10. “Insufferable:" Mark Waid, Peter Krause, Thrillbent

Award-winning writer Mark Waid made waves this year announcing he was selling his prodigious comic collection to fund a new self-published digital imprint, Thrillbent. For the opening salvo of his revolution, Waid and artist Peter Krause offer “Insufferable,” a solid superhero story about a masked avenger reluctantly reunited with his obnoxious ex-sidekick. What “Insufferable” lacks in digital sizzle and conspicuous formal innovation, it makes up for with quality--and maybe that’s the point.

9. Batman: Arkham Unhinged and Batman Beyond, DC Comics

Though these two titles do little to advance the comics artform and the stories are typical fare for Batman fans, these digital-first comics demonstrate DC’s apparent strategy of bringing fans of its characters in other media (videogames and cartoons) to comics through direct-to-digital releases rather than going through print comic book retailers. Same Bat-time, new Bat-channel. Smart move, DC.

8. “AvX--Nova:" Mark Waid, Stuart Immonen, Marvel

Marvel picked the techie SXSW conference rather than a Comic-Con to announce its “Infinite Comics” digital initiative in March, 2012. This first offering provides some buzzworthy storytelling flourishes courtesy of Waid and Immonen, two of mainstream comics’ most thoughtful creators, as they explore comics freed from the conventions of the printed page. Seems more promising than the company’s gimmicky augmented reality app, announced at the same time.

7. "Operation Ajax:" Daniel Burwen, Cognito.

Strictly speaking, this uber-ambitious digital graphic novel of America’s clandestine involvement in a 1952 plot to topple to government of Iran came out at the end of 2011, but its impact was felt in 2012 as Burwen expounded on his vision and the company rolled out Ajax for iPhone. The integration of multimedia elements from the historical archive is a textbook example of using digital tools to simplify complex content. Is Cognito’s studio production model scalable or practical in the long run? Who knows, but it worked well this time.

7. "Operation Ajax:" Daniel Burwen, Cognito.

More from Operation Ajax.

6. “Mono:" Ben Wolstenholme, Liam Sharp, Madefire

When Madefire launched this summer as a next-generation platform for digital comics and motion books, it stocked the shelves with impeccably-produced original content from some of comics’ top creative talent. A few of the titles seem more like proofs-of-concept for Madefire’s shiny iPad-friendly front-end than actual stories, but Mono holds up as a ripping spy/adventure yarn enhanced with intriguing motion effects.

6. “Mono:" Ben Wolstenholme, Liam Sharp, Madefire

More from Mono.

5. "Dim Sum Warriors:" Yen Yen Woo and Colin Goh, Yumcha Studios

This bilingual English-Mandarin digital manga is that rarest of creative triumphs: an educational comic that’s actually fun to read. Developed as an iPad app to teach language skills to kids (co-creator Yen Yen Woo is a professor of education at Long Island University), Dim Sum Warriors puts story and characters first, while maximizing the interactive potential of the iPad as a learning platform.

5. "Dim Sum Warriors:" Yen Yen Woo and Colin Goh, Yumcha Studios

More from Dim Sum Warriors.

4. Symbolia: Erin Polgreen, founder/editor

This digital magazine of original graphic journalism debuted in the final weeks of 2012 and already promises to be one of the most intriguing direct-to-digital projects to date. Symbolia offers investigative stories, interviews, features and infographics that use sequential art to open up the range and audience for traditional journalism. If this effort can be sustained, it points a way forward for digital content, comics and journalism.
Read more about it in this Co.Create story.

3. "Bandette:" Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover, MonkeyBrain Comics

Cloonan’s delightful art and Tobin’s winning story about a teenage adventuress would have made Bandette a hit in any format, but the team decided to take their act straight to digital as a flagship title of a new imprint, MonkeyBrain Comics. Offering a range of quality original works from top-drawer pros, MonkeyBrain is the best of several big debuts in 2012 that challenge old industry models by combining creator ownership, traditional publishing values and digital distribution.

2. "Bottom of the Ninth:" Ryan Woodward

This beautifully drawn, compellingly told sci-fi baseball app provides the best answer to date to the question “can comics designed for the iPad incorporate dynamic effects without looking cheesy?” Woodward puts the panel grid in motion in a way that not only looks natural, but inevitable. It is unlikely that the marriage of comics and technology will always be characterized by this level of taste, restraint and craft, so it’s best to celebrate the great examples whenever we can.

2. "Bottom of the Ninth:" Ryan Woodward

Bottom of the Ninth

1. XKCD: “Click and Drag:” Randall Munroe

Yeah, it’s on the web and it’s barely a comic, but on September 19, Randall Munroe’s stick-figure meditation on romance, sarcasm, math and language gave readers a window into the limitless future of digital graphic storytelling. Start clicking and dragging around the final panel to explore an enormous landscape full of stories and surprises, measuring a jaw-dropping 165,888 x 79,872 pixels! In a year of big digital storytelling innovations, none of us expected this one to be so big.

Honorable Mention: "Infinity:" Russell Wilis, editor, Panel Nine

You know a trend is real when it goes meta. Veteran publisher Russell Willis revived Infinity, a legendary '80s zine covering mostly British comics, as an original-content iPad app dedicated to the expanding digital comics scene. His company, Panel Nine, has also brought out reprints of some alt-comics classics in digital format.

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The 10 Coolest Original Digital Comics of 2012

The online comics marketplace has exploded over the past year. Here, from innovative indies to blockbuster franchise extensions, some of the best from the emerging world of digital comics.

2012 was the year digital-direct comics went mainstream. Entirely bypassing the tried-and-true supply chain of print distribution, brick-and-mortar retailers and the collectors market, these stand-alone tablet apps, self-published originals, studio efforts, and digital exclusives sold through platforms like comiXology and iVerse disrupted old business models, probed the borders of traditional comics subject-matter and opened new possibilities for the medium.

In the slide show above, some of the year’s most notable achievements—the comics that best exemplified the evolution of the art form and the transition of the industry.

Rob Salkowitz is author of Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture (McGraw-Hill, 2012) and co-founder of MediaPlant, LLC. Follow him @robsalk.

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