It’s time to stop swiping left … or right, for that matter. So why don’t we try swiping down? That’s the idea behind Stela, the new digital comics platform debuting today. Stela’s mission is simple: it seeks to reinvent comics on a mobile platform, but it’s not just about being an application that allows you to read comics digitally
“A thing I was struggling with was, comics were huge when we were growing up. They were just a huge part of pop culture,” Chief Product Officer Sam Lu tells EW when describing how the Stela came about. In taking notice of the ways media consumption has changed, Lu saw an opportunity create content he found to be unique.
“We’re looking at diverse stories, diverse in terms of genre, content, the characters that are in them and the creators that are telling them as well,” says editor-in-chief Ryan Yount. Each of these stories have been designed specifically for the mobile platform in an easy to read format similar to how you would scroll when using Facebook or Tumblr. With an emphasis on creator owned work and quality content, it’s fitting that Stela has taken to calling themselves “the HBO Go of comics.”
“HBO has this reputation that it’s just great content,” explains Lu. “And that’s really what we wanted to do. So for us we have this promise of original, creative, brand new content every day of the week. You’re going to see amazing stories, and comic issues that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. So we don’t feel like we’re pinned to any specific genre. We’ll have some superhero stories, but we really want human, interactive character driven stories.”
According to Yount, the developer team came from a mobile background, which meant that they were aware of how to build something that would be different and native. “I think it would’ve been harder if we were a print company in comics to leap into mobile,” Yount admits. “We explored it a little bit…it doesn’t look as good to try to take comics that exist in print and try to adapt them to our vertical format. So we really felt that in order to get the quality we wanted and to get the stories to show off the app and the format, we really needed to just commission brand new work. And that was a real opportunity to go to the artists we wanted to work with.”
For Lu, that meant bringing in “the best from the mobile world” and recognizing the strengths of their app. In this case, it’s the infinite vertical scroll. “We did look at innovations from other companies that have done things from animation or sound, and we found out those things are more distracting than being absorbed in a comic,” says Lu. “We think this is all going to be the key to a renaissance: bringing more fans in, bringing more stories in, bringing more storytelling to a new generation, and have them experience what we felt when we were growing up.”
Stela’s development was one that came with a learning curve. Growing a completely new fan base was exciting, but it wasn’t without its challenges. Still, Yount says he relished the freedom that comes with working on original content. “It’s a wonderful success to have,” Yount says of being involved with companies that produce popular and mainstream books, “but with that comes some handcuffs. Can you evolve too much from your fanbase? Do you have a roster of characters that you don’t want to see change? Can you adapt to new times and new voices? That’s the challenge we want to embrace.”
That challenge also extended to finding artists and writers, which Yount cultivated through a variety of ways. “It was a combination for me of going to the old rolodex of comic creators I worked with previously, folks that I knew, and also just really doing the work of finding the work of people I’ve found on Tumblr, whose work I’ve been very impressed with,” he says, adding that creators and artists using Tumblr tend to have an advantage in this case, as they understand Stela’s format. On both ends of the spectrum, Stela remains an interactive app, which is what the developers are banking on.
“We absolutely serve our fans and we’re very focused and dedicated on figuring out how to do we make an app that’s easy to use, that fosters community.” Yount explains. “For example, on any given chapter issue on our app, there’s a comment section that’s similar to the letter pages of the comic back in the old days. But the other part is that we service is the creators, helping to foster really great talent and find people that know how to tell really good stories.”
View exclusive images from upcoming stories below, including IPP: Intellectual Property Police by Victor Santos and Rome West with art by Andrea Mutti, and written by Brian Wood and Justin Giampaoli. Stela is available now in the Apple store and offers monthly subscriptions for $4.99 for a limited time. All first chapters of all series will be free to read.