Campfire is a Danish startup, founded in 2007. The company offers cartoons to mobile handsets under a service called Catooz. And not just any cartoons, but licensed ones from Marvel. Campfire signed a deal with Marvel in October last year. Right now there are strips of Xmen, Spiderman, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, etc. The service is currently available in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Germany.
Campfire provides a Java client for accessing Catooz, the installing of which is smooth. The comics are distributed in multiple small packages, “chapters”. Each chapter might cover around couple of pages of a physical magazine and is downloaded over-the-air. There is one free “chapter” of each comic as an introduction and a teaser to the service. You can buy more chapters easily from within the mobile client. However, the single chapters are really overpriced at EUR 2 (USD 2,69), considering you only get only a few of minutes’ worth of reading, and there are apparently 6 chapters per story. The purchase process works smoothly, though: you press ‘Yes’ to confirm, and you’ll instantly start reading the strip. The payment system appears to be implemented over Ericsson IPX, so being SMS-based might explain the high pricepoint. Luckily, Catooz also offers a basic monthly subscription at EUR 4 per month, which is much better deal. With the basic subscription you can read all comics which have been published over a month ago. There is also offer a premium subscription at EUR 8 (USD 10,70) that allows unlimited access also to the latest comics. At the present time it seems only basic is available, though.
It’s also worth noticing the EULA states all purchased comics are yours for only maximum a year – and, Campfire can remove all purchased comics from the service without any compensation to customers, should any of the copyright holders request so (i.e., decide to pull out from the partnership). Nevertheless, at least you are able to keep your purchased comics even after changing phone, provided you keep the same SIM card and phone number.
I tried the Finnish version of Catooz. I have to say the translations were a bit poor – lots of spelling erros, and some bad sounding sentences. The comics look really good, though. Catooz supports phones with resolutions from 128×160 to 320×240. Campfire describes all the comics content is created or transformed from scratch into mobile. Images are hand drawn, and the process involves story writing, translating, storyboarding, drawing, colouring, scanning, rescaling, transferring to an advanced graphical technology, colouring, and finally transferring the graphics to their Java application. Catooz also offers “cinematic sound” along with the imaging, and some visual effects like flashes and shaking. The effects boost up the experience nicely. I noticed, though, the sounds work best while you are on the go, as they end quite sharply rather than smoothly fade out, giving a somewhat add-on feeling in a quiet place.
The user interface is not very intuitive. It took me a minute before I figured out how to browse the comic strip (of course, I skipped the textbox about key mapping – which is not a proper way to offer tutorial anyway, though). Even after reading a few of those, I still wasn’t very fluent using the system, as you need to press action key to see all speech bubbles, and then right arrow to proceed to next screen. But you end up pressing the action key quite a many times to make sure you’ve really seen all the bubbles. Would be much nicer to be able to browse through the entire strip just using the action key alone.
Nevertheless, the service is very promising already, and it will be interesting to see how Catooz picks up. I’m not sure if Campfire is working on an iPhone app already (I hope they are able to easily scale up from 320 x 240), and if they are able to expand the license to the U.S., but Marvel comics on iPhone in the U.S….could be big.
Catooz intro video: