e-comics: Worth the paper they are not printed on ?

My friend Jase asked me what my thoughts were on e-comics, and that was a great question that deserves a decent answer. So here goes: 

The short answer is I am ambivalent when it comes to e-comics (aka digital comics), as I love the idea but  dislike the way the idea is currently being executed on the one hand. On the other hand I find them a perfect way to relax and unwind after a hard day’s work.  However, as this is a blog, I reckon a short answer is not sufficient.

So, for your edification, here is the long answer !

 Firstly, let’s define our terms (as all good debaters do !).  I reckon e-comics fall into two broad categories, those digital comics that essentially replace a paper comic and web comics, which present a new comic strip or pages of a lager story on a regular basis. Of these two types it is the digital comics I have the love/hate relationship with, while web comics are the salve to soothe my stresses of the workaday struggle.  


As with any love/hate relationship, I have made a list of the good and bad elements of the relationship to help me decide whether it is worthwhile pursuing, and here it is: 



1. Digital comics are portable.  I can read them on my Mac, laptop or iPad. No matter where I am, I can read a comic or three. 

What’s that you say ? You can do that with an ordinary comic, and not have to worry about losing power ? True, I can. However, at best I can carry half a dozen physical trades/graphic novels with me (or twenty comics) at any on time. On my iPad I can carry a few HUNDRED comics, trades and GNs and so have enough reading material for a week ! 


2. Digital comics look better than physical comics. Sometimes a physical comic will be printed on crappy paper or has a dark colour pallette and it is difficult to see what is actually happening in those four-colour panels. Digital comics do not have this problem, as there is no need to worry about paper, and the colours appear as the colorist intended. Even if there are issues, you can zoom in on a particular panel or page and see all of the detail you may miss at the regular page size. 


3. Digital comics are cheaper than physical comics….sometimes. I will talk more about this below, as the “sometimes” aspect is a big issue for me. Be that as it may, digital comics can be as cheap as 99 cents, and so is a cheap and efficient way to pick up, say, a hundred issues of Batman, or a complete limited series. Buying the physical back issues can be an expensive exercise, as most comic shops sell back issues at a price higher than new ones. Waiting for sales is an option of course, but the dollar comic bins are usually filled with middle issues of unpopular series and so it is hard to get all you are looking for. Second hand bookshops are a cheaper option, too, but you run into the same issues (bad pun, sorry) as the dollar bin. 


A minor disadvantage with this is the loss of “the thrill of the chase” you feel when tracking down back issues of a favourite series and the sweet satisfaction of finding another issue, another piece of the continuity puzzle (especially when you find it in an unexpected place. I will always remember the time I found Strikeforce:Morituri #5 in a tiny newsagent in New Norfolk, Tasmania). Oh, and when you find that last issue you need to complete the collection – that feeling is almost orgasmic !!! That may be why I wear two pairs of pants when I go to a comic con, just in case I find that copy of Captain America #157 I need !


4. Digital comics can be easier to share. If I want to lend a mate a heap of comics I can pass over my iPad or laptop, thumb drive or DVD packed with cool stories. I can also e-mail to my Newcastle mates PDF or CBR files of comics I have downloaded. That’s right, I download comics. Now, before you shout “PIRATE” and have me hung from the yardarm, be aware I only download comics I have already purchased copies of (either digital or physical). The reason I do this will be explained more in the disadvantages bit too. Anyway, performing either of these simple actions is easier and cheaper than handing over a pile of comics to my WA mates, or mailing them to my NSW ones. Also, I can lend out my comics and still keep a copy of them with me. Nevermore will I need to be concerned that my copy of Excalibur #3 will end up coffee-stained, or the first Usagi Yojimbo trade go missing.     



 1. Digital comics are usually too expensive for what you receive. This is the biggest problem I have with digital comics. See, the “Big Two” and most other mainstream publishers charge the same for a digital comic as they do a physical comic. This bothers me because I am used to getting a “real” artefact when I pay $4 or more for a comic. True, in australia buying a digital comic is cheaper than a physical copy, as you pay the US cover price rather than the higher one charged by retailers to cover their costs of transport, shop rent etc, however it is only a couple of bucks more to get the physical comic. Now I understand that so far my argument is basically a weak “but I don’t get paper when I buy digital” statement, but there is more to the picture than this. You see, when I buy a digital comic from Comixology or Madefire I am not purchasing a comic I can do with as I will. Instead, I buy the right to have the comic available to read through the Comixology app for a period of time. In effect, I am “renting” the comic from Comixology.  Sure, the period of rental is practically indefinite, however I do not have the right to do as I wish with the comic. I cannot lend it to my mates, or back up a copy of the comic, or even read it through another app. This is why I download a copy of any comic I “buy” from Comixology. I can lend these copies out, and back them up so that if my system crashes I can easily access my comics again. 


2. Tied to this problem is an even bigger issue for me: If Comixology or Madefire should go out of business, I lose any comic I have “purchased”. Remember, I do not own the comic I have purchased, I merely have the right to access it via the company’s. So, if the company folds or moves to a new platform or changes its software I will be unable to access my comics. So, the hundreds of comics I have spent thousands of dollars on will be gone ! And, in a climate where the whole digital comic thing is new and many apps are untested while market forces and/or consumer preference cause one format to become the primary one, the chances of this happening is relatively high. Remember, entertainment technology always goes through a period where there are two or three competing formats in use, before one becomes dominant and the other dies out (Beta v VHS, DVD v Laser Disc, CDs v Mini disc and most recently Blu-Ray v High def DVD). 

For me, as I am sure it is for many other comic geeks, this is a risk too great to bear. 


There it is, my love/hate relationship with digital comics bared for you all to see. At the end of the day I do love what they bring to the table, but at the moment it is too risky to jump in whole hog, as the risk is too high that I might lose all of the comics I have purchased. 

 Wow ! This has been a longer post than expected, so I will regale you with my thoughts on webcomics tomorrow. 

 Thanks again to Jase for a great question ! Hope the answer is not too long and rambling for you mate !!


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