Will either of the industry leaders ever just break down and start releasing digital comics? For the love of God?
I asked myself this rhetorical question for the four hundredth time the other day as I stood in my yard, absent-mindedly brushing dozens of packing peanuts onto the sidewalk with the tip of my sneaker. The source of the Styrofoam blizzard was a cardboard box in my neighbor’s yard that now contained nothing but a packing slip. On the slip was a list of comics, specifically two weeks’ worth of comics that I was supposed to get by mail order before some kindly neighborhood gentleman had spotted the box and seen fit to steal it off of my front porch.
I am a bear of very little brain, and as I looked at the evidence in front of me I was processing what had happened less like someone on CSI and more like an ape with a Rubik’s Cube. It just didn’t make any sense. Clearly, somebody with huevos mas grande had moseyed up my stairs and grabbed the box of comics in broad daylight on one of the busiest streets in the city, but they had also brazenly, nakedly opened their ill-gotten booty right there in front of the house. And then found ten comic books inside it. And then, instead of saying “goddammit, this isn’t an iPhone at all!” and abandoning their worthless spoils, they took the comics. And left the box, like the peanuts were weighing them down.
I can appreciate the thrill of Christmas morning as much as the next man– I want to know what’s in the box more than Brad Pitt in Se7en– but if it was a stolen box I’d at least wait to get home, you know? I mean, am I bad at robbing people or is he? It’s him, right?
The only satisfaction I got from the whole episode was knowing that he opted to keep the comics, which either means I created a new reader this week or that my thief was the last person alive who believes comics are going to be worth something again. All week, I kept imagining him trying to trade them for meth only to have the dealer look at them and say, “Sorry, dude. I can’t go anywhere near Spider-Man after what Quesada did to Mary Jane… oops! Excuse me, another of my teeth seems to have fallen out.”
But I digress.
Longer ago than I care to remember, I started getting a handful of comics sent to me in the mail because the store I was going to at the time would routinely sell out of the less “popular” comics I was reading. (Sorry; I can’t type the phrase “popular comics” without employing quotes.) I was not lackadaisical about my shopping, either; the store would open at 11:00, and I would get there at 11:09 only to find that the owner had only ordered three copies of Nextwave again and they were all already gone. One day after this had happened to me a couple dozen times, I was fruitlessly lapping the block looking for a parking space for the 14th minute when I thought, “I bet somebody’d just send these things to my house.”
And indeed they do, but that has its own little Curb Your Enthusiasm aggravations associated with it even when some criminal mastermind doesn’t saunter off with them. I’m particularly thrown by the packing peanuts every time. I mean, I’m glad that the comics don’t show up in wads or folded like origami swans, but they pack the effing things like they’re Faberge eggs in a box the size of a mid-priced Subaru. Twice a month, this box gets wheeled into our foyer and my wife says, “Wow, did you get us a plasma screen?” and I say, “Oh, no; this is four magazines.”
And so this week, I looked at that box and those peanuts tumbling in the wind, and I thought about the waste. All the wasted Styrofoam, and all the wasted cardboard, and all the wasted time driving around looking for parking, and all the wasted gas as they ship the comics to the middle of the country and I drive out to buy them, and oh my God all the wasted paper that then collects in ever-growing spires in my house and houses all over the world as we hoard our issues of Thor.
And I thought, as all of this waste and the prospect of replacing my stolen property rolled around my mind, I could walk right back inside, turn on my laptop, and pirate every single one of these effing books in less time than it took the guy to get off my porch. I could have gotten them the day they came out, and no one would have had to pack or ship or print a thing, and I could keep them as long as I wanted while they took up exactly 0 cubic feet of space in my house.
But of course, you can’t do that. It’s wrong to download comics that someone (for some absolutely befuddling reason that will never, ever be adequately explained to me) spent God-only-knows-how-many hours meticulously scanning page by page and digitizing and uploading for absolutely no pay when he could have spent that time biking or napping or learning how to talk to a girl. You have to pay for ‘em, and I do. But so help me Xenu, if I could pirate my comics and Paypal Marvel twenty bucks a week, I would start doing it this very night with a song in my heart and a spare closet where my long boxes used to be.
I would do damn near anything to live in a world where Marvel or DC (okay: Marvel) took my credit card number and just e-mailed me PDFs of whatever comics came out this week. Hell, I’d even keep paying the six-kinds-of-ridiculous $3.00 an issue and read all of the “Tobacco is Whacko” ads. (Whyyyy am I paying $3.00 an issue for something with paid advertisements in it, by the way? How much would it cost without the Army recruitment ad? Sometimes six issues collected in a book isn’t even fifteen bucks.)
How much paper/gas/money could be saved if one of the 200,000-selling companies just stepped up to the plate and said, “Single issues are online from now on”? I know, Marvel has a digital comics service already, but they only have old comics and don’t let you download them to read at your leisure, opting instead for some bizarre proprietary online interface that makes me feel like an 80 year old trying to learn Pokemon from his grandchild. (Is Pokemon still a thing? God, I am dying.) Digital options available right now are hamstrung at best. I’m reminded of DVDs… you dutifully spend $20 on a new DVD, and then when you put it in the first thing it does is warn you that the FBI will waterboard you for stealing it. “Well… I bought it, but thanks anyway, a-hole.” (Am I the only person infuriated by the FBI warning, or has everyone else just come to accept it? Just me? I see.)
Going digital would take virtually nothing, save countless resources, and of course be a potential windfall for the first company to do it…
And there’s the hell of it. The seismic, possibly catastrophic change that would be caused if a company actually looked at the world, took a deep breath, and yanked off that Band-Aid has the potential to ruin everything for a lot of decent people. The alternative is a needlessly silly system that costs a lot of people a lot more than it needs to.
My kiddo is going to inherit the world I leave her; one day, I will be gone and she will be left to try and figure out what in the hell she is supposed to do with three boxes of G.I. Joe. When that day comes, I think we all know that monthly, 22-page comic books will not be in a store somewhere on paper. But how do we get from here to there, and when do we get there? Who’s the pioneer that pulls the trigger? What is the event that finally needs to happen? If you figure it out, let me know; I’ll be out in the yard with a broom reminding myself how awesome my hobby is.
Jim Mroczkowski was promised a flying car. He can be reached through the wonder of electronic mail at email@example.com or via his “web-site,” Jimski.com.