Exploring Spellbound, the app pioneering visual storytelling and short stories for teens

Apr 16, 2019 · 5 min read
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Spellbound is a place with high quality, fun to read short stories. The stories are told in a comic or graphic novel style and the app is particularly popular amongst teens. Many of their most popular stories are currently in the romance, horror, and comedy genre. Despite the common narrative that teens no longer read, I can personally share that I’ve seen teens glued to reading some of these stories.

When I first stumbled upon the Spellbound app, I couldn’t find too much information about it, so what I’m going to try to do here is to demystify it for future people who try out Spellbound.

Here we go!

What is the Spellbound app?

Spellbound is actually the publishing brand for a company called Commaful. Commaful is a popular platform for sharing short stories, fanfiction, visual stories and more.

The Spellbound app is where many of the top quality and curated stories are published. The app houses many stories, comics, visual stories, and graphic novel style stories from creators around the world. As of this writing, the diversity of characters represented in the stories I saw is pretty good as well.

While the stories can be read for free (as of this writing), there is a subscription payment gate that shows up and forces you to wait for some time before reading the rest. Unlike many other apps that utilize this form of payment, this payment goes to support the content and the writers, so I’m all for it. I also find this less annoying than some other apps because the same company has so many completely free stories on their main site so if I am a bit broke and don’t want to support the art, I can still enjoy stories.

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Where do Spellbound stories come from?

Most of the stories published on Spellbound are written originally by short story writers on Commaful. It seems that a “publisher” called “Commaful Studios” taps some of the high performing creators and stories to publish their stories on Spellbound. Some of my favorite Commaful writers have been featured on Spellbound.

Because I have never been tapped and the company hasn’t released a ton of information publicly, I don’t have a ton of information here. I did email one of the founders of the company asking and got a quick reply citing that they do look closely at what people seem to like and the underlying data to make publishing decisions, but wouldn’t go into specifics.

Some stories have been teased in partnership with YouTubers and organizations with good causes too, which will be interesting to see.

I also spoke to one of the authors published through Spellbound and while she didn’t give me exact deal terms, she told me she was very happy with how it was structured and that she felt it was fairer than some of the publishing offers she got in the past from major publishers.

Will report back when there is more data here. I’m sure the basic contract terms will be released or leaked at some point, but for now, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt here and say this is looking pretty promising.

Why is Spellbound awesome?

The stories. I’m a fan of the stories and the fact that I see young people reading. There are many stories and series that have high potential, especially with young audiences. Without spoiling the stories, I’ll go over a few of them.

1. Mr. Doodleburger

A comic style story about a hamburger that escapes from a burger restaurant. It doesn’t get better than this folks. One of my favorites on the app and it’s seriously hilarious. Rumor has it that part 2 is coming. I’m excited.

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2. The Dark Walk Home

When I first joined, this was one of the first stories that showed up. The illustrations and creepy monster really did it for me. Nothing so special about it as far as horror stories go, but the combination of a lot of nice little things were great.

3. Don’t Make Me Fall In Love With You

A breaking the 4th wall story. Generally, I don’t like 4th wall stories, but this was so well executed. Well written and tugs at the emotional heart strings. Read this for a true masterclass.

The Controversy

Is it really reading?

I’ve certainly heard criticism about Spellbound as well. While I certainly consider Spellbound reading, I know many who have argued that stories with so many pictures and graphics cannot be called reading. I’ve always believed that reading helps stretch the imagination. Your brain has to do the work of imagining and even with pictures, it’s clear that this format still gets your imagination cranking. Many people are borderline on whether or not comics count as reading. The stories here are definitely closer to reading than comics are.

The stories aren’t exactly “deep”

The types of stories on Spellbound are not necessarily the types of stories that make you think too hard about life. You can maybe make some stretch arguments about some symbolism here or there (and there are certain themes throughout the stories), but at the core, these aren’t stories that you’ll be reading in an English class. Just as you probably wouldn’t analyze the life meaning behind Marvel films, you probably won’t be dissecting any Spellbound stories. That’s exactly why I like these stories so much. They’re fun to read and I don’t have to think too much. They’re a great way for teens who associate reading with “homework” to actually see reading in a fun way.

The library is still pretty small

I agree with this. I’m certainly hoping to see more stories get added soon. In due time I’m sure there will be more stories in their library than movies on Netflix. But in the meantime, I’m happy to support young writers as they continue to grow.

Definitely curious to see your experiences with fun online stories or graphic novels for teens. I’ve had a great experience with the Spellbound app so far and excited to watch it evolve.

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