Comics have come a long way since my father’s days, from gaining a modicum of respect as an art form to no longer being published just in the traditional paper format. Yes, I’m talking about digital comics.
The pros of digital comics are many. First, and perhaps most important to the comic buffs among us, you can often read comics that have been out of print for years and aren’t easily or legally available through other means. Amazing Spider-Man #1? Sure. Very very old issues of the Avengers? Yep. Crisis on Infinite Earths? No problem! Kingdom Come? The mini-series, and it’s successor, the Kingdom too. Secondly, you don’t have to worry about the comics getting destroyed, thrown away or accidentally sold in a garage sale (not that I’m bitter about that in the least). You can let your non-comic-reading significant other and 8 year old flip through the digital comic without having a heart attack every time they almost bend a corner of a page. Lastly, you don’t have to actually store the comics anywhere, and if they get wiped from your device you can simply grab them again (provided they are still available). There are other pros as well, depending on how you read your digital comics.
You can probably already see the cons of digital comics coming a mile away. Unlike dead-tree comics, there is no digital comics collectables market. Your digital copy of Uncanny X-Men#1 will never be worth $14,000. Secondly, you are dependent upon the comic publishes as to what is actually available, and the big two tend to shy away from new releases being put out as digital comics, though there are some that hit the digital comics apps on the day they are released most of the comics that are available are back issues.
Marvel has an all-you-can-read sort of buffet of comics that you can subscribe to for reading on your computer screen, called Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited. For as low as around $5.00 a month (with a year-long prepaid subscription) you get access to a huge archive of Marvel comics, mostly old but a few newer ones thrown in. However, the comics are only available to you if you have your computer on, connected to the internet and the comic browser open; as of this writing there is no way to download the comics to your computer for later consumption. I haven’t seen any of Marvel’s competitors offering this sort of service, so if old back-issues with a scattering of new releases of Marvel is your thing this is a very neat service.
The Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited deal is cool and all, but it’s not my preferred method of consuming digital comics. I prefer to own the digital issues so that I can read them at my leisure, even if I’m not connected to the series of tubes known as the internet. For that, I turn to a company called Comixology. Comixology is a comics seller that you may or may not have heard of. If you’ve ever even thought of looking at digital comics, you’ve probably looked into one of Comixology’s offerings. While they do sell dead-tree editions via their website at http://comixology.com, they are perhaps more innovative for their digital offerings.
That’s right, the major comics apps in iTunes and the PSN comics reader for the PSP are all Comixology. For those of us with an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, Comixology offers several apps. There is, of course, the main Comixology app which has all the digital offerings available, but if you are brand-conscious, they also offer apps specifically for Marvel, DC, IDW, Image and a few smaller companies. Also, they offer a comic reader for the PSP. The apps themselves are free, and usually come with a VERY nice selection of free comics that you can download. And because you are actually downloading the comics, you can read them anywhere, anytime you’d like…regardless of the availability of internet access. The cost for a digital comic is generally $.99 to $2.99 depending on the comic, with the newer issues being more expensive in general, and compilations such as the Walking Dead being more expensive of course.
The smaller screens of the iPhone, iPod Touch and PSP may not sound like they’re very well-suited to reading comics, but Comixology has a “smart flow” technology that will allow you to see each panel separately, moving automatically to the next, correct panel on the page when you tell it to.
But where the digital comics really come into their own is on a larger screen such as the iPad. Here, you can see the entire page at once, moving from page-to-page with the simple swipe of a finger. There is also an option to turn on the smart flow so you are just looking at one panel at a time just like with the iPad’s smaller cousins. The digital comics reader for the iPad was one of the big reasons I purchased one, and I carry around dozens of comics on it at any given time, ready for me to read whenever I get bored or have a lull in my day.
So, how do the comics look in these apps. Beautiful, sometimes even surpassing the print versions especially on the iPad. If the publishers would get on the bandwagon and provide more new releases, I would definitely use this as my main vehicle for comic book purchasing. Though it pains me to say it as I am more of a Marvel fan, DC has really done a nice job with their digital comics. Not only do they tend to offer more new releases than Marvel, but you can also read any DC comic you’ve purchased through the apps on your computer via the Comixology website.
So what publishers does Comixology offer? A lot. There are of course the Big Two, but also Image, IDW, Archie, Top Cow and several smaller lesser-known and independent publishers. Many of the medium-tier publishers have their own apps (Image and IDW do for sure), but they’re all accessible through the main Comixology app if you prefer.
Are digital comics the future? It makes the collector/investor in me cry, but the part of me that loves reading comics just to read them sure hopes so. I welcome our new digital comics overlord.