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Comics Interview

Russell Willis interview part one - The Sequential comics app

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Russell Willis made a name for himself in the 1980s writing, editing and publishing the influential fanzine INFINITY, which featured contributions from comics luminaries including Alan Moore, Posy Simmonds, Eddie Campbell, David Lloyd and Bryan Talbot.

After 25 years in publishing - which saw the foundation of his digital company Panel Nine in Japan - Willis has returned to comics with the iPad app Sequential. The digital graphic novel platform offers some of the best in the medium from top publishers and creators from the UK and the rest of the world, with a focus on adult, non-superhero content.

Russell Willis

Russell Willis



What does Sequential offer that other digital platforms do not?
"A significantly superior reading experience. Sequential was built from the ground up for reading graphic novels, and we've taken a meticulous approach to making sure that using the app is a beautiful, super-smooth, responsive, intuitive experience. We've built in Panel Mode, which allows users to read one panel at a time, we have a gorgeous visual contents that allows an easy overview of what's being read, we've got visual bookmarks, audio commentaries and more, including the ability to display content developed in HTML 5.

"Nearly everyone who uses our app remarks on how responsive and easy to use it is. It's been described as the gold standard for reading graphic novels, and it's a world away from an ePub or PDF."

What advantages does digital offer over print?
"Availability is one - the fact that you can wake up at 3am in the morning in Tokyo and download a graphic novel to your iPad is a huge benefit. Convenience is another - it only takes a few taps to purchase that graphic novel, and you don't have to lug huge books around with you.

"With Sequential you get a great way of reading graphics through our Panel Mode - and many people find reading graphic novels panel by panel (or a sequence of panels) to be a much more immersive experience than page by page, because with the latter the eye is often distracted by other panels in your peripheral vision.

"Of course, the quality of the image on the screen (especially on the retina iPads) is stunning - better than print. And because it's digital, we can add production sketches, interviews, synchronised audio and video commentaries to the mix - material that would either be too expensive or just impossible to add to the book."

Sequential round-up

Sequential round-up



Do you think there is a point where publishers can go overboard with adding extras/innovations/animations to a digital comic?
"I'm not a fan of 'motion comics'. I think you often get a combination of bad animation and bad comics. However, I think complementary materials via video and audio - and for kids' games - are great, if they are done right. Again it comes down to the design of the user experience - too many apps just get this badly wrong.

"The other issue with added features is cost - right now, very few graphic novels can justify the expense of adding too many expensive complementary features. In Sequential we've created methods for publishers and artists to add extra features to their book without having to hire developers to create expensive specialist software."

Are you planning an Android version of the Sequential app?
"A big issue for developers is that Android is a very fragmented operating system with lots of people using different versions - this makes creating a quality app that will work on all versions a challenge. At the same time, for every app sold on Android, three or four are sold on iOS - so despite Android having a larger installed base, iOS is where the market is. Having said that, we expect to announce an Android version at the end of the year."

Sequential features some self-published and creator-owned works. How are you reaching out to independent creators?
"We are definitely looking to work with independent creators and we are keeping a close eye on what's out there. Creators are always welcome to contact us via the Panel Nine website."

You started out working on some separate apps for Kickback, Dapper John and The Phoenix. Are you planning any more of these or are you focusing all your attention on Sequential?
"The main focus of our efforts over the next year will be on Sequential, but we are also working with other publishers to put their materials on Newsstand and container apps. Our Newsstand platform and magazine reader engine is world-class, and it can be used for a wide variety of publications, not just graphic novels."

Sequential round-up

Sequential round-up



Now that you have launched internationally can we expect you to be announcing deals with publishers from across the globe?
"Absolutely. We already have some big US publishers coming on board and we'll be announcing titles from them and others shortly."

What are your thoughts on digital rights management in comics?
"Sequential is an app for the iPad - we deliver it as an app because that's the only way we can provide the kind of delightful reading experience that we wanted to provide. iPad apps work on the iPad and so DRM is included by default - and without the iPad you just don't have the same product.

"Even so, I would be in favour of providing registered users of Sequential a PDF of the graphic novel they bought so they have something, however basic, they can read on other platforms - this is something we are discussing with publishers."

The Sequential iPad app is currently available in the UK and Ireland, with a worldwide launch imminent.

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