Chat Cave: Digital Comics vs. Real Comics

Chat Cave

Among all of the continuity changes of the New 52, one of the biggest changes to DC was their new same day digital release plan. With digital comics coming out the same day as physical copies, readers can choose their favorite media without worrying about being behind the curve. Now the only question is: which do you prefer? The Retcon Punch staff weighs in. Welcome to the Chat Cave

Drew: I officially exorcised any lingering “real books are better than e-readers” feelings when I moved cross-country this past summer. Real books are bulky and heavy, and when it comes down to it, what I really value about them is the info they contain, not that they’re handsomely bound or that they smell nice or that they’re comforting (though I agree that those things are all nice). I take no pride in having a large library on display, so would gladly trade-in every book I own for an e-reader if it meant I never had to pack and move another box of books. That is, unless we’re talking about comic books.

Practically speaking, digital makes way more sense; I’m already drowning in comic books, and I’ve only been following a handful of titles for a few months. Why not reclaim that space by storing all of those books in comiXology’s cloud? When it comes down to it, though, I think I just like having the physical book. Comics are a visual medium, and while the quality of the scans I’ve seen on comiXology are impeccable, zooming in/out and panning around a page prevent me from reading the way I want to. There are other tired arguments I could point to, but I think the thing that really bothers me is that I’d feel restricted in my focus.

I also just like having an excuse to visit and support my local comics shop on a weekly basis. I really don’t mean to trot this out to take the moral high-ground in this discussion, but if I’m paying $2.99 for a title either way, I’d rather some of that go to the friendly middleman. Ultimately, it’s just as convenient, as long as I figure out what to do with all of my back-issues.

Shelby: When it comes to books, I am firmly in the “real book” camp. I get the appeal of e-readers, especially as a train-and-bus commuter, but I have a real connection with the books I read; I don’t just mean the content, I’m talking about the book itself. As someone who often re-reads books, every dog-eared page and torn cover is a testament to how many times I’ve loved that book.

I prefer physical comic books to digital comic books, but only just barely. On the one hand, I don’t bring comics to read on the train because I don’t want them to get completely trashed in my bag. Reading comics on my laptop isn’t ideal, what with the scrolling and what-have-you Drew mentioned, but if I had, say, a fancy new iPad, I could stop wondering if I need to get more bags and boards AND enjoy my stories on the roughest public transit this city has to offer.

On the other hand, though, are the comic book shops. I love going to AlleyCat Comics; it’s a shining example of a small business run by people just like me to whom I am happy to give my money. I could probably make the switch to digital if not for my weekly little ritual. Well, maybe I could…

Patrick: Confession time! My experience of the New 52 has been entirely digital.

Like Drew, I moved cross-country this summer, and the thought of amassing more stuff sorta makes me sick.  I do like having a library that let’s guests in my home have a glimpse of what I’m interested in, but monthlies don’t really display well, and I already have a bookshelf full of trade paper backs to broadcast my nerdiness.  My point is, I don’t miss the trophy aspect of collecting comics.

But I do sorta hate the lack of mobility. I guess it’d be different if I owned one of those amazing tablet devises, but that’s just not in budget these days.  I also miss the social aspect of going to comic books stores and geeking out with some strangers over our common passions. I think DC and Comixology could do more to make their services similarly social – like Spotify does with music.  If I could see what other people are reading and then have the opportunity to chat with them about it, I think that’d be cool.  Also, I don’t know why there isn’t a subscription option on these websites; why do I have to tell it to buy Batman the day it’s released?  Shouldn’t it just know?  If a few improvements were made to the service and I had a Kindle Fire, I’d call the rest of you suckers.  But as it stands, I recognize that we all have our own imperfect systems.

Peter: I definitely agree with all points made up until now. In fact, I read both comics in paper and digital format, but I predominately read physical comics. I also, think that physical comics make great gifts and also it’s almost impossible to share comics with friends in a digital format without giving my digital devices. I don’t have an e-reader, but I do use both my computer and iPhone to read them, and since I always have either one or both of those with me all the time, then I am set.

Both have their advantages and disadvantages. We could argue back and forth on this topic all day, every day. It comes down to what fits the reader the best, both financial, interactively, and ‘how-much-space-it-takes-up’-ly. Regardless of whether or not you are reading physically or digitally, I am just glad that you are reading comics at all. I once read an interview with former Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics, Joe Quesada, when asked what he does with comic books when he finishes them. He replied that instead of keeping them, he pays it forward by leaving it where he was reading it, in hopes of enticing new readers, or revitalizing old readers. I love this idea, and have been known to do that.

8 comments on “Chat Cave: Digital Comics vs. Real Comics

  1. It hadn’t occurred to me when I was writing this, but my search for All-Star Western back-issues has made me appreciate another aspect of digital media: it never runs out. I’m not sure how long DC keeps their digital back-issues around, but trying to track down physical copies of issues that are a few months old can be kind of frustrating. I love visiting comic book shops, but I can only walk into so many looking for a certain issue before I pull my hair out. I realize scouring the bins of back-issues is one of the virtues of physical comics, but I just want to get caught up on a story, not find some obscure rarity. Digital fills that need pretty nicely.

    • On that note, preparing our write-ups are certainly easier when I have a digital copy from which to create images to insert in the article. But that’s such a specific benefit that I decided not to mention it above.

  2. I sorta got into it, but would anyone be more interested in digital comics and digital distribution if there was a social media component? I wrote that I would, but it’d be interesting to see if that sort of thing appeals to anyone else.

  3. I would definitely be more interested in digital comics and digital distribution if there was a social media component. I am using both DC and Marvel digital distributors right now, as well as the Marvel Digital Database of comics which makes available for a flat fee, a large database of digital comics that gets updated a few new issues everyday. I enjoy reading them, but if there was a social media interaction, similar to Spotify, like Patrick mentioned, I would use them more frequently, and it would also probably encourage me to use an e-reader device as well. But even still, I don’t know if I could ever stop buying physical comics;there is just something special about it.
    I would also like to point out that many publishers are starting to issue digital codes with their physical comics, usually at the cost of an additional dollar. DC has been doing this with Justice League right now, but I would not be surprised to see them begin to do it more. Marvel has even gone so far as to issue a digital code for all of their Ultimate imprints. I have been doing this for my JL comics and love it, and I don’t mind spending the additional dollar to have the digital copy. Would anyone else feel like they could, for example stand paying an additional dollar for a book, if it came with a digital code to be redeemed for a digital copy of the book?

  4. I don’t know, I guess I wouldn’t really feel the need. I feel the same way about Blu-Rays that come with a digital copy; I already have the hard copy, I don’t need a digital one as well.

    • I never use the digital copies that come with Blu-Rays, but that’s mostly because I’m stingy with space on my hard drive. This isn’t an issue with digital comics, which comiXology stores in their cloud. My favorite thing about that set-up is that your digital comics collection is always with you. This solves my “books are a bitch to move” problem on a micro scale, such that I’d never have to worry about bringing along enough comic books for long trips, commutes, etc.

      A social media aspect may make up for the lack of face time with comic book nerds I would experience by switching to digital. On the other hand, I’d probably only ever use such features to talk to you three, anyway, so maybe it’s good that I have to go out and meet new people to pick up my books. I really value the input of my Local Comic Shop Guy (LCSG), who has read approximately one billion times more comics than I have.

      • Part of what makes the social aspect appealing to me is that there’s so much of catching up on old titles that requires some guidance. And usually it’s easy enough to pop on over to wikipedia or comic wikis or any number of blogs to get that guidance, it might be nice to not have to leave the distribution site to find that. Shelby and I were talking today about how there was some shit in Blackest Night that we thought was stupid and sorta wished we hadn’t wasted our time with it (JSA, I’m looking at you). Wouldn’t it be cool if someone could construct a play-list of issues that tell the most satisfying Blackest Night? The order you read those books in is also sort of important, and it’d be neat to see how various fans sequence them. And then you could buy the play-list.

        Reading through Flashpoint on-line right now, I wish there was something like that.

        • I have seen lists like that, where people highlight “must read” trades; some that focus on continuity, and others that are just collections of neat stories. Having those collected in one place would be a kind of cool thing, especially if it meant you didn’t have to search to find them. My system now is copying down some of those “must reads,” then trying to find those trades at the local comic shop. Needless to say, it’s not always particularly effective.

          Of course, for that kind of application, the digital library would have to be pretty deep. Ideally, I’d be able to go on comiXology, search “Grant Morrison + Batman” and come up with his whole epic (you know, plus some other stuff). It’d be neat if DC offered “playlists” that would deliver crossover stories in the order they were meant to be read (as they’ll do with trades), so you could get fully caught up without having to do the legwork.

          I also like the idea of getting advice on what is skip-able. It’s really frustrating to invest $15 in a book just to find out it was mostly wheel-spinning, and will really only make sense if you buy these three other trades you were never interested in in the first place. A social media site like that would actually make DC’s history way more accessible to newcomers, and way more user-friendly for those of us trying to learn more.

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