner, has traditionally valued overseas markets. I’m sure we will learn more about what iVerse, the second-place digital distributor, brings to the table in coming months. According to the press release,”foreign language content will launch in late 2012 with staggered releases worldwide.”

At a larger level, this announcement and others like it underscore how big a game-changer digital is on the global level… but not entirely for the reasons we think.

American, European and Asian comics have been expanding worldwide for decades. Today readers around the world have wide choices of content and styles, ranging from manga to superheroes to deluxe and sophisticated European graphic novels. Cross pollination of these global influences with indigenous art and storytelling styles is already creating some unusual syntheses. This worldwide mashup is one of the most exciting and disruptive trends in comics art and graphic design today, and is likely to become more visible and influential as the decade wears on.

Digital adds a compelling new dimension to this dynamic. The conveniences of digital distribution are ideal for globalization. Publishers and creators can reach readers directly through their devices, without the complex logistics of international shipping and retail, and without the need for unreliable local partners. Publishers can make “official” translations available to digital readers quickly and conveniently, offering a viable alternative to the pirated scanware that is such a bane of the mange market. Finally, making official versions of popular transmedia properties – whether they originated in comics or elsewhere – available as downloadable digital graphic stories, offers content providers a great way to differentiate and break through the clutter.

But it’s a two-way street. The same proliferation of networks, technology, transaction platforms and creative skills that are bringing digital comics to overseas markets are also bringing new work back to us. The rising global generation, which is far more numerous and motivated in emerging markets like India, Brazil, Turkey and South Africa, is growing up marinating in both digital culture and global comics culture. Their creative voices are fresh and mature, their ambition and confidence is growing by the day, and the ways in which they are applying the principles of graphic storytelling to their unique locales and social challenges is far broader and more resourceful than anything we are seeing from established markets.

Announcements of top-down alliances in the corporate comics space are flashy, of course. But at the end of the day, the accessibility of Spider-Man to kids in, say, Mexico is  a much smaller story than the availability of global audiences in affluent markets to them and their work.

Watch this space in coming weeks for some profiles of world-changing projects and creators at the global frontier.

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