The Ninjabot

The Dilemma of Digital Comics

Posted on November 10, 2012 at 1:33 pm by Jeff Mueller

When I was a teenager/young-adult I had a basement full of long boxes filled with bagged and boarded goodness; Marvel, DC and independents galore. As I got older the weight of reality grew, the availability of money dwindled and then came the inevitable; the selling of my collection.

As the years passed I off and on attempted to break back into my past-time of youth, but each time it fizzled off for various reasons – The books at the time were weak, there were too many cross-overs happening making it impossible to find a coherent jumping in point, the local comic shop shut it doors, etc…

The last time I got the itch was when I read the press release for the re-launch of the DC Comics universe with their New 52 line. What sealed the deal though was me discovering ComiXology, the digital comic book platform. An easy entry back into the world of some of my favorite characters and the convenience of my new collection residing peacefully on my iPad hard-drive? Yes please!

ComiXology is a digital comics platform offering a selection of more than 28,000 comic books and graphic novels from most major labels (DarkHorse being the only notable exception) across the iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire and the Web.

So what is the dilemma you ask (other than the fact it is waaaaay too easy to drop serious cash without realizing it)? It took a little while for it to dawn on me as well. It first became apparent attending the Baltimore Comic-Con this year as I watched the lines of fans waiting to get their favorite author or illustrator to autograph copies of books they had worked on. I guess I could have had someone sign the back of my iPad but that really isn’t the same, is it?

Then I took note of the wandering herds of comic book geeks digging through vendor’s long boxes, trying to find that one issue to fill a gap in their personal collection. While it is nice to never have to worry that a particular issue will sell out before I can make it to a comic shop, there is also the other side of the coin in which the aspect of collecting is gone in the digital era. If you want a book you simply download it. No hunting for it, no feeling of you having something special because it is a rare issue that none of your friends have been able to find yet. Digital comics definitely satisfy the comic reader from an entertainment standpoint, but it does nothing to quell that geek urge to collect and catalog.

Finally I got to thinking about investing in something I don’t actually own. What if ComiXology goes out of business? What happens to all the books that reside somewhere in “the cloud” (Oh buzzwords, how I loathe thee. I hate myself for even typing that…)? It is not like there is a break in price for new releases, the books cost the same and there is nothing you really own. True, you can download all the files to the reader but should I ever replace my iPad due to a problem I would have to re-download everything (not to mention the fact that at some point my collection will start taxing the storage capacity of my device); and that assumes that ComiXology is still around at that point. It seems like a very stable business model at the moment, but the reality is we all know that companies come and go.

In the world of bagged comics in boxes, no matter what happens with the companies that create these beloved books those comics are still mine; accessible whenever I want to open that polypropylene bag. Now of course there is also the argument that having them in digital format allows me to read them, in pristine condition, whenever I want without having to worry about damaging or losing them.

So as the world moves further and further away from print, are digital comics truly the wave of the future? There seem to be a lot of pros and cons to each format, that’s for sure!

How do you ingest your weekly dose of superhero goodness, and if you are going digital do you worry that you could lose your entire collection someday due to a glitch in the Matrix? What say you GeekLegacy readers?




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    • Very good point. As far as storage, you could store everything on drop box as a backup, depending on how many comics you have.

      Comic book stores will be another thing lost in this new age that the new generation won't be able to experience, …like cleaning the NES cartridges to make them work or 56k modems.

      • thejerd

        That's the thing though Stephen, you can't get to the individual files without a lot of tinkering and even then they are only readable through the ComiXology app.

        I just wish the market would shift to an iTunes style format where after I pay for an issue I could DL the raw file, and that file would be accessible via whatever viewer I liked. That way the collection is actually mine, and under my control.

    • As I've said elsewhere, I think there's a problem in comics in that we conflate the health of the direct market with the health of the comics industry and art form. I love comic shops as much as the next guy, but the reality is that the move to direct market exclusivity has been absolutely toxic for comics, and if digital is good for comics but bad for the direct market, I'm willing to take the risk. The good stores will find a way to stay vital, and stay open.

      • thejerd

        Thanks for weighing in Russ!

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