Sunday, June 7, 2009

Comics, the Digital Frontier

There has been much talk of late of the various digital options for reading comics and books these days.  Being a comic shop manager, this is something that crosses my mind from time to time.   Newsweek had a cover with the much-hyped Kindle with the title "Books Aren't Dead."  It could also read "Comics Aren't Dead." just as well.  Many people in the industry are both excited and just a little bit scared of the digital frontier and what it could mean for the comic book industry as a whole.  First of all, let me say, we are still in the infancy stage of this technology.  Kindle only has a black and white display, as of right now, but I'm sure the next generation Kindle will be full color, which makes for a temping way to read comics, for some folks.  Will I ever read comics on a Kindle?  Most likely not.  I'm a very tactile gal.  I need to have the book or comic in my hot little hands.  It just doesn't have the same feel for me, if I can't hold the comic or book.  I need to experience the whole package: content, design, feel, and yes even smell.  Experiencing Drawn and Quarterly or Fantagraphics type of  graphic novels digitally, is shall we say "lacking."  Chris Ware, for example, puts just as much thought and effort into the look and feel of his graphic novels, that if one was to experience them digitally, all of that would be lost.  Ok, what some would describe as "art" comics aside, what about standard superhero fare?  Can it be read digitally?  Sure, of course it can.  Marvel already offers a digital service with access to their entire comic book library, if I'm not mistaken, for a nominal monthly fee.  Do people take advantage of this?  Sure.  Has it affected my sales at the shop?  Not that I can tell, at least not in a negative fashion.  I think the digital service Marvel provides, and I'm sure DC will be offering in the not-so-distant future, can only help the industry, not kill it.  Just like I'm sure there will always be real book stores (well, maybe Border's will be gone, but there are many out there that are indeed solvent).  I would like to believe this anyway, because for me, the love of books and comics is about the WHOLE experience, not just the story content.  I'm one of those folks that CAN NOT read whole books on a computer screen.  The same goes for a Kindle.  I like to curl up with a good book, not an electronic device.  Many of the young folks today have these electronic devices as their only source of entertainment, but every day at the shop, I try to foster a love of comics for any of the young folks that happen to walk through the door.  The fun of the whole "collecting" aspect disappears with digital downloads of comics and books.  I realize that some folks are perfectly ok with that, but that is undeniably part of the comic book industry.  Maybe it's a dying segment, but I choose to believe that that is just not the case.  IPhones have been talked about a lot in comic book circles too.  Dark Horse and IDW have had some success with digital downloads of comic books.  We have a LONG way to go to make this the norm for comic books.  The technology is there, but it will be a good while before every publisher offers their comics on this platform.  Don't get me wrong, once IDW's number for Start Trek Countdown digital downloads became public, just about every publisher that I know of, was on the phone trying to figure out how to make this money-making option work for them.   I can't blame anyone in the least, especially in this tough economy.  I know Moonstone has been working on this option for some time now, even before the whole IDW and Dark Horse announcement.  Personally, I can' even imagine reading a comic on the little IPhone screen.  I know that a traditional comic must be broken up in a certain way to make it readable on the small IPhone screen.  This is obviously NOT the case with the Kindle.  That screen will work perfectly.  I'm hoping that digital versions of comics will just HELP the industry, in theory exposing many potential new fans to the medium in a convenient easy to access digital way.   I realize that in many ways, there are nay-sayers out there that say the digital advent of music killed the record industry, but I really don't think it's that cut and dry.  Since I don't have a Kindle, I don't know how it feels in one's hands.  Is it warm to the touch?  These are things I just don't know.  If a Kindle ever becomes what I consider to be "affordable" I may find out.  Until then, I am quite happy with my physical versions of my comics, graphic novels, and even books.  I like to surround myself with these items.  They bring me joy.  I can't see that happening with a Kindle or even an IPhone.   Now, do I own an IPhone?  Nope, not yet.  It's all about the cash associated with that, and that I'm still stuck in my TMobile contract.  As soon as that contract is up, I will be jumping on the whole IPhone band wagon.  I'm sure I will love it, and I'm sure I will try reading some comics and/or manga on it.  I may even enjoy doing so, but it WILL NOT replace my comic book fix in my life.  Is the comic book industry changing?  Damn straight.  Is every entertainment industry changing?  Hell yes.  Does it frighten me?  No way.  I'm excited to see where the digital frontier takes us.  The comic book industry isn't going anywhere, but the landscape is changing and evolving, which is a good thing.  Do I think there will always be brick and mortar comic shops?  I certainly hope so, for at least the foreseeable future.  I'm not going anywhere and neither is your local Amazing Fantasy.  Time will tell how the comic landscape will change, but the innovative and progressive comic book retailer will remain.  Amazing Fantasy is one of those stores.  We haven't been around for over 30 years for nothing.  We are always thinking of new and better ways to serve the comic book buying public. Digital comics?  Bring it on.  I for one am not afraid.  Comics are here to say.  So say we all.  


  1. I pretty much agree with you, but part of it is that I think that we're part of a different generation. Even though I purchase and download a lot of music on-line, if I really like an album, I'll still buy it on CD (or vinyl) because I don't feel like I own something until I have a physical manifestation of it in my hands, or in the case of comics, on my shelves where I can stare lovingly at them. Kids these days don't have that same hang-up, they're far more used to owning things digitally.

    Regardless, the biggest loss if comics moves to digital distribution would be the weekly trip to the comics shop. You lose that sense of discovery of finding something new. No matter how many positive reviews of something I read or recommendations I get on twitter, there's nothing better than getting something pressed into my hands at the shop with the refrain, "you have to read this!" (Much like with your recent evangelism on Unwritten.)

    That said, the Kindle is a pretty nifty piece of technology and I do want one, merely for convenience sake, but until it lowers its price, and comes in color, I'm holding off on getting one.

  2. Hey everyone! It's Francis. I didn't read this blog yet (but I will). This is my first post! Always remember WHAT I HAVE TO SAY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANYONE ELSE! HA, HA! Humble pie. Uh-oh. Once you write it down you can't take it back! Laugh deeply at my lame spelling and pedestrian grammer! Where's my spell check?!