December 28, 2023

Here's What's Going On With Comics and VR

Comics and virtual reality can't possibly mix, right? They can, and do.

Here's What's Going On With Comics and VR
Beyond Real by Vault Comics.

If you want to consider a few predictions about how AR and VR might develop, one of the best places to look is in comics. Comics are not only a good litmus test for cultural understanding about immersive technology, but the medium can offer some great thoughts about the boundaries of tech and where it collides with ethics.

Originally, my own career involved illustrating comic books on a full-time basis. I've been fortunate enough to not only work on projects with free creative input, but I also met a lot of cool editors and writers along the way. About a year and a half ago, though, I perceived AI would probably overtake some of the talent market for comic illustration. AI is already used in Marvel's Secret Invasion opening, as well as adopted recently for Webtoons' selfie filter feature.

Comic artists who are concerned about their future should begin to invest in self-published work to establish their prowess away from freelance jobs. If you have a short stories series that resonates with audiences, it can be easier to revert to producing that when work dries up elsewhere. If you're starting fresh as a small artist, VR can also help net an audience. It just so happens, people like reading comics in VR! And now that augmented reality is growing as a medium, it's possible to advertise book releases that way too (think: sample reading with an AR object in the user's hands!).

The following examines various aspects of comics and VR, some artists to support and series to read (hand-drawn!), as well as tips to get started in seeking new readers in immersive spaces.

A test horror comics shop concept, which worked pretty well.

It's All About Advertising

The main application for comics in VR right now is in advertising. It's possible to develop a VR app to grow readership, but that requires users downloading and installing yet another app to their headset. Instead, consider placing a small comic shop on social VR platforms that already exist. Users can visit your shop and discover new book releases. If your chosen platform also supports monetization and tipping, that's a great way to sell digital copies for those who like consuming media while remaining logged in (seriously, people even watch movies in VR).

As a test, I built a VR comic shop map to advertise a short horror story. The story, CLOUT, attracted 500 favorites to the map when it was released. This means 500 people liked the comic shop and wanted more. Put out some freebie short stories on your map, and then advertise longer releases and printed collections over time. Some game platforms won't let you put direct links to your website without paying, but you can still write out your website address and post a QR code as a workaround.

Babybonito and Saudade share a booth at ComicVket. (photo c/o Babybonito)

ComicVket Is Your Friend

An easier way to advertise your comics (any comics you've made!) is by registering for ComicVket.

ComicVket is an online comics convention that's been running for a few years. Each showcase features specially decorated booths, with sample books to check out in various languages. It's free to register for a booth, and uploading everything to show off at your station only requires submitting images through a portal on the convention's website. Bam! No VR needed. Now you're advertising in more places! It's still recommended you log in during the convention, though, in case readers would like to meet you.

If you'd like to see how different artists are utilizing VR to grow their audiences, check out the work of Babybonito, Spencer Filson, and the comics collective Kemono Cafe.

Omniscient Reader.

Keeping It Relevant

VR readers love stories about anything, but works centered around immersive technology can really hit home for your new audience. For examples on the way different writers approach this subject, here are some related works I'm enjoying right now:

  • The Strongest Florist - An action comedy about a boxer who uses virtual reality to fulfill his fantasy of running a flower shop. The series is great for examining the ins and outs of immersive MMOs, as well as staying true to oneself.
  • Beyond Virtual - In the future, hopeful pop stars who want to make a name for themselves can allow their likeness to be scanned by large companies, who then turn that likeness into virtual stars. Augmented reality plays heavily with this story; at around 45 chapters, Beyond Virtual is on hiatus but is worth the read for how the subject matter is handled.
  • Omniscient Reader - "Game novels" are a common subject for comics overseas; Omniscient Reader just happens to be a very good one. Omniscient starts out with the typical setup of everyone on the planet being forced into a video game setting, where the penalty for losing is death. However, the "living in a simulation" trope gets tossed around pretty hard, leaving the reader questioning the true nature of the hero's circumstances.
  • Beyond Reality - Published by Vault Comics, Beyond Reality is a beautiful mesh of the "simulation" trope and mythological-level storytelling. A talented artist loses her lover, only to find the world she's in is possibly not real. This forces her to undertake a journey of epic proportions. This comic is currently being published, so you'll have to locate a comic shop to grab a copy for now.

Staying Ahead Of The Crowd

The world of art is changing, and everyone within the industry is about to get shifted around as a result. Keeping a career in art requires maneuvering with trends, and figuring out what's best for someone who hand-draws their own content. Sometimes if you observe niche spaces such as VR, you can figure out what the future of this industry might look like for independent artists. Until then, the unconventional route isn't a bad one. You might even be thankful for trying new ideas a few years from now.

Good luck on your art journey. Here's to seeing more comic shops in VR soon.