Longbox R.I.P?

If you’re a comic book fan, this topic is more divisive than Moses at the Red Sea. Though the idea of reading comics on a computer is hardly new, technological developments have given it the ability to fulfil it’s long held promise.

iPads and other tablet computers, by and large, have screens roughly the same size as your average comic book page, so no narrative-breaking scrolling down or across the screen. The Comixology app that has claimed the digital ground as it’s own also has a function for zooming into individual panels, so you can really appreciate all that detail.

And what of that under rated pleasure, the Page-Turn Reveal of Something Cool? It still exists, as your digital page is turned with the drag of your finger. Yes, it seems digital comics have it all. But they still have their critics.

The most common, and to my mind the most valid complaint is ownership. Sure, the price of a digital comic is lower than its print cousin, but what do you actually get for your money? A file? Ones and zeroes? Do you actually “own” anything? And what if it gets accidentally deleted? But most of all, what about the joy of having something in your hand, like a good book? As much as I love digital comics, they dont compare to my Absolute All-Star Superman.

But my Absolute All-Star Superman is a luxury item. It’s bound wonderfully and is bigger than the average comic. It’s not designed to be in the same category as a monthly floppy. It’s the blu-ray DVD box set of that TV series you recorded.

And it’s certainly not portable.

My iPad currently contains at least 50 comics, bought over a period of months. I’m on a train right now, and can choose from the complete Planetary by Warren Ellis, Birds of Prey by Gail Simone, and any number of DC Comics’ New 52. To carry print copies with me would be heavier and cumbersome, and could even damage my comics. No, thank you.

Ultimately, digital or paper should come down to personal preference, but with the state the comics industry is in, we may not have that luxury. Costs for printing are high, and most comics barely break the 20,000 sales mark. Digital gives an ailing industry a cost effective way of publishing and reaching more readers than those with access to a local comic store. Bleeding Cool has recently reported that Shonen Jump are due to cease printing their monthly anthology title in favour of a weekly comic to be downloaded, for only 99 cents. While DC and Marvel court controversy with their price points, both digital and print, Shonen Jump are showing just what kind of value for money digital distribution is actually capable of.

With a dying economy and less money in my wages, the appeal of this may outweigh any affection I have for print comics. Add to that the fact that I’m just way busier than I’ve ever been. Though it’s barely 2 miles away, I haven’t had time to visit my local comic store, the fantastic A1 Comics in Glasgow, in a very long time.

Due to time and money issues, with the exception of high quality trades for my favourite stories, I can see my consumption being solely digital in the very near future.

How about you? Ink or information, what’s your preference?

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2 responses to “Longbox R.I.P?

  1. My thoughts on this change roughly by the hour. At the moment I’m veering towards electronic, because I don’t get time to go to the comic shop and I’ve got to think about storage space when I get married next year. Digital comics are fantastic in that regard, and as I’m a DC fan, day-and-date digital publication is a great innovation.

    Yet I’ve got a copy of All Star Superman 10 signed by Frank Quitely. And I don’t want to lose the physicality of that. On a related note, I know I find it a LOT easier to track down information in physical books. I haven’t found an e-book yet that can beat treeware stuff when you need to look something up in a hurry. Sure, the internet makes reference works easier, but finding quotes or insights that you *know* you’ve read but just can’t find…?

    Anyway, I wrote two posts that started out being about this subject but ended up veering off into the same byways and wilderness that most of my posts find themselves in. And so I’ll pimp them here, because you’re my friend and I know you won’t mind 😉

    Like Tears In Rain – http://matthewhyde.wordpress.com/2011/05/17/like-tears-in-rain/

    Crazy Old Bookstores vs The Internet – http://matthewhyde.wordpress.com/2011/07/19/crazy-old-bookstores-vs-the-internet/

  2. Given that I bought an iPad 2 just yesterday, almost entirely just to read comics and almost entirely due to your influence, you probably know I’ve been pretty heavily swayed by the digital case in recent months. As you say, taking into account the low sales figures a lot of singles get, digital could be a much better financial model than paper at the very least for the initial serialisation of comic books. For me also, given that my comic collection has rather outgrown my relatively large living space, the idea of having a comic collection that doesn’t take over several rooms is very appealing. On the other hand, I did pop into Plan B Books today, for the first time in far too long, and picked up the new Comics Journal, and the higher-end and non-mainstream stuff I would still very much prefer in paper form. It was perhaps just guilt kicking in from the iPad purchase, but I won’t miss physical incarnations of video games when they inevitably become download only, and I feel surprisingly little affection for CDs now that I’ve more or less completely switched to digital in music.

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