Ahoy, Comic Book Pirate!

I think “file sharing” comics fascinates me as much as it does because, fundamentally, I am a lazy sack of wet bones.

For example: in my downtime, such as it is, I work on this comic book web site many of you may be familiar with. More often than not, it’s one of my favorite things to do in a given day. I particularly enjoy contributing little one-off bon mots for their recurring features “Top 5,” “Best of the Week in Panels,” and “Great Moments in Comics History”… or I would, if not for the fact that contributing to those features more frequently would involve the use of my scanner. The scanner is in no way temperamental or difficult to use, but the prospect of messing with it drops me whining to the floor like it’s kryptonite-powered.

Sara Pichelli, Ultimate Spider-Man #2

Just another lazy Saturday in the neighborhood and/or stampede. (Captured via camera phone.)

“Ha! Sara Pichelli apparently thinks every day is New Year’s Eve in New York City. I need to put this hilarious Ultimate Spider-Man panel in the Best of the Week… uggghhhgod, the scanner and the settings and the cropping and shlepping all the way upstairs and what’s on TV and where are the Fritos and zzzZZZzzz.”

I’ve done forty-five-minute Google Image searches for pictures that were sitting on my coffee table, rather than wrangle with that infernal contraption. That is lazy.

So you can only imagine how ill-equipped I am to wrap my skull around the knowledge that there are people in this world who buy dozens of comics, bring them home, and scan every single page of every single comic every single week.

They tweak and massage the pages to optimize how they look on the screen. (I can tell because when I try to scan panels, my first few attempts look like newspapers from the forties that got left in a flooded basement.) When there are double-page spreads, they edit the images so that you could never tell there was once a fold or a staple. Sometimes, they do versions with and without the ads in case, I don’t know, someone doesn’t want to pay for the comic but feels compelled to support the sponsors.

They send all of this effort into the ether for no pay whatsoever. Hell, they pay to do it. They do all of this for/to people they have never met in their lives. As far as I can tell after a highly unscientific survey of the web, they do it all in one night, like Santa.

They do this over and over. And over. And over and over. And over and, additionally, over. Another Wednesday is always just over the horizon.

I think online communities even form around these activities. If I understand correctly, scanners form scanner gangs. The mind reels. Are there rivalries? Do they have snappy West Side Story song-fights? May I pretend that they do, and write lyrics for them?

We have talked many, many times about “piracy” or “sharing” or whatever you’d like to call it, but this is the part we never linger on. Just take a moment to really ponder it. There cannot be downloading without uploading. People are birthing these files, every single week.

These men and women (but really– come on– men) completely fascinate me. Many heads of state are less interesting to me than members of the file sharing community. What are their dreams? What drives them? What kind of rent are they paying? I want to know everything about them. I am not kidding. Just maybe exaggerating a little.

I need to get one of them to out himself and open up to me.

So, this is a serious plea: if you regularly upload comics or are a member of the file sharing community, please let me interview you. I beg you. This has been driving me nuts. I will not use your name, your graffiti tag handle, or the name of your scanning guild. I do not want to cause you grief. I just want to talk to someone On The Inside.

I made this plea on Twitter once, but the only responses I got were along the lines of “I see through your cunning trap, narc.” You’ve got me all wrong. I don’t want to be snarky or do some “gotcha” thing. I’m not Bill O’Reilly. I have heard a million arguments on this topic (well, really three and a half arguments 300,000 times each) but yours is the one side I have never seen represented and the only one that really interests me. I mean, I know why someone would download a $4 comic for free. I can puzzle out that little riddle if I try really hard. You’re the enigma in all of this.

Why do you do it?

What happened that made you decide to start?

How long does it take?

Do you do it every week?

Do you and your scan clan divide it all up according to some kind of schedule?

How do you respond to critics of what you’re doing?

How do DC’s and other companies’ recent day-and-date digital offerings affect your plans moving forward?

No, seriously, why do you do it?

I know you’re out there. Please consider getting in touch with me. Set up a fake Gmail account or something if you’re afraid to give me your real e-mail address. You’ll make me the happiest boy in the world, or at least on this site. I look forward to posting our conversation on the internet. I’m afraid I have nothing to offer you in return, of course, but I trust you will have no problem doing it for free.



Jim Mroczkowski has a love of learning. And Twitter.


  1. Fascinating, I really hope you get someone. On the macro level, the internetz are legion. There will always be hordes out there to do anything, like a force of nature. It gets interesting when you can tease apart the individuals.

    • The answer is simple… people crave social interaction.

      As of this posting time, this topic had 65 replies, most of these replies are from people who are complete strangers and will likely never met or interact on a physical level, most (myself included) are using fake names… yet when we write a reply and send it into this immense ether, we kinda attached a piece of ourselves to our comments… searching for any reaction… interaction… to see if someone touches back.

      Why is it that we are so careful with our comments, searching for spelling or grammatical errors before we sent it to be read by people who neither know nor care if you were a high school drop-out or a college professor?

      Why does it feel so satisfying to see that people-strangers- commented favorably to your post and so enraging if they disagree… ?

      The scanners-uploaders are no different, they take satisfaction that their work are being shared… their work is a piece them reaching out craving to be touched…

  2. Man if this were local TV news, i’d love to see that bumper for the investigative news story. “Talking to Pirates and getting answers! The iTeam cuts through the BS and fights for you!”

    I know what you mean about the scanner laziness. I often sketch stuff out and then scan it so i can work digitally…it takes SO MUCH motivation to fire up the scanner. SO MUCH.

  3. “Do they have snappy West Side Story song-fights? May I pretend that they do, and write lyrics for them?” DO IT!

  4. This would be fascinating. My first thought was that they each buy some of what they like and put it online and then read the rest of what they wanted. I got Batman this week if you do X-Men. Something like that. Otherwise they are the nicest most genourous thieves I have ever met.

    • So I know that the ‘scanners’ can generally get access to private/better/faster file sharing networks. So there may be some truth to your idea. However, the ‘not as good’ networks are still really fast at providing content. If a book is mainstream with a large readership it will often be up the same night the book came out. I do think scanners tend to take pride in their work, as they will often add a tag as the last page of a comic, (in the past some would add their logo to the cover, often over the bar code, but I think this is less common now).

      I am also fascinated by the idea of WHY people scan. Though I also have a hunch (and its nothing more than that) that there are not that many scanners total.

  5. This is why you’re my favorite columnist Jim, these are the kinds of thoughts I have. I’ve wondered about this for years, ever since a friend told me he read New Avengers #1 online the day after it came out. My first thought was, “Why would someone scan all of that?” I don’t know if you’re a fan of It’s Always Sunny but the whole thing smacks of this exchange:
    “Who’s the mark?” “Whose face are we shoving this musical in?” “Who versus? Who are we doing it versus?”

    That’s what I’m most intrigued about with this whole deal, who are they doing it versus?

  6. its been insinuated in articles that some of these scanners work in the industry either in shops or publisher side because sometimes the stuff comes out before Wednesday. I’m really fascinated on that aspect..CBR made a whole thing about how Justice League #1 was pirated a full 24 hours or so it had to of been someone in the industry. Craziness.

  7. The people who put even more work in are the ones who scan in Japanese comics (for instance) and *translate* them. Although on the other hand, I can understand that as ‘My bilinguality is a skill, I want to share this comic with people who like the same thing and will not be able to legally purchase it in a language they know for a year or more, if ever.’ Whereas, “I want to save a dude up the street from having to pay for the thing that I paid for is on the surface less understandable. I’ll be curious to see if you find anything out.

  8. I would love to read this interview. I have never understood why someone would pay money for the comic, then take the time to upload the comic, and never receive any money for it. Why go to all this trouble for free? Lending out comics or trades to friends is one thing, but this is for people that you don’t know and most likey will never meet or discuss comics. Do they hate publishers so much that want to spend money on the product, then give it away for free? What do they have to gain?

  9. Word. I’ve been meaning to scan in just one page of an old Judge Dredd comic for an iFanboy Great Moments for like a year and still haven’t gotten around to it.

  10. There’s a pirate group for everything. Porn, comics, DVDs, TV.shows, books, you name it. A lot of the groups run IRC channels or websites like demonoid which are invite only. I would like to see an interview with one of them as well.

  11. Yet the industry says it takes a long time to digitize everything and these guys do it overnight! I wonder if all the extra effort to split up panels is worth it when what these guys do seems acceptable.

    • But if you’re charging someone for it, the product has to be seen as more than acceptable. The splitting of the panels and the camera animation is what takes the time… I assume.

  12. Just throwing this out there, but a lot of them do actually get some money back from uploading these comics. Certain file-sharing sites such as depositfiles or piggyshare and others pay the uploader a certain amount based on how many downloads they get (The theory being that the more popular the download the more times the multitudes of ads that usually appear on filesharing websites get seen).

  13. Its really not that hard to understand. People want to be part of a community, part of something bigger than just themselves. The work involved in scanning and posting, and the very slight risk involved, is simply the cost of membership. And given that so many readers of comic books feel marginalized by society still, this is a community where they can acquire standing based on the quantity and quality of their output, which is even more appealing and offers even more rewards for taking these actions.

  14. Why is it okay for me to lend my paper comics to my friends to read but not okay for me to send it digitally over the internet? Why is it okay for me to go to the library and get the same comic but not download it digitally? Why is the digital part of this exchange the part people have the issue with? Trading comics is okay when it is in person but over the internet it is called piracy.

    I think the thing people miss is that this activity is, as far as I can tell, a not-for-profit endeavour. There is no monetary gain from this activity. So, is it even illegal? What makes this different than the above situations?

    • Because the paper copy you lend your wife is paid for. The copy that library has is paid for. The copies scanned and sent out over the internet are new, unpaid for copies.

    • Did you see Jim’s e-mail address above?

    • You are either significantly confused or willfully ignorant of the fallacy that exists in stating that internet piracy is equivalent to any definition of “trading”. To expand on Conor’s point, the big difference is not only that the copy you loan/check-out/sell on the secondary market is paid for, it’s that the seller/loaner is no longer in possession of it once it is sold/loaned. Duplication is not trading, it’s exploiting.

      You can’t have your cake (comic), and eat it too.

    • So someone didn’t pay for the book then scan it?

    • Speaking from a purely technical standpoint, there is a clear difference between letting one or more actual real-life friends borrow a print copy and putting a digital file out on a website so a potentially unlimited number of people can have exactly the same digital file that I have.

      It’s the level of scale and definition of “friend” that makes digital “sharing” fundamentally different than physical loaning. Even if I let every single person I physically meet borrow my comic book, it would probably only be a few hundred people, and that sharing process would take years. But with digital files on the web anyone, regardless of relationship, can have anything at anytime for as long as they want to hold onto the data.

      The digital approximation for letting a friend borrow a comic would be if it were possible to forward one of my digital comics purchase to another person that I designate who is using the same app.

    • instead of splitting hairs over rights and wrongs which is kind of irrelevant to the reality of the situation, the larger question in my mind is that there are thousands of comic readers out there who love the medium, want to keep up with the stories, but aren’t buying the product. Now is it pure greed, do they hate the pricing or the diamond monopoly, or are there other factors at play? The audience is there….how do you get them in as legit customers?

    • @keith7198: They, presumably, did (though some of these scans appear before the books are for sale). And then the new copy resulting from the scan is unpaid for.

    • I am neither “significantly confused or willfully ignorant of the fallacy that exists in stating that internet piracy is equivalent to any definition of ‘trading.'” Merely playing devil’s advocate. Don’t confuse the two.

      I don’t disagree with any of the replies made in principle but I do contend that the end result is the same. The downloader/borrower/friend has read the material and did not have to pay for it albeit it in a illegal or legal manner.

    • Devils advocate or not, the position put forward is that the end result is the same, therefore the means of achieving it are irrelevant. That’s simply not true. The medium is the message.

      I can walk into a restaurant and pay for a meal. I can also walk into a restaurant and eat, then dash out on the check. Either way, the end result is the same: I am fed. But you wouldn’t say “They both ended up with the same result, so what’s the difference”? You would recognize that method of paying was legally and morally acceptable, while the method of stealing was legally corrupt and ethically challenged.

      Similarly, you can’t contend that because something done illegally yields a certain result, then accomplishing that result “legally” is equally corrupt and immoral. Yes, piracy lets people read comics for free. But the fact that such is true can not be seen as a means to condemn legal methods of viewing comics for free. In doing so a pirate might use similar fuzzy logic to come to a result such as “piracy gives comics for free, but so does loaning/borrowing, so that must not be ok either. So if your going to say that loaning borrowing is ok, then so too should be my method of piracy”.

      Again, an interesting argument in trying to justify piracy, but still logically broken.

    • Very well put. I concede.

    • I’d like to chime in on this for a second and propose an even more disturbing question.

      Do you think that one’s issue on the stance (you @debaser17, for example) might be influenced by the exclusivity of purchasing comics. I believe that one of the stronger reasons why people (young people in particular) pirate comics is because of the lack of funds to do so on their own and thus are weeded out of getting their comics from LCS’s. While at the same time “old men” such as us (those 18 and over if you will) have this exclusive ability to purchase comics weekly and can discuss them online as a result.

      This is just a theory, feel free to dissect it further because I feel like it started growing legs after the popularity of superheroes what with the DC cartoons and X-men anime being highly regarded in the torrenter teenage demographic. This is very similar to the death of anime and manga in America. It has very similar patterns and I believe deserves some discussion.

  15. Some of them actually mainly scan so they can have digital copies of all their comics. Some scanners have actually quit in the wake of the DC relaunch, because they can now get them legally.

    • How do you know all that? Give up your sources! [shakes commenter by shirt collar]

    • There have been some articles written about this whole deal on some of your competitors sites…especially around the Justice League #1 pirating that was online 24 hours before anyone could buy it. Fascinating reads…learned a ton about that world.

    • If they were going to scan it just for themselves (which is legal by the way), then why upload it? Just archive it to a hard drive or DVD instead.

      You are right, there was one group who put a message at the end of their scan of Flashpoint #5 that said: “We were just a group of people who wanted to read comics on our computers. Thanks everyone, it’s been a great ride. Sincerely, Oroboros, Archangel and Danger Powers”

      So maybe 3 scanners have retired, but there are many more that have taken their place, and there is still the 2 main groups DCP and Minutemen.

    • Honestly Oroboros is the only one in the bunch that actually uploads obscure-ass comics from the 70s and 80s that I have YET to see on ebay or hardcovered so his leave was definitely a sad loss.

  16. It’s gotta be a pain in the ass to upload all of these comics every day. I’ve been doing some ‘screen grabs’ at my internship for financial reasons (won’t go further then that) and it’s tedious and slow. I have to do this for like 15 programs and it took 3hrs just to do one show.

    So its gotta be a tedious and slow job to do this. I mean it’s basically what the companies have to do in order to put it out digitally. So hats off to those guys scanning issues of Iron Man from 1985 for the masses.

  17. Some of the scans probably come from comic shop owners themselves. Wrap your head around that one.

  18. Is that…is that Michael Bolton? In a pirate outfit?

    I hope that wasn’t one the images just laying around your house that you scanned in…

  19. For some reason, I’ve had the idea that there are “insiders” contributing. By “insiders” I mean people who work at, or own, comic stores, not the publishers. I figure there has to be some mole contributing, simply because of the sheer volume of titles, including such horrible, horrible obscure titles that have to be given away for free anyway.

    • Could be people that work at the printer too, or anyone at Diamond or involved in the distribution chain. Aren’t some books printed in China? They’re kind of known for having a vibrant piracy industry.

    • I have a hard time believing that a retailer would be doing it, it would be like a record store owner putting up a torrent of that weeks record releases. My money would be on someone at Diamond. Those dicks.

  20. Admit it, Jim, you’re really Chris Hanson.

  21. Some of these guys genuinely believe they’re doing a good thing. DCP (one of the big group of scanners) is Digital Comics Preservation, they want to have high quality copies of all books available digitally in case things go out of print or otherwise disappear in the future.

    A few years ago when I was downloading a lot of books and hanging out in IRC rooms there were a handful of guys that did a LOT of stuff (GreenGiant, RacerX, and others) and I got the impression that people split up those dreg books that no one wanted so that everything got scanned but no one had to buy a ton of shitty books.

    Most guys released scans every week but I’m not sure how long they took, I think it realy depends on how much cleanup they’d do.

    There was an interview with a scanner in Toronto a while ago (I think on the former CBC radio show Search Engine)… I’ve been trying to find it but coming up short

    • I’m certain that those guys don’t do it for the money. Mostly they do it to preserve them and divulge them, that’s why they scan the adds so people in the future can see the old adds, as Josh did in the video shows.
      I think this guys have bad publicity. I know they don’t support the industry, and that the industry is not doing well, but i don’t think the people that’s downloading the books would otherwise buy them.

      In terms of the passion or the reasons why they do it, i truly don’t understand them. I think they feel something like when someone volunteers , or gives for charity ( wich i also don’t understand). And most probably they think i gives them internet cred or something, maybe inside they own communitys.

      I don’t think they’re going away. i think the industry has to find a way to work despite them

    • Ahhh, digital “preservation”. What good is converting everything to digital going to do if a nuclear war happens or some other calamity? Thousands of years from now, all archeologists will find is a bunch of remains of electronic devices, our culture will have been lost completely if everything gets converted to digital

    • I scanned those ads out of my own books.

    • @jetstorm … you don’t understand giving to charity or volunteering?

    • @IroncladMerc Because the cheaply printed paper comics are going to survive nuclear war?

    • I’ll wager more paper would survive a global calamity than digital medium.

  22. My favorites are the scanners that go to the cons, get their book signed by the creators, then scan and release the book. There’s a number of signed scanned books out there.

    I can imagine that there are many reasons scanners scan. Just to do it; to go against “the man”; because they want to read them on their ‘puter; to make “available” out of print books; for their own ego’s; or my favorite, to force the publishers to go digital. I may have missed a few reasons though. I’m assuming they aren’t of one collective mind….. assuming.

  23. Jim, if you want to find pirates you should start pirating yourself. That’s always the best way to get accepted into the community. Especially if you upload to spanish forums which seems to be the main hub of all the downloading.

  24. People who upload comics, tv shows, music etc etc are just as bad as the thieves. Don’t get me wrong, I have been guilty of downloading in the past when I was younger and naive, but I grew up and realised what a problem this is. Everyone needs to understand that piracy is destroying the industry! I feel so sorry for the creators who put their heart and soul into their work and receive little back for all their hard work. Yes I feel sorry for the ones that cant afford comics ect., I’m pretty much in that boat at the moment, but I’d rather wait till I can afford to buy what I want rather than steal it. O.k, one may argue that this is why they do it, even justify it by pretending they’re some kind of urban robin hood. But most of these creators/artists are not rich and they are taking hard-earned cash from the pockets of the working class.

    Remember, if there is no financial incentive to make comics etc, then eventually creators will say, “stuff this”! and before you know it no more “quality” comics, music, shows etc etc for anyone. I know I sound like I’m preaching but seriously people, creators and publishers have to earn money to enable them to live, some earn much more than others (i.e. J.K Rowling), so what, they work hard and they deserve it. What the publishers should do is ensure their digital products are significantly cheaper than printed media and ensure it’s easily accessible all over the world, this way the incentive to actually buy legal digital media is far greater. So in the end many are at fault and there needs to be real change at the grassroots to prevent piracy. After-all, less money for the publishers/distributors is better than no money at all.

    • If it weren’t for the uploaders I would’ve never gotten back into comics. I spend a good $150 bucks on comics in a slow month. So I wouldn’t necessarily say comic uploaders are just as bad as thieves. I would put it more in a gray area, just like manga scanlations. Sure there’ll be people who read it and never buy it, but the work get’s out there and still produces sales from people out of a group demographic that would have NEVER bought the book otherwise.

      I guess what I’m saying is that people need to think a little more past the standard internet sentiment of “RAWR THEY’RE WORSE THAN CANCER!” Which isn’t what I’m saying that you’re doing @BALD but I am saying it is a popular sentiment to have that I hope changes.

    • @Mangaman, I’m just saying that creators/artists who bust their arses creating up to 19 fully complete pages per week i.e. pretty much every manga artist in Japan, deserves to be rewarded for all their hardwork. Not to single out manga creators but you have to admit these guys are crazy. I also don’t believe that illegal downloads are the best way to reach the masses. Just look at the website your on, how did you find out about ifanboy? I guarantee that you’ve picked up books that you never believed you’d read because you came to a site like this and read/heard about what other people are reading and recommending. That’s how you promote via the internet. I got back into comics by walking into a Borders (R.I.P) and seeing re-printed copies of trades I’d read as a kid and deciding to give them another go, that was over six years ago. Once I read a couple of books, I wanted to know more so I Googled “comics podcasts” etc etc and low and behold I was introduced to the three ifanboys.

      Again I’m not a saint, but being in the creative industry myself, it ticks me off when people take it upon themselves to copy and forward other peoples work on. Like I said before it doesn’t help when distribution schedules and pricing structures are so screwed up.

    • 1. I found ifanboy on youtube once I started reading comics again because of megaupload links of what I thought were pdf’d versions of marvel online comics (later discovered to be torrents).

  25. I wonder if publishers have ever entertained the idea of putting the scanners skills to work for them. Marvel and DC are very slowly putting their back catalog online. if these guys are so good (and fast) at the scanning, why couldn’t they be tracked down and put on the payroll? I’m putting this in very simple terms, but it’s a thought.

  26. Man, I hope you get a really confusing email from some guy with a Somali email address.

  27. I totally get downloading. I have never understood those who upload. Is it just wanting to help people? What motivates people to go to such lengths to help others pirate?

  28. I just flat out don’t like reading comics on the computer screen.

  29. That is my avatar on twitter.

  30. I also would like to say that even now that there is a push for digital, the unofficial pirated scans are of a higher quality than official digital comics.

    • damn good point. People seem to have the problem with establishing a situation in binaries. “IT’S GOOD, NO IT’S EVIL” when this situation (like everything else) are in shades of gray. Am I approving of piracy? No. But is the opposition to piracy providing any strong alternatives to those younglings who are CLEARLY torrenting weekly books we buy? Not really.

      My advice is, get ready to work your ass off to appeal to a demographic once you’ve introduced them to your characters through other mediums like film and videogames (ie: Arkham Asylum/City and MvC3).