By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Powfolio is a mobile app for iOS and Android looking to change how people look at comic books. This software has been out since early 2016 and they are making a new push to be known throughout the industry. Back in a different century, when printed versions could be found nearly everywhere, at corner stores and supermarkets, this era is distinguished by being able to find digital content very easily. While some towns may see a few supermarkets carry Archie paperbacks, to find that is very few and far between. CEO David Campiti (pictured top right) of Glass House Graphics (a talent agency / studio of artists who are hired to produce work for comic book companies like Dark Horse) fondly recalls those days when they were far more accessible. Today, the only place these rags can be found are at speciality operations.
“There was a McNamara’s drugstore right up the street from where I lived that carried almost everything, From Marvel, DC, Classics Illustrated, Gold Key, Harvey, Warren … If you name it, they had it,” recalled Campiti. “Skip forward to now, [the distribution of] comics have been shrunk down into a very niche market of 1800 shops scattered across the US. This means an entire generation of children has never held a comic book in their hands.”
As a father who delivered presentations at his young daughter’s school, talking about his job in the comic book industry, he’s seen the result of the times. In today’s digital age, he sees more children tuned to their mobiles than a paper product. As he was handing out free products (Marvel Comic’s X-Men) to the kids, he was astounded to hear one boy say, “You mean there’s a comic book too?”
By seeing that not many children know much about their favourite heroes, much less know about their origins in print, Campiti realized that there’s a market to tap into. He also knows these children can not always afford to buy a comic. Although Free Comic Book Day is doing what they can to bring back the love of reading, not every city has a store. While most people have a tablet or mobile, by offering a free piece of software that’s accessible to everyone was the way to go. To have every company on board with this new product is also a struggle. This businessman is also very well aware of how the industry works.
“Nobody wants to be first. Everybody wants to be second,” revealed Campiti, “The bigger companies are waiting to see who else signs up. In the next few months, we might have a nice surprise for people joining our service.”
According to Sean O’Reilly, founder of Arcana Studios who came on board right away, “It’s just such a hard market to crack and Comixology managed to do it so successfully and I believe Powfolio is as well.”
This app is made to imitate reading a comic book from the 80’s, complete with advertising. People may complain about the frequency it pops up, but that’s how these free programs work. In what’s good about the software is that finding titles to read is easy. They are organized into many categories (including Golden Age, for Kids and by genre) — just like now Netflix works — and for this author, I was pleasantly surprised to find a great starting catalog of Arcana (namely Howard Lovecraft and the Undersea Kingdom and The Clockwork Girl) titles I was looking for. More will be added in the future, between this program and Amazon’s Comixology, O’Reilly revealed that his company’s catalogue of around 300 titles will be online.
So will Antarctic Press‘ Ninja High School — I just have to wait. At least I have Shazam to read in the meantime. This golden age hero — Captain Marvel by Fawcett Comics — is what got me into comics in the first place. I watched the TV series back in the day, and it motivated me to seek out the comics. They are hard to find and I never stopped loving this hero who gets his powers from several mythical heroes. To have a program like Powfolio include the Golden Age is wonderful. Personally, I would love to see this program integrate with The Digital Comic Museum, as all the works there are in public domain (free) to access, but that requires some additional licensing and coding to make it work.
Instead of flooding readers with a bunch of titles, a few are slowly being introduced at a time. Some titles being suggested in the ads for this app implies they are there, but at the time of writing, I am not able to find them. But if I look hard enough, yes Legends of Isis is there. Campiti said new issues and titles are put on the system on a daily basis, so I just have to check back. Users have to have push notifications turned on to see what they are. For those readers who realize that they want to own a printed version, this program has a link to Amazon US to purchase it.
But for stuff that’s never been reprinted anywhere, Campiti hopes to make Powfolio the one stop for all comic readers to use. Within this program are also exclusive series.
“Let’s say you’re reading Exposure, which is a comic book I write for the app. You can click on it and then click on the little icon in the corner and you will enter a global chat where you can communicate in real-time with everybody else. Folks from Red Giant Entertainment, Glow Dot or I will be there talking to our users to see what they like and hear about what can be improved upon.
“You can also have your own chat room to invite other people into so you can literally have more going on. Here, we are creating an opportunity to create a community of like-minded fans together. People can talk about places they have been, like the Kirby Museum.” said Campiti.
This program is also a platform for independents and up-and-coming talents looking to distribute. David has been involved in the industry for many years and is always keeping an eye on discovering new talents, like Ron Lim (Silver Surfer, vol 3). Campiti started his career in the early 80’s writing material for DC Comics and ended the decade as the co-founder of Innovation Publishing. Since then, this producer has moved on to further his career in the industry, and embracing today’s mobile tech is a step to recognizing its place in mass communications.
On the technical side, details like how to deliver the content without compromising quality are just as important, especially with a comic book reader. Powfolio uses a proprietary technology to compress and render the images to work not only on a small screen but also a large one, like the iPad Pro.
The quality is only as good as the digital files (or pages) provided by the developers. If it’s in the public domain then the archivists ofPowfolio will get the best source that the owners of the source material are able to provide. “In the rare case where there’s only a bad scan, on the stuff in the public domain, if somebody has a better copy to scan and provide, we’d be happy to do that (to put online),” said Campiti.
As with any new service, trying to convince people to use it is tough. Netflix had its growing pains, and people have to look at what it has become now: offering original programming and being sustainable on its own. While the selection may seem small in what’s visibly accessible for Powfolio, there’s more content within those titles (several issues instead of complete runs are offered). More content is coming as it is being uploaded onto the cloud-based storage servers. With the world offering free WiFi zones to access (if turning on a mobile’s data is not your thing) the Internet, some points are moot. Eventually, more out of print titles will be accessible when more publishers decide on what to offer to the World Wide Web.
“We are trying to get as many books from as many publishers as possible because that’s the name of the game. That’s the way this app thrives; it’s a living and growing organism. The more that’s there for people to read, the more they want to read. If we get more kids and adults reading comics as a result, then we’ve done our job.” said Campiti.