Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Infinity #7 Out Now!


INFINITY #7 | FREE!
Infinity #7 is out, with some great reviews, a feature on Jaime Hernandez and Locas by Paul Gravett, a nostalgic interview with Martin Lock, a feature-length review of Charley's War, loads of news and more. The SEQUENTIAL version is by far the superior reading experience and is out now. The PDF version is available to download here.



Saturday, 8 March 2014

The 2013 British Comics Explosion












The original illustrated version of this opinion piece by Russell Willis appeared in Infinity #5, released December 2013. You can get the whole magazine free on SEQUENTIAL for iPad. 

Did it have something to do with Blank Slate’s Nelson released at the end of 2011? It could have done… it was such a superb gathering of the best and brightest in comics in the UK, and the pride in its release must have unleashed amazing energies... Yes, I think Nelson was a catalyst for the explosion in the amount of quality comics-related activity now coming from the United Kingdom.

And it really has been a stunning year for comics in Britain, starting off with a major literary prize having two graphic novels shortlisted. Mary and Bryan Talbot’s Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes won the Costa Biography Prize, and Joff Winterhart’s Days of the Bagnold Summer was shortlisted for the main prize. Then Glyn Dillon won the Special Prize at Angoul√™me for The Nao of Brown. And John McNaught won the Newcomer Prize for Dockwood. The Phoenix Comic went from strength to strength, and got an acclaimed iPad app to go with the print version – it was later placed second in TIME Magazine’s Top Ten Graphic Novels and Comics. Paul Gravett had the Tate Gallery publish his Comics Art, as part of their prestigious Art series of books – a major storming of the cultural barricades. Neil Gaiman, whose path to fame started with comics, got more attention than ever before, and was pointedly proud of his comics endeavours. Madefire, the “motion book” app in the US, is raising millions in VC money, driven by Brits Liam Sharp and Ben Wolstenholme.

There were more and better comics events all around. The Edinburgh International Book Festival added a major comics strand to its programming with Stripped. The Lakes International Comic Art Festival, Britain’s version of Angoul√™me, was launched, to massive acclaim. Thought Bubble had more visitors than ever before; Comica brought together comics luminaries all over London. British comics journalists saw more prominence in US publications such as The Beat and The Comics Journal, whilst Rich Johnston continues to power Bleeding Cool.

New independent publishers such as Great Beast published amazing work whilst more established ones such as Blank Slate Books, SelfMadeHero, Myriad Editions, Knockabout and Jonathan Cape put out quality title after quality title. As I write, Cape is getting huge publicity for Isabel Greenberg’s The Encyclopedia of Early Earth which is in Top Tens everywhere, including TIME Magazine’s Top Ten for all fiction.

And perhaps I can dare to include Panel Nine’s efforts with SEQUENTIAL. Publishers Weekly noted “literary graphic novels now have their own app”. And a best-of-class one as well, if I might be so bold!

Yes, 2013 was a fantastic year for comics in Britain. Here’s to 2014!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Interview Part 2: PJ Holden on The State of Digital Comics













The original illustrated version of this interview appeared in Infinity #0, released July 2012. You can get the whole magazine free on SEQUENTIAL for iPad. 

Visit PJ Holden’s website Dial H for Holden.


PART TWO: THE STATE OF DIGITAL COMICS

As one of the pioneers of digital comics for the iPhone, as well as a software engineer and comics artist, PJ Holden is uniquely qualified to discuss digital comics. In the second part of our interview PJ discusses software engineering, user experience, and the market in general.

Russell Willis
I’m interested in how you feel about the various platforms that are available for reading digital comics today. It seems to me that many platforms are badly done. iBooks as a platform for comics, in its current version at least, is extremely irritating from a user experience point of view. I think this is a real step backwards because people can easily be put off reading comics on tablets. Comixology’s comics app is an exception – it does do a good job of presenting comics.

PJ Holden
Many comic readers aren’t great but I think for the vast majority of people, Comixology is it for reading comics. I think in the same way that if you want to buy a comic in the UK, you generally think of Forbidden Planet. That’s not meant to downgrade any others. That’s simply a statement of what I see as being true for the vast majority of people who don’t really know where to go and get these things. I think Comixology is just going to end up having the muscle in numbers.

Russell Willis
I think you are right when you are talking about traditional superhero comics. Comic shop customers who want to buy digital comics are going to move to Comixology. They have Marvel, DC – I don’t think they have Dark Horse right now – but they seem to be the 800 pound gorilla.

PJ Holden
Yeah, Dark Horse have their own app. It’s OK. It’s not amazing – for me as a buyer, Comixology is the preferred way of doing it because it keeps all the comics together. Really, I think we should watch what Apple are going to end up doing because I think Apple at some point will look at the reading experience on iBooks and go, this isn’t ideal for comics – let’s buy Comixology.

If I were Apple, that’s what I’d be doing. I would be thinking about buying up Comixology. But I think Comixology will always be limited in what it can do because it can’t really… because it’s such a big beast, it’s going to be harder for small publishers to get work in there. iVerse seems to be following a Kindle model. You don’t buy it from within the iVerse app. You buy it on a website, on the Diamond Comics website. Diamond, I presume, are hoping that they will have the clout to get people to go to their website rather than just going to Comixology to buy stuff.

Then there are the apps which actually do more. I think if you are going to release a comic, a standalone comic, it needs to do something more. I think Panel Nine has the right idea with the audio stuff on there. You have to bring something different to the table from what Comixology is going to be doing.

Russell Willis
If you are reading Marvel and DC and Image pamphlets, I think Comixology is great. For literary graphic novels, I don’t think that’s the case.

PJ Holden
Nine times out of ten users of Comixology don’t care about the creator. They care about whether Spider-Man’s getting his head punched in. I think it’s one of those things where – I think you can go to McDonald’s and get a Big Mac which will fill you up, or you can go to a really nice gourmet burger place and get something that’s going to taste really nice. 90% of people are going to go and buy McDonald’s; it’s always easier and more convenient to buy something that’s pre-packaged, and you know what you’re getting.

Russell Willis
And through this, Comixology is locking up the superhero comics market as it exists now. There is this transition from people who visit comic shops moving to Comixology. At least Comixology provides a good reading experience whereas some of the things out there – I just downloaded The Walking Dead from iBooks and it’s a really irritating user experience.

PJ Holden
iBooks is horrible. It’s absolutely impossible. When people talk about digital comics there are two strands to it. One is from the perspective of a reader, and one is from a perspective of a comic creator. For a comic creator, iBooks is brilliant because iBooks take a flat 30% because you are directly selling through the App Store. If you are selling through Comixology or iVerse or whoever, their fees are on top of Apple’s flat 30%. Which is why selling through Apple is obviously going to be more attractive to a comic creator.

Russell Willis
If they are prepared to do their own PR and promotion etc.

PJ Holden
Many comics people kind of feel that all you have to do is stick it up there and it’s on its way.

Russell Willis
Right, which is not the case at all.

PJ Holden
We are not long-sighted really, we are very short-sighted. It’s like, I’ve done my work. Now I want people to see it. I will put it on a website. There you go. 

Russell Willis
I think people will move to the better user experience. You designed a great UX for Murderdrome early on and I think Comixology has a  good user experience. Graphicly less so, iVerse not really. I consider iVerse, Graphicly, and Comixology the big three of digital comics platforms right now. But iVerse is just showing you one page. You can kind of zoom in but just in the way that you normally can on an iPad. There’s no real panel mode, as we call it. It has the fewest features, whereas Graphicly has a kind of panel mode but it’s not very well implemented. In fact Graphicly always seems to have lots of bugs in it. I always have problems with their software.

PJ Holden
I think Graphicly’s problem has been that they have secured lots and lots and lots of investor funding but haven’t really secured the software base.

Russell Willis
Absolutely. How do you feel about Graphicly’s new ‘pay to have your comic published digitally’ approach? It seems like a last ditch attempt by Graphicly to be relevant.

PJ Holden
I think there needs to be something like that though. I think there needs to be some way for anyone to just upload their own comics and put them on there, because I think there’s a market for that. The market may never buy that many of those comics but I do feel that there’s a lot of people who want to do it.

Russell Willis
I worry because my experience of their product makes me feel that they just don’t have it together from a software-engineering point of view. I think what could happen is a lot of bug-ridden, shoddy crap is going to come out. The content we can’t judge, but in terms of the actual software experience a lot of it is going to be broken, a lot of it is going to be buggy. You are going to have panel mode-type functions that don’t work. I can see it potentially being a bit of a disaster for Graphicly.

PJ Holden
I would say as well that the content is not going to be great. The sure thing is that a lot of people want to make comics but not a lot of people are really capable of doing it well.

Russell Willis
Sure. Absolutely. I worry that if people are exposed to too much rubbish they will tend to tar everything with the same brush. It’s problematic when you’ve got lots and lots of badly created, badly written comics with bad software engineering in the market. It’s not a nice prospect.

PJ Holden
The thing that puts me off of the idea of paying Graphicly right now is the fact that they don’t have an iPad app. It smells like their investors have invested bucketloads of money, so now what Graphicly has to do is create some sort of bubble to make investors keep their money in. And the quickest way to do that is to make it look like they’ve got a lot of people wanting to use their software. How do they do that? They get a lot of people signing up for free. That’s the way. Those things inevitably lead to a massive crash.

Russell Willis
Yeah, I find the whole situation very precarious. 

PJ Holden
Although one of the worst pieces of advice we received back in the Murderdrome days was not to get investment, just do it ourselves. I think had we got a couple of million pounds of investment for Murderdrome etc. – which was a possibility – we may have been even further on than the current players…

Russell Willis
I think you should have gone for that investment. A key issue with investment is who you get it from. I’ve raised millions of dollars of venture capital investment in my time from a variety of different types of investors. Really, it depends on the investor. You might want the money but you don’t want the money at any price.

PJ Holden
I have to say, I can’t really complain because I ended up drawing comics which is sort of what I wanted to do. There’s a certain pleasure in being able to say, ‘I could have been rich, but I decided against it!’

I do think the state of digital comics is interesting. It feels like there are very few people trying very hard any more though. Apart from you guys – and I say that not because I am talking to you now! – but a lot of them seem to think, let’s put the comic out there and now another comic, and now another comic. Nobody has really asked what we can do to make this medium slightly unique or different or whatever.

Russell Willis
For us we’re doing two lines: The first line is what you’ve seen with Eddie Campbell and David Lloyd, and that’s basically taking something that was perfectly designed for print, and making a sleek, responsive experience with additions such as audio commentaries, exclusive interviews etc. The other is to commission new work designed especially for the iPad.

PJ Holden
I think one of the things that’s really evident is that comics are not books. They are certainly not digital books. I think if you have a book reader, you can’t just go, I’ll slap some comics on to this.

Russell Willis
That’s what you would have thought… Many people are sceptical about the future of digital comics. I think they’ve ignored the point that the game changer is the iPad, is the touch screen tablet itself and the lean-back experience that allows you to immerse yourself in a comic on a tablet – sitting hunched up squinting at a computer monitor is a very, very different experience.

PJ Holden
It changes everything. Comics to me are an intimate reading experience. With the best in the world you can never get intimate with your computer. The ability to sit with an iPad on your lap or in a car or wherever and read it and not have any other thing in your way. There’s no keyboard on there. There’s nothing. It’s about what you’re looking at on the screen. 

Russell Willis
I’m glad to hear you feel the same way. It is the iPad, the touch screen mobile tablet that makes all the difference. The term ‘digital comics’ is very broad, so it could mean comics that have been digitised and stuck on a CD-ROM, it could mean web comics on a computer monitor, but I am really interested in comics on the iPad and similar devices. I think that’s where the future lies; and I know you do too. 

PJ Holden
I think there are two big factors. First is that the device is a great thing but the second is the ease of distribution. It’s so easy to get your own work out there compared to going through Diamond and Diamond’s crazy systems. Even if you’re going through Comixology, and taking into account that Apple take 30% plus Comixology take a percentage, you’re still probably giving up less than what Diamond take.

Russell Willis
Are you buying fewer physical comics these days?

PJ Holden
Weirdly I have bought more print comics since reading comics on my iPad, because what I would often do is I will buy a thing and I’ll go, that’s really lovely. I think I’ll buy that in hardback.

Russell Willis
Yeah. You want the physical souvenir for stuff you really love. The physical artefact. Especially if you have the collector instinct.

PJ Holden
I’ll go and buy a hardback. Digital comics can be pricey and I usually only buy during sales. I’ll wait until they’re on sale for 69p.

Russell Willis
It’s going to be interesting how the pricing model for those pamphlets turns out. We’re dealing with pricing models for our ‘deluxe digital graphic novels’ like Kickback. For example, it’s $9.99 which is cheaper than the hardback book, but it could still be considered quite a bit for a digital product. But if you work it out, it’s 150 pages. It comes to a price of about $1.20 for 20 pages. 

PJ Holden
One of the problems of creating stuff digitally is that it’s very hard to get a measure of its weight.

Russell Willis
Right! Its heft.

PJ Holden
Yeah, its heft. The digital comic with 150 pages looks the same as one with 20 pages. What Panel Nine has done with the audio stuff so clearly differentiates your product.

I think the market will fall into three areas (and I’m going into dodgy forecasting territory here). One will be for this sort of pamphlet stuff that comes out of Comixology and possibly people putting their work up through that. I think there will also be room for a kind of Lulu.com-type application or company that allows anyone to upload materials and sell it as a comic or magazine through their own app. Anyone will be able to put comics into that. I think there’s an open end in the digital comics market for that. I think there’s a third category which will be the big heavy hardback type, the sort of thing that you would go, that’s the kind of comic I want on the coffee table, which will require things like audio commentaries, video interviews, pencils. It will require all that stuff to make it feel like it’s worth spending £12 or £15 on it.

Russell Willis
And there’s the issue of the different audience. I often look at someone like Raymond Briggs, or more recently Alison Bechdel. I think with her new graphic novel Are You My Mother? they are doing 100,000 copies as an initial print run. We are set up to do digital versions of that kind of thing. We could make them look gorgeous, and then add audio commentaries and all of the extra stuff that you might want to include in print but can’t because it becomes prohibitively expensive. And I am imagining the audience that would read Alison Bechdel or Raymond Briggs is not going to be as price-sensitive as those reading She-Hulk

With deluxe versions of printed graphic novels it’s easy to say to the potential buyer ‘150 pages plus all these extras’ and customers get what you mean. It’s going to be more problematic when things are designed specially for initial publication on the iPad.

PJ Holden 
Right, DC have a couple of digital exclusive comics that are 22 pages. They look gorgeous on the iPad because they are exactly sized for the iPad. So you have around 22 screens but we are clearly talking about half the material that would be in a standard 22-page comic. It’s one of those things that needs to be figured out.

Russell Willis
I know you have to run now… thanks for your time today, Paul, it’s been great talking with you.

PJ Holden
It’s been a pleasure.

This interview took place by telephone on March 30th, 2012 and has been edited for length and clarity.

Visit PJ Holden’s website Dial H for Holden.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

We're Looking for Strips for Infinity

We're looking for strips of between 1~4 pages long for forthcoming issues of Infinity. Any genre (although superheroes would be a long shot) including humour (for which we'll accept newspaper style strips).


If you're interested, get in touch with Russell Willis. We pay. Not much, but we pay. Not a problem if published on your blog previously.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Interview Part 1: PJ Holden on Murderdrome and Digital Comics


The original illustrated version of this interview appeared in Infinity #0, released July 2012. You can get the whole magazine free on SEQUENTIAL for iPad.


PART ONE: CNN IS CALLING FOR YOU…

Paul (’PJ’) Holden woke up on a sunny morning in his native Belfast to find himself the centre of worldwide media attention. It was 2009 and the established comic-strip artist (whose work is currently appearing in 2000 AD and Strip Magazine) had been dabbling in a little thing called digital comics…

Russell Willis 
It’s May 2009, you’re sitting at your drawing board in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and CNN and the world is talking about you… How did this all come about?

PJ Holden
It all happened within about a two-week period. I was talking to a software developer at a friend’s wedding and told him I wanted to do something with comics because I thought the iPhone would be a spectacular device for comics. This was because in the UK, especially, we have a tradition of different physical-sized comics which America doesn’t really have. I was thinking really of Commando comics, which is a kind of digest-sized comic where you get two panels per page. That’s it. There’s not room for much within that. I kind of reasoned that, well, if you treat each screen of the iPhone as its own page, you could have a comic. It ticks all the boxes in Scott McCloud’s definition of what a comic is. It’s sequential images juxtaposed against each other to tell a story.

The software developer from the wedding, Phil Orr, turned out to be an iPhone programmer at a time when there were very few iPhone programmers. He had wanted to do a children’s storybook. We sat down and I thrashed out a couple of ideas and we developed the software and I drew the comic.

It was a two-page comic – a proof of concept more than anything else. I had said to him and I said to a bunch of other people, look, we could do market research here. We could go and spend a fortune trying to figure out if this is the sort of thing that would sell or we could actually just do it and put it up there and see if it sells. I kind of reasoned that one would cost as much as the other. Oddly it cost less to actually just do it and put it out there than it would have cost for us the invest time and the effort to do the market research. 

So it seemed like the most sensible thing to do was just to do it, and do a very, very simple proof of concept to see if this would work. And so we submitted Murderdrome. We sent it to Apple’s App Store and the great wait began…

Russell Willis
I understand that it was written by Al Ewing, is that right?

PJ Holden
That’s right, and the thing with Murderdrome was it was conceived as software and comic at almost exactly the same time. Unlike a lot of stuff that’s out there, Murderdrome the comic was drawn specifically for the iPhone. A lot of stuff that we did on it was only possible because we were doing it at the same time as developing the software.

One of the things that we did was this sort of multiple layers of having pencils, inks, and colours and so on, and to allow for multiple languages. You could have had multiple languages in the same comic with the same artwork because of how we built the software. At that time I think there were about five or six comics on the App Store. All of those were repurposed content, so what we were doing was a completely new thing. So we submitted this to Apple and the friend who had gone off to get married went on honeymoon. By the time he came back from honeymoon, we had just got word from Apple that they were rejecting the app. 

Russell Willis
On what grounds?

PJ Holden
Essentially they were rejecting it because the content was too violent. And it was quite violent. But it was a very silly comic. It was essentially an exaggerated spoof of all the boys’ comics from the 70s that featured futuristic sports where people have to die in order to play. The Mean Arena in 2000 AD is a good example of it. There would be street battles and people would be shot with lasers and all sorts of craziness. Murderdrome was sort of an exaggeration of that. In order to score a goal in Murderdrome, you had to decapitate an opposing player and use their head as a ball. I think when you hear the idea about how to score a goal it’s instantly funny. It’s so over the top.

Russell Willis
Did Apple have their rating system sorted out? Because when you submit an app now you need to define how offensive it might be.

PJ Holden
I did a lot of interviews at the time and one of the things I said was that ‘if Apple introduced a proper rating system…’ because Apple had a rating system for games, but at that point had never considered or didn’t appear to have considered the idea that people would be trying to sell content.

As far as Apple was concerned, people were going to sell software, and so videogames needed a rating because that’s the sort of software that you need to have a rating on but nothing else would need it – you wouldn’t need a rating, for example, on an application that told you about astronomy or how to do your accounts. So Apple had a rating system but if you weren’t a videogame you had to have a PG rating, the thinking went. I also think that, frankly, if Apple’s American sensibilities were closer to British sensibilities, there’s a good chance they would have let us through: it was just a stupid and ridiculous spoof.

Russell Willis
Do you think they were also concerned because it was a comic, and ‘comics are for kids’ and therefore it would mislead kids into buying material that wasn’t suitable? 
PJ Holden
Yeah, but I find that with Apple that the more you try to scrutinise them the more inscrutable they are.

Russell Willis
(Laughter) Very true.

PJ Holden
We got a two-line response saying if you simply tone down the content then you can resubmit, which looked like a form letter to me… The premise of it is that you decapitate a player to score a goal… I talked to friends about it afterwards and said, look – the thing is if you tone it down what you do is you actually make it worse, because by toning it down you remove the fact that it is really satire. Once you get rid of, say, the outrageous method of scoring a goal and replace it with something more realistic it just becomes utterly violent.

Russell Willis
Now it’s just nasty. Yeah.

PJ Holden
It just becomes nasty. That’s the thing. It’s like any joke, really. The more exaggerated that is, the funnier it becomes; and the less exaggerated it is, the more it becomes a statement rather than a joke. I enjoyed the fact that it was ridiculous and over the top and just very silly. There is a sequence in it where one character goes, ‘I killed them with my bare hands’, and the camera pulls up and you’re looking down at the guy shaking his fists. It only works because it’s deliberately over the top. It’s like saying to Monty Python about the Holy Grail: you can’t exaggerate anything. It has to be about a search for the Holy Grail, and then what have you got left?
Russell Willis
So you refused to tone it down and pleaded your case?

PJ Holden
Yeah, so we waited and waited and waited and Apple took a while but they eventually rejected it again.

Matt Johnston, the guy whose honeymoon it was, was always going to be the third partner along with myself and Phil. Matt had a good business head and had started up a couple of businesses and so we kind of sat down and we went, Matt, while you’ve been away we did this; and we sent it to Apple and they rejected it. Do you want to send out a press release? He went, yeah sure, I’ll send out a press release. I can’t emphasise enough how much things were done on a whim. Let’s do this, let’s try this. What about this? There was no plan in place.

So Matt went, yeah, I will send out a press release. I sent an email to Rich Johnston at the Bleeding Cool website. At the time, these rejections were making news. Apple had just rejected an app that was a photograph of a knife and when you made a stabbing motion with the phone, it would make the sound from Psycho… it was a joke app… it was clearly over the top; Apple rejected it. I am not quite sure on what grounds, but there was a big stink in the press. We’re talking the early days of apps. These were the first kind of apps that were coming out. Apple were rejecting one thing after another. Each of these things that was being rejected was getting a bit of press. At that point, Apple were rejecting things, and people were going, oh, freedom of speech, freedom of speech. With the Murderdrome app I felt that because Apple had rejected it, that in itself was enough for a little bit of coverage. Because Apple had rejected it on the grounds of content there was also a freedom of speech issue. You can squint at it and say it’s a freedom of speech issue.

I thought those two things would be enough to get a little bit of coverage and I thought that would do us no harm. We sent this stuff out… and it got phenomenal coverage. It got so much coverage that I can’t even begin to look at it without thinking: ‘Good grief!’ It was like – what was it like? I put a pebble in the water and it caused a tsunami. The reaction was so much bigger than the actual action and we were all reeling, the three of us were reeling. 

At the time, I was working for a charity doing computer work. I had been there about nine years. I couldn’t justify leaving the job because it was so well paid. It was so easy. It was only three days a week and I could draw comics the rest of the time. There was just no way I could turn around and say I want to leave this brilliantly paid job that’s part-time. A job that let me spend so much time at home. I couldn’t say I wanted to leave that job for a badly paid job; a job that would mean I would have to work every single hour. Any rational person would look at it and say that I would be mad to drop such a great job… But we were getting international coverage… The story was all over the blogosphere and so on.

Russell Willis
The press were featuring images from the comics in their coverage?

PJ Holden
Yes, but it was just a two-page comic – I put a YouTube video on it out at the same time to show the app more, because no one had seen it. And it was hard to explain in words what the app was about. But when you saw the app and how it was used, it looked magical because again, this is pre-iPad, and this is sort of the early day of apps. 
One of the things was the – I can explain it to you by saying ‘you swipe your finger down and the inks are replaced by pencils’, but what happened was when you swiped your finger down there was a magical sort of metamorphosis where the inks were replaced by pencils and the inks slowly disappeared over the lead pencils. If you are into art, into comic art, then that in itself is like this beautiful magical thing.

I did a silent video of me demonstrating the application. I put it on YouTube and we put the press release out at the same time. Within a week we had 40,000 views on YouTube. Now, if you sold 40,000 copies of a comic that would be a phenomenal sale. 40,000 views in a week on YouTube was like, oh, my!

The other thing we did – because Apple had rejected the app was… Well, they were opening an Apple Store in Belfast and I thought it’d be hilariously funny to print up some T-shirts with our logo on it from the game, from Murderdrome. It was like a skull and cross and two bones which was the tattoo from a character in it and it became part of the logo.

I thought, what we’ll do is go down to the Apple Store that’s opening and we’ll hand these T-shirts out whilst people are queueing. I reasoned that if we only do up five or six T-shirts and give them to the people in the front of the queue, what’s going to happen is that the BBC will be there to film the fact that there’s a queue there, but they’ll also be interested in the first few people going in. They wouldn’t film the tail end of it or the middle of it, they’ll only film the first few. That’s exactly what happened. If you ever see the video, it looks like every person in the queue has a Murderdrome T-shirt. 
Then they interviewed one of the guys there, the BBC did an interview with him. He was wearing the T-shirt as well. It seemed like this sort of – it was like we were going through this period where everything we decided to do on a whim was working out in the best possible way.

It was strange. It was easily the strangest experience of my life. We did a couple of kids’ comics which instead of sort of using the PR from Murderdrome we just kind of went, no, we don’t want to associate with that because people will think of blood and death and these are kids’ comics so we don’t want to do that, which was maybe in hindsight a bit daft. We did those and I showed the apps off at a couple of comic conventions and we ended up fielding calls from senior editors at DC Comics, senior people at Marvel. Then we got an email out of the blue from Universal Studios in the States asking if we wanted to look at developing our app for their comics, for the TV series Heroes. We had a couple of conference calls with those guys and in the end that’s what we did. It was at that point that I chucked my job in.

I should say this was all within maybe two weeks of the app being rejected.

Russell Willis
That was a powerful press release!

PJ Holden
If you just happen to have the magic words in it – and at that time all eyes were on Apple, all eyes were on things being banned. Those were the things that made – I think it got picked up at one place, then another, then another, then another because it was a hot issue for a little while. The mistake I made, with hindsight, is clear – the mistake I made was thinking that those 40,000 views on YouTube meant something. What they really meant was that we were this week’s cat playing the piano. That’s all we were. But I thought this was it, this is it. Guys, we’ve reinvented comics for the iPhone. We have completely destroyed Diamond Distribution and print is dead. And I am going through a bit of a mad period because publicity about what we had done was everywhere.

Russell Willis
You were imagining that every person that viewed the YouTube video would buy an app…

PJ Holden
I just assumed. 40,000 views, that translates to – even for a pessimist – that translates to at least 30,000 people or 30,000 purchases, which is good money in comics. No matter what way you cut it… which of course was nonsense! 

The important thing about the video was that it was seen by a couple of people at senior positions in NBC and DC and a few other places, that were then capable of turning around and saying, look, can we have a chat with you.

Russell Willis
And this was before Comixology, before Graphicly, before any of these major digital comics distributors had really got off the ground.

PJ Holden
I think the guy at iVerse had come to the same conclusion as me which was that digital comics were going to be big. It was the press coverage of Murderdrome that attracted all the attention to digital comics and I knew iVerse had seen it, and the head of iVerse then had to make a move which sort of prompted him to push a little bit faster I think. That was iVerse; Comixology ultimately came in and they realised that it wasn’t really about the technology, it was all about what publishers you established relationships with. It was about that. It was about whether you can get Marvel on board, whether you can get DC on board. Everything else is almost a secondary consideration.

In a space of two weeks we ended up with a big contract to write an application for Universal to do comics with them – and I left my job. I left the job thinking, I am going to go off now and do comics and I’m going to do digital comics. This is going to be awesome. 

Russell Willis
What happened to the Heroes comic? Did that get published?

PJ Holden
Weirdly they limited it so it would only be on sale in the US. What we found was the bigger the company we were dealing with, the more people had to have their fingers in it. The more people that had their fingers in it, the less people wanted to do it. The NBC guy who really wanted to push this was their head of mobile application development. The people who really didn’t want to do it were the people who actually did the comics. One was pulling and the other one was pushing and in the end the comic was released – in a form nowhere near what we wanted to do with it. And it took longer because they kept changing their minds about what they wanted. It was only available in America. I can’t even download the thing to look at.

It was only me and one other guy involved in the programming of it. When I left everything was working but the moment Apple changed their devices they would have required him to update things and he would have had to do more development. Once I left to focus on drawing comics I – I wouldn’t say I cut ties, but I was moving forwards rather than backwards.

Russell Willis
The company name was Infurious, right? I think there is a sort of remnant of that website still around on there.

PJ Holden
We had enormous plans. One of the plans that we had was – in a way I am sorry it never really came about – was that we had planned that there’d be a comic reader and backend website that allowed anyone to submit comics, and the backend was going to allow you to submit material to it and press a button and it would be available on the comic reader.

I kind of came up with – we were going to call it Infurious Republic to push the idea that it’s for anyone. Anyone could submit their comics. It’s taken a while but Graphicly I think are doing the same sort of thing. We talked about that two or three years ago or whenever it was because I felt that the way to do it was to give people access, upload the stuff, possibly charging $10 or something for a joining fee and maybe $10 for uploading the thing because it was one of those things – in a gold rush the people making money are the people who sell picks – that kind of thing. 

Russell Willis
As you had the contract with Universal for the Heroes comic, I assume you were planning to do something along those lines. What happened?

PJ Holden
I think we were just a little too early and at the same time all this stuff had swept over me, and I had found myself going from a part-time computer job to a full-time computer job and had even less time to draw. It didn’t quite work out the way that I had imagined. My younger son had just been born and then tragically my wife’s brother committed suicide and that completely – it pulled everything from under my family and it made me sort of re-evaluate exactly what was going on. I kind of thought: I really want to draw. All I want to do is draw. 

Because of my wife Annette’s brother I kind of – I’ve lost some family of mine as well years and years ago, and every so often you lose a close family member and you think, what am I doing? Am I really doing something that I – if this is the last thing I do, will I be happy? 

I realised I didn’t want to reinvent comics distribution on a digital platform. What I wanted to do was draw comics.

In Part Two PJ discusses the state of digital comics and how he threw away a chance to be at the centre of a booming business in order to follow his passion: drawing comics.

The second part of this interview will be available here shortly, or you can read it in Infinity #0 available on SEQUENTIAL.