The Fifth Color | My public apology to digital comics
Dear Digital Comics,
I’m sorry. I’m sorry I considered you gimmicky and fake. I’m sorry I thought that you were unwieldy on my computer screen and that your pictures were badly scanned. I’m sorry I spurned your free codes, and I looked down my nose at your formatting and strange reading interactions. Most of all, I’m sorry that, deep down in a small corner of my heart, I thought you were going to take away my job. I’ve been working at my local comic shop for more than 10 years, so that’s a long time to get set in your ways and feel that any new idea might threaten your way of life.
For a long time, I’ve really felt there was an either-or issue between print comics and digital comics. I tend to be a very partisan kind of person (Go Marvel!), so it’s not a surprise that I weighed the merits of both, made my choice and then dug in my heels. Digital comics, I felt, required so much of me technologically (a computer, a good monitor, access to the internet in some cases, etc.) that I didn’t think about all the requirements that print comics ask of readers as well (a healthy income, access to a good comic book shop, some research into what exactly was on the shelves, etc.). The way that comics are read on a screen was just going to be inherently different than the way they’re read in print and that, in a direct transfer, we were just going to lose something in the translation. Besides, there have been years and years to make the returns on print comics better than a digital file; personally, I grew up tracing the heroes in my comics to learn how to draw. You can trade them, give them away, share them with friends and some days, just put them all in a big pile and roll around like a chinchilla (not recommended). I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the big advantage that print comics have over digital: selling them. It would seem in the great debate that paper just covers digital comics for the win.
Last week, I traveled to a soggy WonderCon in Anaheim, Calif. for a weekend of cosplay snaps and panels. Fresh off their big debut at South by Southwest, Marvel held a “House of Ideas” panel the first day that told us all about the ideas our favorite House had dreamed up. Marvel’s Arune Singh led a rousing explanation of all the myriad of things that Marvel had planned for getting their message as omnipresent as they can. From being able to buy tickets to the Avengers movie on Facebook to the digital subscriptions service at Marvel.com (kind of like a Netflix for comics and far better than it was at its inception) to coupons for print comics on the digital app and codes for free digital comics in print, our pals at Marvel are trying so many new ideas to make sure that wherever you’re at, you can get at least something from them at every turn. Nearly everything they spoke of was free–free apps, free downloads, free access–as Marvel was committed to seeing how all this stuck with their audience. Singh was incredibly open with Twitter accounts, names and faces of who was working on these projects and how they wanted feedback on where and when you wanted to see Marvel next.
Singh was also very clear in how this new initiative was not out to “kill retailers” and that all of this should web together, bringing customers into comic shops to buy two types of comics to suit their needs. In line for a different panel, I got to talking about the digital movement to the guys in line ahead of me. One worked in a call center and was grateful to read as many comics as he wanted on his phone during his downtime, but that didn’t mean he didn’t read regular comics as well. This is what I had to learn, both as a longtime retailer fearing what the future may bring for my job, and as a reader who was too stuck in my ways to bother with an entirely new format. The idea that these two worlds could coexist didn’t seem possible, and I fully admit my bullheaded-ness on that.
Because, my friends, I have seen the new Marvel Infinite Comic. Tom Brevoort, Mark Waid, Arune Singh, heck everyone seemed so committed to getting people’s hands on this new format that calling fans up to the panel didn’t stop through the whole convention. They were excited about this new way to have digital comics interact with the reader like a print book, but with all the crisp clarity and artistic value of a digital comic. I tapped and turned pages, information rising up from the screen to meet me to bring a whole level of interaction to reading a simple comic. Look, I should let Mark Waid tell you the details himself, but from a singular reader’s view, someone who was admittedly afraid of the future and who had dug in her heels at every opportunity, I can tell you that the new Infinite Comic is pretty much the future of digital comics, in the same way that digital comics were the future of print. No one discredits the other, but each provide their own unique view of a medium we all love so dearly.
I thanked Mark Waid for letting me come up and see the new Infinite Comic. What I didn’t say was how this was the final piece I needed to see how everything can work in concert with one another, that this doesn’t have to close down comic shops but can actually accentuate them if we all just play our cards right, pitch in and give the future a chance. I just said thank you and that it was amazing. He, in turn, told me to tell the world.
So here I am. Digital comics? I’m sorry I excluded you and I now offer my hand in friendship. I promise that I will set aside my differences and work with you to make more Marvel and, whether you fail or you’re heralded as the future of the industry, I’ll give you the best chance I got.