July 10, 2012

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Digging into Digital: The Whole Story Debuts

Comics creator Ryan Estrada is a fascinating man.  He's a human dynamo, always doing something.  His stories related in comic form, all of which he swears are true, are everything from comedic events to dangerous tales of survival.  He has tips on traveling lightly and cheaply and even learning new languages. An early adopter of G+ when that was still something people admitted they used, Estrada would be a person of interest to me even if he had nothing to do with comics.

Last week, Estrada took another turn, becoming a digital publisher with the formation of The Whole Story, a new digital comics offering that allows customers to download their own PDFs or read online, depending on their preference.  Until July 23rd, pricing is flexible, with changes coming after that time.  Currently, you can download three books for free, add a fourth book for $10, add three books (for a total of 6) for $25, and unlock the whole set (as well as codes for five friends and audio commentary) for $50.  There's also a $100 and $200 option that involves getting an SD card and artwork.

It's quite an ambitious project, but Estrada is an ambitious man.  Basing the website on ideas drawn from other digital comics websites, Estrada has incorporated the things he sees people liking (tiered pricing, the ability to OWN a copy of the work, extras for those who care for such things) while still finding a way to be able to have the site make money so the creators involved can be paid.  In some ways, it's a bit of a reverse Kickstarter.  Depending on your level of interest in this project, you get a variety of rewards in the form of books/art.  The difference, of course, is that Estrada has already put forth the investment with the expectation that people will be interested.  If Twitter buzz is any indication, it looks like Estrada's guess was correct.

For the initial offerings, Estrada has leaned heavily on three artists:  Himself, Box Brown, and Korean artist Nam Dong Yoon, whose work is appearing in English for the first time as a part of this project.  In addition to graphic novels from this trio, Estrada created two jam books that feature Yoon on art, but are "translated" by a host of well-known English creators.  Yoon created the story, but the translators were encouraged to write their own script to accompany it, not unlike an improv game where a movie is played and the comedians provide new dialog, trying to be as witty as they can.  "Fusion Elementary" has scripting by webcomics giants Meredith Gran and Ryan North as well as Jeffrey Brown, but the best section is a laugh out loud portion by Katie Cook of the webcomic Gronk.  "Fusion Future" works more on the gag strip format, with dialogue by more webcomic icons, including Shaenon Garrity, Anthony Clark, David Malki!, and Erika Moen, as well as Doug TenNapel.

Estrada called this "The Whole Story" because he wants each book to tell a whole story, not be a continuing saga.  This is about graphic novels and short stories, not issue by issue work.  As a result, pricing is going to be a bit higher than the impulse spending of 99 cents on, say, a Monkeybrain title.  I'll be curious to see how that works in the long run, especially if the pricing structure moves into something where the entry price isn't just $1 for three graphic novels, as is hinted after July 23rd.  The site indicates that Estrada intends to make this an ongoing concern, with plans for Free Comic Book Day next year (an excellent idea, in my opinion) and a submissions policy for those interested.

The Whole Story looks like a great idea, and I can tell you from the books I've read so far that the quality is top-notch (reviews to come this week).  At $1 for three books, anyone who is even remotely interested in digital comics you can OWN needs to jump on this, and I'd even advocate going to the $10 level, at the very least, because "Fusion Future" is totally worth it and getting four full books for $2.50 apiece is an amazing value.  Anyone who likes Box Brown should upgrade to $25, and you're still looking at only $4 a book at that point.  Think about how many Comixology single issues you've picked up for $4!

We may not have the whole story of "The Whole Story" yet, but it's definitely off to a great start.  I hope it continues to do well!