The New Serialization: Digital With Preview Chapters — Heart in a Box

Heart in a Box cover

It used to be that a comic story (and I’m talking here about non-superhero work, stories that are planned to have some kind of ending) could be published as a limited-run miniseries and then collected into a final volume. However, miniseries these days don’t sell well. There are just too many comic options for shoppers, and many will wait for the eventual collection (since it’s a better package and often a better deal). So smart publishers have now switched to digital, instead of print, serialization — which also allows the reader a cheap sample taste. Oni has been a leader in this space, with their current title Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad and previous books like I Was the Cat available in digital chapters before print release.

The latest example is Dark Horse’s Heart in a Box, due out September 29. It’s written by Kelly Thompson (who’s also writing Jem and the Holograms)and drawn by Meredith McClaren (who’s also drawing the new Hopeless Savages comic). It’s been split into seven chapters, all from Dark Horse Digital, but the first one is available for free (sadly, no longer true). The remaining installments, released weekly, are 99 cents each.

Heart in a Box cover

That means you can get the whole story for less than $6 online while the book is priced at $14.99, but that kind of discount makes sense to customers (instead of paying $3 or more an issue in print and less than that total for the final book). And a free taste is the best possible indicator of whether someone wants to read the whole story. Here’s the description:

In a moment of post-heartbreak weakness, Emma wishes her heart away, and a mysterious stranger — who may or may not be totally evil — obliges. But emptiness is even worse than grief, and when Emma learns that her heart can be regained piece by piece, she takes the strange bargain. But will the cost of her heart be her soul?

I read the issue — free comic! — and here are some quick thoughts. I’m interested in the emotional beats of the story, which made the violent opening to issue #1 surprising. I know it’s common advice in comics to start with the action, and if the story is going to turn that way, better to let readers know early on, but it’s a bit off-putting to me. I also had trouble getting used to the square word balloons and the harsh computer lettering, but I love the expressive, caricatured cast. The dialogue is terrific, with distinct voices. And the effect used to indicate Emma’s emptiness after her stupid choice (come on, we all know that when a mysterious person shows up and offers you a metaphysical deal, you shouldn’t take it) is a terrific use of coloring and perspective, as shown here:

Heart in a Box panel by Meredith McClaren

Heart in a Box is a good read so far, and I’m curious to get the whole story this fall.

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