Graphic.ly, the Boulder, Colorado-based online comics community, just raised $3 million in Series A funding, in a round led by DFJ Mercury. According to a press release, Graphic.ly intends to use the cash to further develop its online platform, adding features like audio commentary, video, music, and interactive components.
"Our focus is really on expanding the comic book experience," CEO Micah Baldwin tells Fast Company. "Imagine today people go to a comic store and have no idea where to start. Even downloading an iPad app full of comics provides no direction of where to begin. First and foremost, our plan is to bring comics to everyone, and in a way that allows them a starting point."
The company was founded at the end of 2009 and grew rapidly in 2010, closing out the year with relationships with 150 publishers and creators, including Marvel Comics. Graphic.ly put out apps for iPhone, iPad, Windows 7 Phone, and Droid, as well as desktop applications with Windows 7 and Adobe Air. More than 600,000 copies of Graphic.ly's apps were downloaded inside of five months in 2010. "We are growing as a company rapidly, staff has grown about 20% in the last two months, and our sales are doubling every couple of months," Baldwin says.
One of the main things that's neat about Graphic.ly is its social component. Comics, long a bastion of fanboys, have always been social, in a way. "People are really enjoying the social features, and we are looking to
expand on them," Baldwin says. "The discussions have been great, and whats even more
interesting is that creators are joining in and helping to lead
discussion where appropriate.
When you log onto Graphic.ly, you're presented with a dashboard where you can see the activity of your friends—who's signed up, who's reading what. Open up the book, and you can comment and share with friends as you read. "We're like the couch in the center of the comic book store," Baldwin says on a video on his site. "People love to sit down on the couch and talk about comics, and that's what they can do."
Baldwin also hopes the digital platform will inspire comic book writers to think of their medium in a new way. "I want creators to stop thinking of the comic book as a book. They don't have to do 13 spreads and panels. Maybe it's a story one day where you click on a door, and it opens, and that's the next part of the story," he says in the video. "Their imagination should drive the technology, and the technology should drive their imagination." (We argued recently that web design could enable a generation of scrollable web comics—something between an animation and a comic strip.)
On his blog, "Learn to Duck," where he chronicles startups, entrepreneurship, and "success through failure," Baldwin recently quoted from his kindergarten grade report. "Micah has a lot of potential that he is leaving on the table. He should leave his ear open and his mouth shut," the teacher wrote at one point. "Micah needs to spend more time inside the lines." With his company—whose very aim is to push the drawn line to new frontiers—$3 million the richer, Baldwin's not sweating it.