So, it’s been a little over a month since I really tried out digital comics on my iPad. Over this time, I have mentioned a few observations in my articles, and, much to my chagrin, over this time I have become a full convert to digital comics. With this article I wanted to share, hopefully one last time, some thoughts on what digital comics is bringing to fans of the medium.
First off, I realize that digital comics are nothing new. I’ve been reading web comics for years, and have read a few issues of this and that on various platforms, including Graphicly’s, for awhile now. But when DC decided to go day and date digital with the print versions of its books, I took it as a chance to really begin anew, to really commit to getting my comics digitally–if the experience was what it had to be. My reasons, by the way, were one of real estate–I just don’t have the room to store all of the comics I have collected over the years. I don’t have the time–or, more precisely, I don’t want to make the time–to go through my comics and organize them by title, all nice and neat, only to have to do it all over again after a year or so. (Yes, I am aware there are ways around this, but still–we’re talking about a lot of boxes.)
I must also admit to being rather skeptical of digital comics. What about the feel of the paper? What about the art–how would it look? What about the ability to hand them to someone and say, “hey, check this out?” Would digital comics make reading comics more of a private thing, like listening to music in headphones? What about kids? The books in those spinner racks inspired a generation of comic book fans. But a month ago, I just went for it, and here are my thoughts.
The art just looks better. There. I said it. The art looks better than it does in print. Yes, it looks different–projected light is different than reflective light–but in terms of reflecting the artist’s intent, I would argue that reading comics on an tablet or a computer screen is more successful. How many times have you read comics before you go to sleep, with just a lamp helping you read? When I read comics on my iPad at night, I can have that lamp off and still get a true representation of the art. Indeed, a lot of art (and pretty much all coloring) is done on computer, so we’re seeing exactly what the creators were putting on the screen. The range of color is deeper as well, when you compare screen to the printed page. Not to mention that the artist can use the backlight to add another dimension to the art. Green Lantern #2 has a page where Sinestro is using his ring and there is this fantastic glow emanating from the ring, pulsing throughout the page. And though I admit it is a pain to have to turn the iPad on its side when reading a double page spread, you get to see the entire two pages completely intact. Indeed, J.H. Williams is doing some fantastic two page spreads that seem designed more for the screen than two printed pages. Look at Flash #1 and zoom in on the art. You get a real sense of the layers of color Manapul is using and it is just beautiful to behold; I didn’t think it was possible, but I am even more crazy about his art, now that I have the opportunity to get so close to it. I have a feeling that as artists start designing with screens in mind, we’ll see even more creative ways the medium impacts the format.
Guided View is actually kind of cool. This is probably going to rub some people the wrong way, but I have been enjoying the “directed” experience with some of my comics. Indeed, I will go back and forth between a guided view and a regular view while reading a single comic. Not only does it build up dramatic tension in a pretty novel way, but it helps with confusing layouts. Batwoman #2 has several two page spreads that almost require the guided view to be turned on and while that’s not necessarily a good thing, to be sure, it’s fun to watch the “camera” move from section to section. While guided view is not a “must have,” I think it does add a certain cinematic quality to comics that is novel, and might be something that brings in new readers, who are used to a bit of “hand-holding” in their stories in film and TV. Guided view should always be an option, I think, because part of the fun of comics is figuring out the pages, but I am surprised how often I have turned it on.
It is a lot easier to remember the story with digital comics. Possibly the most welcome aspect of having all of my recent comics in one place (i.e. my iPad) is being able to go back to older issues to remember what is going on in the story. I remember several times when I had to go back to my old stacks and fish out an issue because there was no recap in the comic I was reading. I actually think I am getting more for my money now, because while I have always technically had access to my books, it was always a pain to get to them. Now I can really be caught up when I get a new issue and I am catching story points and character nuances that I know I had missed before.
No more bent pages. Digital comics don’t get torn, they don’t get bent and they don’t get wet–your device might get ruined, but you can just re-download lost files. Digital comics may not last as long as print comics on their own, that is, if you don’t back them up, blah blah blah, but if you are responsible about keeping your devices backed up and all that, you’ll have them for a very long time. Yes, there caveats to this, but my primary point you don’t have to worry about someone messing up your comics when they read them, and that’s a good thing.
There are other points, too, including how much easier it is to take screenshots of books for these articles, a consideration for a tiny few, but those are the main points I wanted to make. Oh, and the fact that there are very few, if any, advertisements. The ads in comics are almost always of no interest to me at all, and completely hamper the storyline. Yes, TV shows have commercials, but the shows are designed to build up to the ads – how many times have you turned the page in anticipation of some insane story beat only to have your experience dislodged by some stupid Colgate ad? Drives me crazy.
Digital comics are not only more convenient to store, view and read, but they also give readers a more true vision of the artist’s intentions, and make it very easy for readers to keep up with the story. The thrill of being able to take all of my month’s comics around with me wherever I go cannot be overstated.
So, what happens next? Well, I can tell you that if a comic book I like is not available digitally, I will pick it up and enjoy it just fine. I will continue to pick up original stories in book form, despite the fact that I am buying my normal books digitally now. There are just some stories that need to be in book form, like the Parker books by Darwyn Cooke and anything by Matt Kindt. And that’s great–digital comics make it easier for me to stay involved with monthly comics and printed books will always be welcome one of of my many bookcases. Print is not dead; if anything, print special now.
The next few years will be interesting, as I continue to give away my paper single issues and decide whether or not to buy them again digitally or in physical trade. I don’t see me giving up printed monthly comic books any time soon, though I will never buy as many as I used to. I’m fine with that. It’s kind of time.
So those are my thoughts on digital comics. What do you think? Has anything about digital comics surprised you, or are you steadfastly print-only?