If you think comic book artists aren’t getting the recognition they deserve, there’s an app for that. In early June, James Thompson, Andrew Wong and George Chen of Churn Labs launched the Emanata visual story reader, an iPad app that features a number of Mission artists.
“It’s really stellar work but no one has ever heard of it because it’s all stuck in comic book stores,” says Thompson. “So if you’re outside of the Bay Area you’re not going to be able to find these things anywhere.”
In the cartoon world, emanata are the little lines drawn around characters’ heads to express surprise or shock.
The Emanata app features the work of independent cartoon artists, half whom are based in the Mission.
“Half of the cartoonists happen to be in the Mission, well, because we live in the Mission,” says Thompson, the product lead for Emanata. “We wanted to modernize the whole process by putting it on a tablet like the iPad, and we did that so we could open these artists up to a broader audience.”
The app is a user-friendly comic suggester that displays a variety of comics from different artists. Every three to five days, a new comic is integrated into the selection.
While Emanata isn’t the first of its kind, Thompson says the app differentiates itself from others, such as comiXology and Comic Viewer, because of its emphasis on promoting unpublished indie cartoonists.
“You see the same problem in these apps as you would see in a comic store. Independent artists get buried in these platforms by big-name comics such as Watchman and Superman,” says Wong, the programmer for Emanata.
For comic book aficionados who worry that the transition from paper and ink to digital pixels may compromise the comics’ picture quality, Thompson says those concerns should be put to rest.
“Most of the artists we work with streamline and produce these images digitally, so when they are produced in a digital environment they agree that the way it is seen on an iPad is the way it should look,” he says.
Wong adds that the iPad’s retina display screen provides a viewing experience for images that is superior to paper.
Watching cartoons through Emanata adds another experience not available in print editions: the reader is able to directly contact the cartoonist with a flick of the finger.
The app not only helps independent cartoonists expand their fan base, Thompson says, but also gives artists the feedback they desire.
Churn Labs isn’t profiting from Emanata because the app is available for free from the Apple Store, but Thompson and Wong say they are open to profit opportunities. Everyone on the Emanata team has a day job; Thompson consults with local start-ups on product design and Wong is a musician with Classical Revolution. In the future, they hope to allow artists to sell their visual stories through the app.
“I think it’s great that through this app, we’re building a community of cartoonists who would not normally know each other,” says Thompson.
“As an artist you learn from others by seeing what works and what doesn’t, and you really get to get out of the Mission micro-environment.”
Correction: An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated that the app was a non-profit venture.