Monday, September 19, 2011

Four Star Studios – A Future For Digital Comics

I must profess that I was not aware of Four Star Studios until I listened to Gabriel Hardman on the Word Balloon podcast. He talked about 16 page digital downloads for $1 and I knew I had to look it up. What I found was a Chicago conglomerate of comic creators who have put together one of the most exciting digital comics ventures available right now. These comics are cheap, from name creators, with high quality and some very exciting digital extras such as sketches and running story commentary. Hit the jump to see what I’m talking about because you are going to love it.

Double Feature App
Four Star Studios – Humble Beginnings

They word their origin the best so I won’t step on their toes:

“Four Star Studios got its start when four Chicago natives decided they were tired of working from home and rented an office together just to get out of the house. It didn’t take long for them to realize they had significant art, writing, design, and programming talent gathered under one roof, giving them the chops to pay more than lip service to their credo of “Deeds, not words.”

At Four Star, we work hard to create the very best comics around — no excuses.”

Cover to The Answer
The talent in question is Tim Seeley, Mike Norton, Josh Emmons, and Sean Dove. These four gentlemen have managed to assemble creative teams to put out 6 different anthology titles that each feature a duo of 8 page stories. The content is short, it’s snappy, it’s awesome, and it’s fun.

You can purchase each of these anthologies (which run 16 pages) for 99c each. From the website, you can buy the PDF versions of these books. Or, for the wizened souls, you can download their Double Feature app and get the same comics but with fancy schmancy digital extras.

I thoroughly encourage everyone to buy these anthologies, in some manner, as they are pretty damn cool. You’ll see extra names like Gabriel Hardman and Dennis Hopeless peppered amongst the emerging talent.

However, I would definitely encourage you to download the Double Feature app and view the books in your iPad because some of the extras are really damn cool. Let me be more specific below.

Double Feature – A Comic App For Comics Fans

Choose a story to read
I am a keen user of ComiXology. I love their interface, I love their purchasing system, I love their back catalogue, and I love their reading viewer. In saying that, Double Feature is nothing like ComiXology, and it actually does a few things better.

Once you have selected a comic purchase, you will be given the option of which story within the anthology to view. They act as separate parcels which is pretty neat. When you select the story you want (here we’ll be using The Answer by Dennis Hopeless and Mike Norton), you go straight to the front cover. A quick tap on the right side of the screen and we get the first page.

So far, this is similar to ComiXology in that the comic page fills the iPad screen. Finger taps progress the pages, though there is no panel-to-panel Guided Viewer in Double Feature. What there is, going in the favour of this app and the content to be found within, is a different set of navigational features entirely.

One tap on the screen shows us a set of menu options at the top of the screen. The first we’ll look at are the circular icons on the top right. Each of these icons represents a different way to view the page. We have options of seeing the page of the comic in it’s normal published view, or just the art without the words, or just the inks without any colours, and finally just the pencilled thumbnails.

These options are amazing insights into the process which many aspiring creators and process junkies among us will devour with great delight. Seeing how the artist went from a casual thumbnailed piece of art to a final and polished page is a sight to behold at the tap of a finger. The comparisons between inks and colours will astound you.
With commentary

Many won’t want to do this for every page of every comic they read, that’s fair. Some might ignore it entirely. But those who want it are going to use it extensively, and possibly even return for research purposes. Considering the fact these tales only run 8 pages it doesn’t drag out or disrupt the flow of the tale as much as you might suspect, or you can read the tale and then go back through and peek behind the curtain afterward. The choice is yours.

The commentary button is another feature that might not appeal to all but those who are bound to like it will find they absolutely love it. The creators dump a paragraph or two of information about that specific page into a tab that you can drop down, if you so choose. The commentary is relatively thin but overall insightful enough to warrant reading.

Bonus sketch
At the end of each issue, there are some sketches and bonus material. Some issues don’t weigh too heavily in this department while others throw in plenty of concept material for your reading pleasure. It’s an excellent addition to a single issue format and one more and more comics should adopt. Because this is digital, and not paper, there are no extra printing costs incurred for adding extra material.

This is one of the first great examples I have seen of a small press publisher using the digital delivery method to try new and digital specific things. Commentary and comparative pages would not work in print but here, with the convenience of a simple tap, the outcome is an amazing reading experience.


Go to the Four Star Studios website and check out their material. Then go download the Double Feature App and start enjoying a digital comic experience unlike no other. Digital comics might not yet be taking over the comic market, and perhaps they never will, but it feels certain they will forevermore be a part of it. This is a smart way to adapt to the new system and actually enhance it’s abilities and create new features to meet them.

Have you used the Double Feature App, what did you think of it?

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Dan Hill said...

Glad to see this app get some exposure. Nice overview of the app and what it has to offer over some of the bigger, more well known offerings in the digital field.

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