With the explosion of digital publishing over the last few years, there are countless ways to pick up your favorite comic books without having to travel to overpriced stores, attend crowded conventions or brave the dusty longboxes at your local flea market.
Digital outlets like Comixology and Marvel Unlimited have made comic book reading as simple as the click of a button, but what if you crave something different from your typical tales of brightly colored superheroes or drab zombie stories? What if you have an idea for your own comic book but don't want to pitch to a publishing conglomerate that wants to own your ideas?
Your answer probably lies in Tapastic - a platform for comic book creators to self-publish their own stories that acts like YouTube for comics.
Chang Kim, the CEO of Tapastic, came up with the idea for this open-publishing platform after wondering, as a reader, if there was one single place he could read all of the web comics he followed as a fan. He soon discovered that there really wasn't an avenue for prospective comic talent to get their content created outside of traditional means.
"We discovered a lot of people still use print publishing, and paid their own money to print comics and sell them at conventions," Kim said when we spoke to him about Tapastic. "Or people start their own website, in which case you have to build your audience, think about mobile, pay for hosting. It just doesn't really work out."
As YouTube users are earning more money by hosting their own videos on the platform, there was no like-minded alternative for comic book creators. And with comic book sales and superhero movie box office receipts putting the medium in the spotlight again, an alternative for creators had to be found.
"That's where we came up with the idea of 'Wouldn't it be interesting to build something like YouTube but for web comics?'," Kim said. "And this business model is already popular in Korea. I read a lot of web comics in Korea through those open platforms. So this business model is already thriving in Korea."
Like YouTube, writers and artists can upload their comics quickly and easily on Tapastic and retain ownership of whatever they post. Creators are also entitled to ad revenue from Tapastic, depending on the readership they bring in.
Chang told us that, so far, genres such as slice-of-life comedy comics have done the best so far, likely due to their shareability and how quickly they can be read during a commute, on a lunch break and even between classes.
With more than 6,000 creators and 110,000 comic book episodes to be read on the platform, it's easy to be overwhelmed, but with literally anyone being able to create, there is likely a comic out there for anyone to gravitate toward.
"We have people share their unique story on Tapastic," Kim said. "It's like a visual essay sort of thing. You know, school life or work life. That's deeply relatable to our readers. Another change we can bring to the comic book industry is the interactivity of the comics."
And because of its inclusive nature, Tapastic allows for an interactive community to form around these comics, as creators and fans interact and discuss the titles in a more personal way than happens with traditional books. Some creators even ask for feedback and suggestions in the comments section and put those to work in the following issues of their comic.
In a landscape dominated by unmovable pillars like Marvel and DC, Tapastic allows fans to get their ideas out and have their voices heard in a way that is fully embracing the digital age. For fans, it's a way to see what a DIY comic can really be. Some of these can be a fun diversion; some of these might turn into the next Love and Rockets, an '80s alternative comic that began as a self-published series by creators Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez.
As the print industry continues to evolve, Tapastic is allowing creators to put out digital books that are wholly designed to be viewed on the web - as opposed to taking print editions of books and simply transferring them over to a digital platform. This means that the Tapastic comics can be more bite-sized and shareable than most, but, ironically, also resemble old newspaper comic strips like Ziggy and Peanuts.
It's not reinventing comics; rather, Tapastic is getting comics back to basics, albeit on a unique digital platform designed by people who just love comics.