Guest Post: You’re Wrong About Digital Comics – Here’s What You’re Missing

by Adam Murray

7383102332_cae372686e_oMy concentration blurred around the edges as I dashed off the school bus towards a pile of mail near the front door. Rapture came once a week, and there it was: the new Fantastic Four comic.

I'm not twelve anymore, but I’ll never forget that jittery feeling– I still get it every time I open a comic book or graphic novel. Fortunately for the little kids still inside us all, comic books are more inventive and more available than ever before. Superman may have triggered the Golden Age of Comic Books, but the quality of work these days would have melted his face off like kryptonite.

The world of comics has changed significantly in the last ten years. Digital innovations have changed the landscape, bringing more fans to the table and pushing the medium to new, greater heights.

Some comics and graphic novels build an audience for their eventual print editions by releasing pages each week online. It’s a great way to get readers invested. I discovered some of my favorite titles this way (like FreakAngels and Nimona, to name a few). Comics and graphic novels are also available through apps like comiXology, which leads the $100 million+ North American comics market.

I’ve made most of my best discoveries over the years thanks to the advent of digital comics, so when I get flack from fellow comics nerds for reading on my phone, I have questions. Are people holding out on digital comics? Do they know what they’re missing?

It turns out there are some major misconceptions about digital comics. Let’s put them to rest with some cold, hard facts. If you’re still not convinced after reading this, take the quiz at the end to see how you can get more out of digital comics.

Misconception #1: digital comics are no fun to read

Knock, knock, it’s the future. Allow me to introduce you. Today’s apps present comics with guided-view technology. With a tap of your finger, you’ll zoom into a large panel to inspect all the small details or zoom out to enjoy the full expanse of a two-page spread. Multiple panels that capture movement –for example, a sword slicing open a rift in spacetime– progress in place from one to the next with a few more taps. No more zigzagging down a page to see what happens– guided viewing brings comic reading closer to a cinematic experience AND IT’S AWESOME.

Misconception #2: you can’t collect digital comics

You can, and furthermore, you have options. You can read and store your purchases in-app, but you can also download your purchases, which means that your collection isn’t tied to the phone or computer you’re using at the moment, or to any specific app. If you subscribe to more than one comic or service, Truebill’s free app makes it easy to manage them. I also love reading my comics on different screen sizes. Revisiting favorites on my phone is a great way to kill time, but I also like reading them at home on a larger screen.

For me, digital collecting is a boon because it helps me avoid the special kind of heartache that comes from spilling stuff on the beautiful comics and graphic novels I’ve literally just purchased. Don’t get me wrong– I love the feel of a crisp new page. I just love it too much to read responsibly at times. I know I should scarf down that burrito before I start reading… but I just can’t wait. Digital collecting is the band-aid on my self-inflicted heartache, and it keeps tons of good reading material in my pocket without needing to carry around (or mess up) all those crisp, beautiful pages.

Misconception #3: the selection is limited

What does limited mean, really? Comixology alone has over 75,000 comic and graphic novel titles, which is about 100 times more than I’ve read in 20 years of voracious reading. By the time you’re reading this, Comixology has likely passed the 300 million download mark. To put that in perspective, the most popular printed comic book in June 2016 (the most recent figures available on comics research site Comichron) sold 381,737 units to comics shops.

Misconception #4: digital comics hurt the comics community

When I lived in San Francisco, my comics community revolved around a shop called Isotope. I flipped through new titles on the cozy red couches and got exemplary recommendations from proprietor James Sime, one of the nicest, most engaged individuals I’ve ever met. Isotope went above and beyond anything an app could do, like throwing parties with appearances by comics legends, themed drinks, and live music. Not to knock online comics blogging, news outlets, or forums, but shops are where the personality (and personalities) of the comics community reside.

But here’s the thing: digital comics aren’t the enemy of brick and mortar shops, they’re part of the sales pipeline. Something like 100 new comics stores opened across the U.S. during 2014-15, and digital comics brought in some of the readers that drove that growth. Digital comics help readers explore the quickly expanding world of excellent work using tools they’re accustomed to.

As Mr. Sime points out, “It’s just another format for the artform. I think you should read what makes you happy, and in the format you like the best. If people decide they want their books to be printed with edible inks and printed on pita bread? I’ll buy a cooler for my shop so you can buy all the edible comics you want!” He says that a large percentage of Isotope’s customers purchase both analog and digital comics and that some of their newest customers started out using Marvel’s Unlimited app.

In addition to epic release parties and scotch tastings with Warren Ellis, Isotope’s Comics University teaches aspiring comic creators the ins and outs of everything from DIY printmaking to guerrilla marketing. Mr. Sime says that the San Francisco Girl Scouts have been hard at work at the University, and that he can’t wait to put some of their books on the Isotope shelves. Community members brought in by digital comics can only boost great programs like this going on at brick-and-mortar comics shops.

Still wary of digital comics?

Not convinced that digital comics are a fit for you? Take this quiz to find out what kind of comic reader you are and get some recommendations on making comic reading work for you!

image by PatLoika

6 Comments on Guest Post: You’re Wrong About Digital Comics – Here’s What You’re Missing

  1. Digital comics got me back into comics — my nearest store, while great, is an hour’s drive away. Plus affordable pricing and allowing DRM free downloads (Thank you, Image!) has made it so that I have gone from buying no comics a few years ago (outside of the occasional used trade collection) to buying dozens of titles through Comixology, Google Play and the various bundle offerings.

    Jim Zub’s recent blog post backs up my anecdotal situation — digital comics appear to be adding new readers and sales instead of cannibalizing the existing market. The immediacy and affordability of digital has brought in a whole added audience that wasn’t purchasing comics before.

    I have really enjoyed getting back into the hobby.

    Now if only Marvel and DC would offer DRM-free downloads all would be well with the industry.

  2. All of my comics reading these days is digital. It’s more convenient than going to a physical comic shop (which is out of my way), and has everything I actually want (unlike the shop in the previous city I lived in). I also don’t have to make room for a huge pile of paper comics.

    Agreed with the above on Marvel/DC needing to go DRM-free already. But at least there’s Marvel Unlimited, plus nearly all of the other non-Big Two publishers have gone DRM-free.

  3. This is a very tendentious post because it doesn’t address what for many people is the issue #1 with digital comics (and ebooks in general): ownership. When you leave your titles in a digital store you don’t own them, you are merely leasing them. Never mind DRM: Comixology doesn’t even let you download most comics!

  4. I seldom read comics but when I do my experience is that the digital experience is vastly inferior. The guided view tech discussed in the article is not fun, it’s terrible. It is a band aid for the real problem: mobile devices are too small for comics. Not only that but the paper version is usually cheaper.

  5. I only read digital comics, having physical comics takes too much space.
    I normally read comics on an iPad. While the guided view makes reading tolerable on a phone, I like the bigger screen of a tablet.

  6. There is more to this though.

    While I recognize the effort of comic buffs who meticulously scan old, out-of-print (and quite surrly never to be reprinted) comics and put them online with some groups like DCP (Digital Comics Preservation or s.l.t.), the same groups post the latest comics free to air (stripped from any DRM, mind you, Mr. DC & Mr. Marvel!) through the well known channels of FTP, then Newsboards and then Torrents, and finally some shabby clickbait DDL-sites…

    So, the question is – not dissimilarly to epubs, or MP3 & DivX btw!!! – whether the industry can come up at least THIS time IN time with some plan to channelize interest in digital ownership in reasonably priced and equally huge & conveniantly searchable legal offers as the illegal, already existing or growing ones?

    Regarding music and movies, iTunes & Netflix and Spotify spring into my mind (minus the ownership-option, sadly). It would be great, if the publishing industry (for books and/or comics) would learn from those long roads and mistakes and would soon come to good solutions.

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