Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Digital vs. "Real" Comic Books

Hard copy of Artifact Rebirth alongside digital Artifacts FCBD #0 on cell phone.
I remember record albums. Because of this, I also fondly recall what was lost when albums beget the cassette tapes that gave way to compact discs and ultimately to digital downloads: the nuanced but significant importance of the album cover. At the time it seemed a small price to pay for higher definition sound, but staring a small square CD cover was never the same as listening to a new record while reading the liner notes and trying to figure out just why that Iron Maiden, Asia or even AC/DC image was chosen to represent that collection f songs on the shelf.

Cover comparison: "real" vs.
It is too far of a leap to suggest that in ten years, comic book collectors such as myself may look longingly back at paper comic books in the same way; the age of the digital comic is upon us. As content has become available both in comic shops an donline (with many of the larger publishers offering same day releases for both), it is way past time to take a look at this new medium to discern whether it is one that I can accept. Whether online or on the new releases table, just as comic books are no longer "Only 35 cents!" (not even close), this may be the wave oh the publishing future.

As I toy around with digital comics I get the same sinking feeling as I did with the "evolution" of music distribution. Yes, it is more expedient and does make titles previously difficult-to-find easily accessible. Yes, it does allow for the magnification of panels and covers without loss of resolution. Despite these benefits, I still can't however help but feel that in the trade-off something greater is being left behind with this transition to digital. Since buying a smart phone, I have been periodically looking at a variety of free comic downloads online using the Comixology app.

Panel close-up of digital
 page above.
For comparison purposes, I down loaded the difficult-to-find Top Cow Artifacts #0 from 2010, and then pulled out the Top Cow Artifacts Rebirth one-shot from my long box. For those unfamiliar with the Top Cow line of books, while the stories may seem weak (though I'd disagree), the artwork is, without doubt, beautiful in its execution. The digital version does indeed offer the reader the opportunity to zoom in closely on the artist's line work and colors. Comixology also offers a reading system that moves from panel to panel creating an animation effect (in which the e-reader moves form panel to panel in a predetermined sequence) similar to the old Marvel cartoons from the 1960's.

Admittedly, many of the experiential qualities ameliorated due to the transition to digital are personal. For me, what is lost in the experience is part of what made it so appealing to me 35(!) years ago when I picked it up. What it does not allow (at least in the same way practical comics do) is the ability for the artwork to tease your peripheral vision. Oddly enough, one of the most pleasurable sensory stimulants I associate with comic book collecting is gone as well: the smell. (Students laugh at me when I get a similar level of joy from the scent of old books--they just don't get it.) The acre and attentiveness necessary to collecting (bagging, boarding, but not bending) that is integral to the hobby is also rendered obsolete.

Though my sense of nostalgia runs deep, the Nook tablet I received as a gift this Christmas reminds me there is likely no going back. Now, even Barnes and Noble's offers some fairly deep cuts of comic book collections and (appealing to the hipster/youth market, I'm sure) a wide array of manga. In some ways, this digital accessibility could help solidify the comic book world's financial future.

I can see the appeal for those who unfortunately don't have a solid, reliable local comic shop (lcs) from which to obtain "real" versions of these materials on a weekly basis. Or other fans in the community in which they live to personally discusses the latest controversial heel reveal or no re-boot on New Comic Book Wednesday. For this reason, I welcome the technological advances as they help insure the continuation of the medium I love. I am not, however, looking forward to the day when traditional comic books go the way of vinyl: available for inflated prices (digital back "issues" are very reasonably priced) and relegated to only the most popular titles being available.

No comments: