Go-Go-Gaijin: ComiPo! Vocaloid For Comics!?

Maybe this software should be called “Comicoid”, because after five minutes of tinkering with it I realized right away who this software was for. Vocaloid, the hit music software that allows musicians and composers to create vocals for a singer-less song, took Japan by storm and has been a huge inspiration to up-and-coming songwriters. I have seen stories on TV about musicians who uploaded their original creations using the Vocaloid vocals to Nico Nico Douga (the Japanese equivalent to YouTube) and finding a human singer to come in and breathe life into their music. Even the mascot characters for the software, Miku Hatsune and others have become break-out successes in and out of the independent music world. So now with ComiPo, a software that allows writers to put together a comic without ever picking up a pencil, comic artists like myself were left wondering if this will shake up the sequential art world. The answer is yes… and no.

Let me make it clear right now who this product is for. This product is for writers who cannot draw, at all. This product is for writers who have ideas but can’t visualize those ideas, and need a little help composing layouts, character designs, and settings to take their scenarios and mold them into a visual medium. For you, the comic writer without an artist, I present ComiPo.

The software is so simple there’s no need to pick up the manual. Just set it aside while you spend ten minutes looking around and getting a feel for the available options. You can choose from a list of manga page layouts so you don’t have to worry about setting up your panels from scratch (though from there you can make adjustments manually if necessary), and effects are available in not just English, but if you so desire Japanese sound effects are also provided for those going for a more authentic manga experience.

Characters are fully 3D rendered without losing their 2D anime look. They are fully colored (and colors can be adjusted), and can be posed from any angle. A variety of facial expressions are available, as well as accessories like glasses, ribbons, etc. It’s pretty fun to just go through and take preset character designs, mix them up, and save them as your own special character. This is all pretty easy to figure out, and while the basic package contains enough to get you started, future releases will have more to offer and will be available as option sets for sale (and some for free) on the website.

There are two types of backgrounds; some backgrounds are fully realized artworks that match the general look to the whole product, but unfortunately some backgrounds are just photos with a second-rate Photoshop filter used to give them a comic feel. It would have been really great if all backgrounds were CG and not filtered photographs, but if this bothers some people they will also have the ability to import graphics.

The program is fairly intuitive when it comes to placing characters and objects inside panels. The option to have objects stay within the borders of the panels or to jut out on top are both there, and just about everything can be resized, reshaped, revolved, and removed as the user sees fit. I did have a little trouble positioning objects; people are positioned with the mouse, but I was only able to change the angle of objects by using X and Y guides I had to adjust that took time and was confusing. Instead of “X” and “Y” I’d rather see “up”, “down”, “left”, “right”, and so on. This may be something that users will get used to, but from a first-time experience I was left a little miffed that it was taking me fifteen minutes to get a cell phone to fit properly into a character’s hand. Eventually I just gave up. Objects don’t always properly lace up with characters, as I tried hanging a
bag on a character’s shoulder instead of using the preset of a boy with a bag on his shoulder, and it didn’t work. Once again, this might be due to my inexperience, but I was having so much trouble working the positioning I lost interest and moved on.

A big problem I had with this program was text. If you type at a speed of eighty words a minute, you are going to hate this program, or want to have text on Microsoft Word to just copy and paste into each word balloon. I would type out a sentence and then have to wait for the text to show up. I also had to align the text myself because there is not an option to format the text automatically in the center, like every basic typing or art program except ComiPo has. To me, this seems like such an obvious problem I hope the developers rework the entire text system to be more like Comic Studio, where you type directly into the word balloon. It would have been nice if the program came with some comic fonts, but I guess people will have to make due with fonts from their own stash. I was using my husband’s computer for testing the software (because I use a Mac, and there is no Mac version available) and he only had the fonts that came with his computer. Not a big deal, but it would have been a plus to have some special fonts included.

Now that I’ve listed a few of the great aspects of the program as well as some minor technical issues, let me explain who this program is not for.

This program is not for anyone with a shred of artistic talent. I make and sell comics independently, and I have worked as a professional comic assistant here in Japan. Vocaloid has proven, much to the chagrin of living, breathing singers, that you no longer need a voice for vocals if the programmer is talented enough, but with ComiPo I don’t think anyone can be skilled enough to take what is available and replace existing artists on the market. It is far too simplified and far too limited for people like me to give up pencils and paper in favor of pre-made dolls. This program does not adapt to your infinite creativity; you will be forced to narrow down your storytelling range to fit the capacity of this game.

If you want to make comics in the style of Yuru Yuri or Lucky Star or K-ON!, you may be in luck. But if you want anything but a teenage girl attending an all-girl’s high school, you’re going to want to hope those add-ons are expansive. When making a character, you won’t be able to include children, toddlers, babies, animals, or overweight people. You might be a little frustrated that there are more options for girls’ uniforms than boys’ uniforms, that all the boys essentially look the same as the girls, and that the only thing separating an older person from a younger character are frown lines. If you want to do a story about a five-year-old who rides a bike to school, you will be stuck. No bike, no child bodies, no backpacks. There is a very specific mold you have to follow, and that can be frustrating.

I was asked if this software could possibly replace assistants, or be used to work with artists in the same sense that Comic Studio (or Manga Studio as it is called stateside) can do. Can a comic made with ComiPo be used professionally? The answer is a very straightforward “absolutely not”. I tried making a comic page in ComiPo exactly as I have it in an actual comic page I am working on for independent publishing, the idea being perhaps I could use ComiPo as a storyboarding tool. It took me two hours to setup a scene that took me an hour to draw, and only ten minutes to sketch out, including backgrounds and everything. This software is not a time-saver. Yes, it is a fully-finished product in the two hours I spent on it, with color and text and everything, but the quality is not enough to justify the time it took. Below is a comparison composite of the two pages I did, the one on the left using ComiPo, the image on the right being the black and white inked comic I drew traditionally (just up to the inks stage). Both took about the same amount of time to complete.

Both images by me, made in about the same amount of time. (c) Brooke Stephenson

There is a very distinct, pre-packaged feel to the characters and designs to ComiPo, and it is going to be instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with the software. On top of that, the images, to my knowledge, are not royalty free! Whatever created on ComiPo seems to become the property of the software designers and cannot be sold, and certainly can’t be printed by any reputable publisher. This means that even if you were to import your own artwork and use just the effects, the panels, and word balloons, you’d still be limited to where you can take your creation.

I think an experienced artist may find this software helpful for when they are drawing web comics, or rather I think they may find the available resources helpful. If I were making a non-profit color comic, I might use this program to insert my own characters in front of the backgrounds and use the effects and balloons instead of create some from scratch. If the expansions were big enough, I could see that as being a key selling point, not as a comic creator but as a comic supplement. I could see myself using the backgrounds
and effects more than I could see myself using the character options.

This really is not a program for artists, in general, to use in place of
rulers and white out. If you are looking for a digital experience for a
traditional process, the software you need is Comic (Manga) Studio. But for people who have no artistic ability and who found Comic Studio too complicated, this is certainly not a bad software to consider purchasing. You can get your ideas out and the end product certainly doesn’t look bad if you know how to work with the software and its limitations. I could see this working for writers who need visual aides to give to an artist to do the final work, or for people who just want to play around and make comics for fun. But for the professional, skip this and go straight to Comic Studio, or do what I do and grab a pencil and paper for a more limitless experience in cartooning like the pros!

One major suggestion to the developers; make this an iPad app! I think this would work really well as comic tool for a tablet, which is still a device with limited options available for painting and such. If they opened on that market, even having only a few characters and settings available would make this worth purchasing. What better way to pass the time on a plane or waiting in line than to make a quick comic?

ComiPo is now available in English for paid download! For more information, please check the official site, http://www.comipo.com/en/index.html

Posted on September 20, 2011 at 05:18 by Brooke Stephenson · Permalink
In: Anime, Comics, Japanese Entertainment, Reviews, Webcomics · Tagged with: , , , ,

9 Responses

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  1. Written by へけもこ
    on 2011-09-20 at 16:44

    Nice review!  It’s very interesting that you compare two images, one with comipo and the other with hand drawn.
    But you are definitely wrong about the royalty of images made by Comipo.
    I have been an active Japanese Comipo user and the images created with Comipo are all royalty free.
    You can publish them both personally and commercially completely free from any restriction.
    You should check it up and correct the expression.

    • Written by Brooke Stephenson
      on 2011-09-22 at 20:15

      Thanks for your comment! I actually did check my sources before writing this. ComicPo clearly states in their FAQ (#32) that this software is NOT free for commercial use, and they said they retain the copyrights to everything included in the software. http://www.facebook.com/Manga.Maker.ComiPo?sk=app_118870671531441

      You might want to check and see if the Japanese version follows the same rules or not. I would imagine they do!

    • Written by Brooke
      on 2011-09-23 at 00:18

      For some reason I am having trouble responding to your comment. I think it is because I keep trying to post a link out…

      The FAQ actually clearly states on item #32 that this is NOT commercially available to use, published or otherwise, and that ComiPo! retains all the rights. I did my research before writing this, I assure you! You might check if the Japanese version has similar restrictions.

      • Written by へけもこ
        on 2011-09-23 at 09:43

        You should read the FAQ carefully again.

        FAQ32 says
        “ComiPo! Assets are not copyrights free.
        If you publish your works created by using ComiPo! Assets in other applications
        than ComiPo! software, you infringe our copyrights.”

        “However, we do not lay copyright claim on your creative works
        (composition of characters, panels, story, scripts, etc.) as far as you
        use ComiPo! software legally.”

        This means, publishing images or 3D models in Comipo WITHOUT USING COMIPO is forbidden. For example,  if you use raw Comipo backgound images, the folder of which you can easily access, with Photoshop or Comic studio and publish it, you infringe their copyrights.  But publishing images USING COMIPO, is free and there’s no restriction personaly and commercialy.  If you create images using Comipo and then import the image to other software such as photoshop, it’s the same. You can use them freely.

        • Written by Brooke
          on 2011-09-25 at 15:06

          The FAQ’s explanation and your explanation sound like two different things. The FAQ sounds like it was not written by a native English speaker. It says the assets are copyrighted, so my assumption was that you cannot publish for an established magazine like, say, JUMP without first going through the software company. It also isn’t clear about publishing… Nowadays there’s web publishing and print, self-publishing, e-books…

          Also, I have to say the last part of your explanation confuses me even more. How do you publish in ComiPo without using ComiPo? How is publishing images in, for example, Photoshop free if you import the images from ComiPo when the FAQ says you can’t use the assets in other software for publishing? The FAQ needs to figure out what it means by “publish” because it clearly says they retain the copyights, but the rest is not made clear, in part because the grammar and wording is a bit off.

          “We hold full copyrights with respect to ComiPo! Assets. We neither abandon
          any of them, nor give, transfer, sell or grant any of them to you in any
          Therefore, ComiPo! Assets are not copyrights free.”

          I mean, that seems pretty straightforward to me. They don’t hold the rights to our ideas, but the images are all theirs.

  2. Written by ComiPo Forums
    on 2011-09-20 at 19:25

    I couldn’t agree more with your review. They released this software into the US market way to early. We don’t have a lot of the features the Japanese version has. But even they are still limited after a year to the same preset characters. You can’t change height, weight, or age very well even with their version. It has a great potential but it needs a lot of support in the way of expansions to keep it going.

    • Written by Brooke
      on 2011-09-23 at 00:11

      It kind of keeps to the idea that all would-be comic writers are only interested in school girl antics. It’s definitely off to a good start, but I hope the version just released has a LOT more options than the version I was asked to tinker around with. Thanks for reading!

  3. Written by majinsteph
    on 2011-09-20 at 20:38

    It’s really easy to make your character hold a cell phone, and many other items.  With your character selected, under 3D character settings on the right, click the glasses icon and use the “Right Hand” and  “Left Hand” categories.  Scroll down a little bit and you can make them hold every type of provided cell phone.
    I mostly agree with your review, but I must add that I do love this program since I really have no interest in drawing, or making a comic seriously.  I like being able to create one or two pages in my free time, using this program is probably the only way I would ever be able to make a manga.  But I really, really wish there were more character options.

    • Written by Brooke
      on 2011-09-23 at 00:09

      I must have missed that… But as I said, I’m a newbie and people with more experience can probably get more out of it. I think you are exactly the sort of person this software was made for, so I’m glad to see you can get some enjoyment out of it.

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