It’s not a perfect relationship, though. There is one giant aspect that I don’t love, and it may be sacrilegious as a fan to say it, but: I hate collecting comics. I have nearly 30 boxes that need to come with me every time I move—which means nearly 4,000 comics sitting in my house taking up space. Some of them, I’ll pull out and read again someday; many more, I won’t. That’s the part I hate.
It’s the conundrum that most comic fans find themselves in when it comes to talking about the rise of digital comics and the potential downfall of the old collector paradigm. With the release of the iPad earlier this year, comic-book publishers took a big step toward the future of their industry. All the major companies have now developed the beloved “app” for their comics, and slowly started releasing parts of their back-issue catalog. The majority of what’s available are older books, chosen to give newcomers the chance to play catch-up for a cheaper price and get them into shops to buy the print version of new issues.
All of the books in the DC App’s “new” category are at least two years old, as are the majority of Marvel titles. Having worked with retailers and distribution companies for the better part of their existence, the Big Two are showing loyalty to the old guard and don’t want to offend them by helping to establish new competition. The memory of what happened to mom-and-pop music stores when digital music and file-sharing exploded before anyone knew what hit them is still fresh in everyone’s mind. No one wants to see the same thing happen to this industry, because the vast majority of comic shops across the country are locally owned.
That means that adapting to the changing technology is going to be a slow process. You’ll still be able to find torrents of downloads of new issues online, but usually those are just copies that someone scanned and made into a PDF. With the books downloaded from the official company app, however, the quality is much better—on the iPad especially. Readers can zoom in on individual panels, and everything has been adjusted to remain as clear as possible. Plus, compensation for the creators is usually there, too. You’re getting a better-quality product, and no one suffers financially.
Marvel and smaller distributor IDW have been taking steps to ensure they are at the forefront of digital comics by adding recently released books to their App store. IDW announced that each title it publishes will be available digitally for only one month after the initial print date. Marvel has offered up a few books simultaneously with the printed shipping date, but as was the case with the Iron Man Annual, it was split into three separate chapters that cost $1.99 each; the print version was available all at once for $4.99. Rather than dive in head first, everyone seems to be testing the water a little bit at a time.
As with most new things, there are downsides to digital comics. You can’t really share your comics without giving someone your entire iPad (or similar device in the near future), which no one wants to do; there’s also the inevitable rise of quality comics being illegally shared, hurting the entire industry. And there are still going to be those who say you’re not a real comics fan without a basement full of longboxes. But those vanishing comics just leave more room for a growing collection of action figures, statues and convention exclusives.