The Problem With Digital Comics, or How I Learn How to Love Them

How do you read your comics? Still going to the local comic shop, picking up physical copies and then trying to store them? Maybe you are using Comixology and carrying them all around in your pocket, trying to read them on the smallish screen of your smartphone. Then there is the old school pirate way of reading them via scans on either PDF readers or CBD files. Today there are a number of ways to consume the medium, with varying levels of creator rewards. I’d like to take some time and share how I have gotten back into reading comics on a more regular basis. So today in the Geeks Respite we are talking Marvel and Comixology Unlimited.
For the longest time I couldn’t keep up with everything going on in comics, either that whole “real life” got in the way or the wallet just didn’t have the power to get the whole story. I would consume books via summaries and wikis, and the occasional scan for really big books that I just could not afford, only grabbing and laying down money if I knew well in advance that something major was happening, the life of a poor geek is hard some times. Once things settled down I started trying to catch up with the actual stories that I had missed, digging in and getting the details that the wikis missed. That is when I became annoyed with scans and pdfs, scan quality was not always guaranteed, nor were those massive files easy to navigate. “Why can’t these be like Comixology?” I would ask ( for those that don’t use the app, the comics you buy and read on it can be read in a panel to panel style, easy to see the art and to read the book) but of course that is the benefit of buying on the app. I just couldn’t afford to buy the backlog of what I had missed so that I could get caught up. So that was the state of my comic fandom for a while, keeping up barely but not getting the full feeling of the story because I’m just reading the plot points. I had heard of things like Marvels Unlimited service, where you can dig into the whole library Netflix style, but I never heard anything good about the service. Then a year ago they did some revamping and I decided to give it a shot. Let’s just say that off and on for the last year I have paid my ten bucks and dived head first into the back catalog. Yeah it doesn’t have anything more current than 6 month old books but I didn’t and still don’t care, those are the stories I missed, the things I wanted to see. As an aside to the Marvel Unlimited recommendation here, this service really did bring me back to comics, and even helped me come up with this whole Geeks Respite thing. Everyone focuses on the new hotness but going back and looking through the history of Marvel, there are a ton of stories that you can kick back and just enjoy a comic for a few minutes. It helps to recharge that geek battery we all have. So I’d like to say that you can expect some picking from the tree of history around here, I’m going to go over some of these Forgotten Events off and on. Get ready.
Recently I’ve signed up for Comixology Unlimited, same concept but with indy books. While I haven’t really gotten knee deep in what’s available yet, it looks like this will do the same thing that Marvels Unlimited service did for them. Let people read the back story, whet the appetite for the current books, and of course build sales, but really I’m ok with paying creators if I enjoy their work because I want them to create more. This streaming idea really could help older fans get interested again and share that interest with younger fans, its like when someone tossed you your first book back in the day, you flip through it and get hooked and then you want to know more, these services let you learn more. Again like with the Marvel Unlimited backlog, expect some reviews or just musing on events and single issues from me in the future.
This brings me to DC, they have their own App just like Marvel where you can get some free books and purchase new stuff but unlike Marvel, they don’t have an Unlimited service. They have put their history behind a paywall, restricting fans who want to learn more about the heroes that the movies are showing them. I think it’s only a matter of time before they also have a similar service, but once again DC is a few steps behind the rest of the industry.
So, all this talk of digital this and unlimited that, where does this leave physical books in general and local comic shops in particular? I don’t think there will ever be a time when physical books won’t be available, too many people with crappy internet or those people that like to put hands to paper and enjoy the new comic smell, so physical copies will still be printed. That isn’t to say that the physical book market won’t shrink, like all print media there will be some attrition of market share as digital starts gaining momentum. Event books, special covers and gimmicks of the past may start popping up again to try and make the physical book more attractive, giving readers a reason to drop money on a physical book along with a digital copy, let’s just hope that all these covers don’t attract the speculators market again. Right now back issues are still a pillar of some comic shops. Origin tales, first references and appearances, the history of these characters are always going to be in demand as long as those characters are in the public eye. No matter how many reboots you do, Thomas and Martha Wayne die, Peter Parker got bit by that spider, and a little baby Kal-El crashed in Kansas, and people will always be curious about those origins. The most ardent supporters of the hobby will always want to have those stories, maybe not to read but just to say they own it. This is where the physical and the digital will overlap. Owning that book but not reading it, because seriously, a 75 year old newsprint comic book would turn to dust in a light breeze at this point, is like owning a piece of art but never speaking to the artist about its meaning. Digital books will allow for collectors to have those keystone books to display and still read the stories contained within. Over time you will find a slow decrease in the demand for physical books outside of tracking down those key issues or special event books, it’s just the nature of media now. I worry that we will see the end of the local comic shop, or a drastic change in how they operate, and while that means things have changed, you lose the feeling of community that comes with everyone piling in on Wednesday to pick up the newest books and then spending a couple of minutes, or in most cases hours, debating what just happened. A sign of the times, yes, but we have to find a way to supplement that feeling, that connection. That’s a post for a different time though.
The rise of digital comics is a double edge sword. It gives easier access to the characters we love, removes the threat of speculators pricing new readers out of the key books in a series, and opens a world of new comics to readers. At the same time, they remove the need to hit the local comic shop and interact with your local comic community, are able to be removed at any time the publisher wants and leaves you with a pocket full of comics but long boxes filled with dust. Thanks for joining me and feel free to comment below!


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