Digital Comics Update: Dark Horse launches Digital, NBM goes interactive, Nook gets Graphicly app, Archie translates digital to Spanish

Comic books continue their evolution into digital comics, where the sequential art form is available on mobile devices like the iPad and Android, game systems like the PSP, and web browsers. Expanding in distribution, getting more competitive with prices, and experimenting with interactivity – these are all good signs that digital comics might be growing from infant to toddler.

After some delays, Dark Horse Comics will launch their anticipated Dark Horse Digital program later today. The system was built in-house and uses a web-based system supplemented by apps for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. The comics will be priced starting at $1.49 $0.99 (versus competing apps that have comics starting at $1.99), and will be available in bundles as though you’re buying a full graphic novel collection. The app will be free and come loaded with the first issue of Hellboy: Seeds of Destruction by Mike Mignola and John Byrne. There will also be five free comics available: the first issues of Criminal Macabre by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, Joss Whedon‘s Fray, Mike Mignola’s Abe Sapien: The Drowning, Gerard Way‘s Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite, and Mass Effect: Redemption. The app will have hundreds of other comics for download, including issues of Conan, Joss Whedon’s Serenity, Eric Powell‘s The Goon and more. An Android app will follow.

Meanwhile on the Nook Color, Barnes & Noble has launched a new app store which includes three graphic novel apps from Graphic.ly: Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Petersen, Mark Millar and JG JonesWanted, and Mark Waid‘s Irredeemable. All of the apps have been specially optimized for the Nook Color e-reader, which uses Google’s Android platform. Graphicly also has digital comics from major comics publishers available on the iPad, iPhone/iPad Touch and Android, on the web, Adobe Air, and Google’s Chrome browser app.

Dinosaurs Across America (iPad screenshot)

NBM Publishing and their all-ages Papercutz imprint has teamed up with TWP Interactive to produce what they are billing as the first interactive graphic novel, Dinosaurs Across America by Phil Yeh. (It’s not the first, but it’s still cool.) Dinosaurs Across America was first published as a traditional graphic novel in print in 2007. It was named one of the best 25 graphic novels of the year by School Library Journal and has won acclaim for its ability to teach geography to children. The new interactive edition allows the reader to zoom in on individual states, learn fun facts and play with puzzles. The interactive version is now available for $9.99 as an app for iOS devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch), and for $4.99 as an e-book on Koobits.

And finally, Archie Comics continues its aggressive pursuit of digital, launching Spanish language versions of some of their digital comics Monday. The comics are available on Archie Digital, as well as their iOS app for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch provided by iVerse, and the Sony PSP. An Android app is coming soon. Further translations into French and Hindi are planned as well.

Mark Millar’s Trouble: Pedophilia the Marvel Way

Some geek scouring of Amazon revealed a listing for a hardcover collection of the 2003 Marvel Comics mini-series Trouble by Mark Millar and Terry Dodson scheduled for release on June 8, 2011. Yup, that’s the cover of the first issue from 2003. Classy, no?

Mark Millar has made a significant name for himself, most notably to the public at large for being the creative mind behind the Hollywood movies Kick-Ass and Wanted, both based on comic book mini-series he wrote (the former with artist John Romita, Jr., and the latter with J. G. Jones). (Terry Dodson is also a pretty popular comics artist, having worked on characters like Spider-Man, Wonder Woman and the X-Men.) So it makes sense for Marvel to mine its back catalog for material with Millar’s name on it. But I have to admit I never thought this comic would ever see the light of day again.

The concept is that Spider-Man’s Aunt May and Uncle Ben, while teenagers and not yet married, go on a double date with Spider-Man’s future parents to a resort in the Hamptons for summer vacation. It’s never explicitly stated that’s who they are (no last names are ever given), but the intent is pretty obvious. The story soon turns into a very special episode dealing with teen pregnancy.

As if that wasn’t blasphemous enough for longtime Spider-Man fans, Marvel inexplicably decided that instead of comics art on the covers, each of the five issues should use uncomfortable pictures of young girls in bathing suits, like the one creeping you out right now. The idea was to have French photographer Phillipe Biabolos mimic the covers of romance novels in an effort to draw in female readers. Idea and execution don’t always stay on the same path.

You see, this comic was supposed to help resurrect the long stagnant romance genre in comics, which was huge in the late 1940s and early 1950s, bringing in tons of female readers. But in 1954 the comics industry felt pressured to create a self-censorship board following some heated Senate hearings on the dangers of comics to America’s youth. So romance comics became boring and people stopped reading. By the 1970s the genre was dead. Flash forward to 2003, and Marvel Comics realizes that drawing from a demographic consisting of just over half the population could be a pretty good strategy. So they decided to give romance comics a go again. And then proceeded to royally botch it up with creepy covers of possibly under-age girls and an unnecessary connection to Marvel’s superhero mascot.

The series, conceived and written entirely by men who work almost exclusively in the superhero genre, failed to find an audience in comics shops. Many of those stores had very likely never tried to sell a romance comic before. And let’s be honest, they had an uphill battle. I have a hard time imagining someone who would be interested in romance comics feeling comfortable buying something with that cover. It’s got Pedobear written all over it.

As you might expect, it was lambasted by readers and drew a lot of critical ire at the time. In fact, it faired so poorly that the softcover collection of the individual issues, which would have been distributed to bookstores so female readers might actually discover it, was cancelled. Who knows? Maybe book stores took one look at it and refused to carry it. Regardless, the aborted graphic novel seemed to be an unspoken message of “Forget it. It never happened.”

And yet, here it comes again. Has it aged well? I guess we’ll find out. I’d love to hear Mark Millar or Terry Dodson’s thoughts on the comic now with some time passed. Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada and former Marvel publisher Bill Jemas were also heavily involved in the concept and design of the comic, so I’m curious about their thoughts as well. Any regrets? Any realizations that maybe this could’ve been pulled off better? Or did everyone just overreact and misread everything?

(It should be noted that sometimes these super-advanced Amazon listings end up being completely wrong. So it’s entirely possible this never comes out. But it’s a good excuse to revisit this failed attempt at reaching female readers. Quite a few major comics publishers have plenty of examples. And sometimes they even get it right.)