Future Comics – Post Print Ponderings

Usually this article tends to focus on a single topic (except for the grab bag, of course), but sometimes I find myself musing on ideas that really can’t sustain a full length article, but still–they just don’t go away, so I think I will take some time this week to just get these paragraphs out of my system and find out what you think about ’em.

Print comics on a screen

I think we’re in this really strange time where we know what is coming, but logistically, it’s just not possible to make it over the last hump as far as transitioning folks to digital comics. Yes, I know there are lots of solutions out there to guide you through a page, but I realized after reading Mike Norton’s very fun, very well done, quite enjoyable 24 Hour Comic, The Curse, I realized (probably very late in the day) that the real issue is not figuring out a way to read print comics online, but to redesign comics for online delivery from the get-go.  Like, Mike’s page is really nice on a computer monitor–it’s a rectangle that you can resize and I found reading the story quite fun and easy.  Norton was using a site name issu.com, and that site seems to work pretty well for widescreen comics.

Of course, this is very easy to write but much harder to do. It reminds me of this country that, one day, changed from left-handed drive roads to right-handed drive roads (I learned this in online traffic school). At one point in the afternoon, everyone just switched. The whole country, all at once, just went the other direction.  If you are going to have a real game plan, one that works for customers, this would seemingly be the best way to go–get your books to transition to a wider format, then use that same art for computer monitors.  Expensive, and perhaps even impossible, but when I look at online comics, I kind of feel that scrolling up and down takes you out of the reading process. When you can fit the whole page on one screen, it’s much, much more satisfying. So, what do you do? Print a year of “widescreen” comics and then wean everyone to the screen?  Screen wean? I dunno.  Speaking of which…

No more print comics

As I was driving home from the comic book store, I started wondering if we, right now, are living in the last gasp of the printed comic books era. This is not a new thought, and I think there are lots and lots of people who just assume this is already happening; I realize this.  But it reminded me when I was in my last year of college: there were several times when I turned to my friends and said, “Just so you know, I am actively enjoying this moment. If there were roses around I would be smelling them because I am stopping right here and recognizing this is a time that I will never experience again.”  Of course, it didn’t really help anything, but at least I tried.  Already we are seeing independent comics having a harder time getting out through Diamond, and we are seeing more and more web-based comics than ever.  And who hasn’t thought about the ramifications if Apple does indeed release a full color tablet (see imagined prototype below)?  Rumors abound that print outlets have already met with Apple to discuss different print models–the tablet would be a printer version of an iPod.  All of your books, video content, etc–on something that you could really relax with and use instead of printed media.

Looks nice, right? Would look even nicer with some Frank Quitely art on it.

I was over at a friend’s house to play some music the other day. Usually, I bring a big bag of records and we spend the night playing music on two turntables sans microphone style. Recently he went and got Scratch Live by Serato for his setup, which basically takes the idea of a vinyl record and transports it to the modern age. For those of you not familiar with it, basically you have these two special records that the computer reads and understands as points in time, beginning to end (on the record there is a tone that goes from high to low or low to high, not sure).  Basically, you drag an mp3 file to the computer program, then the program tracks the needle location on the special record to a point in time in the mp3 file. So you can mix and scratch and do all the fun stuff you do with records on a record player, but you can do it for any song you have on your hard drive. You can bring an entire DJ set with you on a thumb drive (you can bring a whole series of sets, really) and show up at a club and just play.  It’s incredible and it is straight up the end of the dance music vinyl industry.  Yes, people will still (and do) make records, but from a professional DJ’s point of view, why would you bring 200 records with you in some heavy backpack or crate when you can just bring your laptop and two records?  It’s just the way it’s going to go.  As someone who has spent a lot of money on records, I can’t even bring myself to be sad about it, honestly. It’s just the way things had to go. you get more music, because more and more people can create tracks at home and send them out on the Internet and you still have the same creative, fun, DJ experience you would have with a “regular” record.

I don’t know the future, but reading The Curse was the first time I really felt like I didn’t miss the printed page–because the web page I was reading wasn’t trying to be like the printed page! I think that’s key. Darwyn Cooke, pictured below, made an interesting comment during Ron’s interview with him, saying how artists are already transitioning over to digital delivery, that they are already developing a design instinct for the post-printed comic book era. (If you haven’t watched that interview, you should–it’s really, really good.)

While I understand why the evidence is there to transition away from the printed comic book we’ve had for so long, it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Yes, I am worried about where to store the books and I spend a lot of time wondering why I keep them around in the first place, but so what? The books are there–if my hard drive crashes or my Internet access goes down, I can still go get them. I can lend them to a friend. I can take them with me to the bar. I can…well, you know what you can do with them.  Maybe it’s just me being the cranky “you kids get off my lawn” old man but I honestly feel it is deeper than that. If I can’t give someone some comics that I think he or she will like, can comics really exist as a sellable product? I can page through the book with my friend and show the good parts, talk about the art, etc, etc. One can go to a store and page through different books before purchasing. Yes, you can do things like this with electronic media, but I guess it kills the person-to-person, community aspect of the transaction, which for me is one of the best parts about comics in the first place. Yes, I know, I know, you can go to the iTunes store and sample some tracks if you have an Internet connection, but you know what? Going to the iTunes store is nowhere near as fun as when me and my buddies would go down to the Tower Records near “No Shit” hill in San Francisco.  Not even close.  It’s cheaper, it’s more convenient, but, like, I’m not gonna meet girls at the iTunes store. Not that I did when I was in high school, but at least girls were in the store and I had the actual possibility of talking to them.

There is some equation out there about how there is always a cost to technological advancements, and, oftentimes, it is a social cost. Like, I can get a movie on disc and watch it at home and have a great experience, but I would be alone. I can call someone on my cell phone, but I don’t get to see her face.  I can send an email, but I don’t hear her voice or see her face. I can listen to a recording of a symphony, but I don’t get to see the musicians play in front of a live audience.  The list goes on. Perhaps for comics, yes, I can download a new issue of a comic every week, but I wouldn’t be able to hang out at the comic book store and listen to Cat complain about Grant Morrison or Brian Bendis, which I find entertaining and fun.  Not everything is better just because you can do it in your underwear.

Hmm. This is getting kind of long for two ideas that were only supposed to support a paragraph each. Look, I know we talk about the future of comics a lot, so I hope I am not restating old ground here and apologize if we’ve already gone though this. I will have new content for next week, promise. That being said, what do you think about this?  Like, what will you miss once we get to digital comics? (For the record, I think comic books will always be around, but there will be a time when trades will dominate and floppies will be more expensive than they are now.) What do you look forward to? Are there activities that you used to do in “real life” that technology has made easier? What was the cost?

Thanks for reading–see ya in seven!

Mike Romo is not a Luddite, he just manages to sound like one whenever he talks about digital comics.  Use your “technology” to email him, or use your “technology” to follow him on twitter
Changed photo because, okay, it looked bad but I did like he was melting..thanks @stuclach!


  1. Yikes.  If previous posts of this type are any indication, things are about to get wild in here.

    Personally, I am more than ready for a digital transition if it is done properly (low cost, flexible format, and properly protected from pirates to protect creators’ income streams).  However, I also understand that many fans do not want to make the transition (for many valid reasons) and have no problem with the print version staying around. 

    @Mike – You seem like a good man and I enjoy your input on the site, so I am saying this from a place of respect: Is that really the best picture of Mr. Cooke you could find?  It looks like he is melting. 

  2. @Mike – Here is a nice pic of Mr. Cooke from an iFanboy article: http://www.ifanboy.com/images/ifanboy/darwyn.jpg

  3. Couldn’t agree with you more, Mike. If preferring actually browsing and buying physical objects to own from record stores, independent bookstores, and comic shops makes me an old fart, so be it!

  4. @Mike: It seems that this topic is at the top of the debate list for many comic fans.  I have mixed feeling about a transition to a digital medium.  I would love to see cheap $1 digital comics distributed on Long Box or some other service.  I could buy a couple of issue and if I like them I could buy the more expensive print.  I enjoy the print more because I like to hols the comic in my had and take it all in.  Reading from a screen is hard on the eyes. Now if cheap full color tablets come out that may be acceptable.  Blair Butler brought up in a recent podcast that she sees single floppies going to digital while collected editions would be released in printed trades.  I could handle this but like you say I would miss going to the comic shop weekly and talking comics.  In the future i’m hoping that like music we will have the choice of either the downloaded copy or a hard copy.

  5. Another great read, Mike. Thanks for posting your thoughts on this. Cheers.


  6. Some of my favorite things about buying new comics on Wednesdays have less to do with the actual reading of the books. I like walking to the shop. I like the little chat in the store. I love the walk home, when I peak at the covers in the bag in anticipation.

  7. once again great article mike. 

    I have nothing against digital comics. As long as they don’t phase out print all together. I wouldn’t mind reading a book monthly on my computer and then buy the trade when it come out in trades. I’m not sure who posted it but someone said that they would like to comics in a trade you buy twice a year. That idea i like. Also i would like the complete transition to hold off a year so i can get a decent internet connection.

  8. You know what I miss because of technological advances in video games? I miss how games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat would be released in arcades way before they were even thought of being games for your home console. Our arcade at the mall used to be packed with heads whenever a new Mortal Kombat game came to town!! 

    Of course I always liked being able to play the game with my thumbs on my own controller but the whole social aspect of it is gone now.

  9. I guess I am the weird one here.  I want the story as true to the artists/writers vision as possible.  If they can do that with digital comis, and give me a corresponding price drop I will be all over digital and will expand my current "pull list" accordingly.

    It is interesting that you mentioned the Apple tablet.  I had never thought about it but that could possibly be the best way to view comics digitally I have heard of.  If the proper support was put behind it by the publishers (big if) I can honestly say I would buy one pretty quickly.


  10. I see what’s coming but something in me just will not accept it.  I have seen and read digital comics before, but it just seems impersonal.  I feel as if I don’t own a copy because it is reduced to a stream of data that I can access instead of a book I can see.  So, yeah, I know digital will win over print comics, at least if the trend continues, but I’ll hope for some trades if the singles ever disappear.  And I’ll be able to afford them if I don’t have to buy issues beforehand.

    In the end it won’t be that big of a transition for me.  I’ll just ignore the digital issues and buy them in print if they ever come out.  I just hope the confines of an electronic screen don’t stifle the creativity of the art.  I mean, there should still be an outlet for those issues where the artists (both writer or otherwise) want to be more creative than rectangular panels and word balloons big enough to read on an iphone.

  11. I think digital should be an option in ADDITION to printed comics only.  I love going down to the comic shop and chatting with other fans about our books.  I love excitement of getting new books to physically hold.  I also love the smell of print.  All 3 of these things that I love would be gone if I was forced to buy digital comics instead.  I don’t want that to happen.

  12. Cheap digital comics must happen if monthly or weekly comics are to survive because comics are not worth $4.00.

  13. @stuclach–I changed the photo. I just liked Darwyn’s look (I grabbed it from the interview) but yeah, it was vaguely "Raiders of the Lost Ark Face melty".  thanks for the link.

    thanks for the great feedback, all. I was, honestly, worried about this article because I wasn’t sure if people would care about yet another digital conversation, but, you know, we are seeing technologies and methodologies change, so I guess it’s worth digging back in a bit every so often. I appreciate being able to talk about this stuff with you all!

     late for work! gotta go!

  14. @Mike – It looks much better now.  He is a very cool guy.  I would love to revisit this conversation after Longbox (and its competitors) become available and I’ve had a chance to try them.  Right now I feel like I am forming opinions based on expectations and I HATE doing that.  I need to try it to form a valid opinion (we all do).

  15. A while back, when I first had a big hard drive capable of holding endless quantities of music, I ripped all my CDs, thinking how much easier it would be now that I could just play music straight from my computer, in any song order I chose, etc. 

    Now I think about some song I’d like to hear, and I think, Oh man, I’d have to fire up my computer, wait for it to load everything, and it would just be so much easier to put a CD in my stereo and hit Skip until I reach the right track.

    Most of all, with the sheer volume of hours the average person spends sitting at a computer for work, how can it feel as satisfying to spend all your leisure time at a computer?  If comics ever really stop being available on paper, that might be enough to make me stop reading them.  Oh well, maybe they’d still print trades at least. 

  16. I was reading digital comics years ago.  6 cents a piece.  500+ issues for $40.

    Music CDs are still in stores.  Comics have a ways to go.

  17. @Camden: SOME comics are definitely worth $4.00.

    I won’t miss buying floppies once things like Longbox come out, I already have been buying a bunch of stuff on Comixology (or iVerse, support them and support iFanboy) as well.  I think I’m going to try and stick to trades only as far as physical comics once Longbox is out.  Even if that means cutting way back on DC/Marvel.

  18. I spend enough time in front of the computer that the idea of reading comics on there as well is not appealing at all.  Hopefully, the day never comes (at least in my life of 50 or so more years) when comics aren’t still available in paper format.

  19. As I prepare to move and am staging my house for sale, I wish to God that all of my books (comics, prose and otherwise) were digital.  The older I get, the less I care about things.  When I was a younger, it was important for me to surround myself with possessions.  Now…  not so much. 

    As to the social aspect of purchasing comics at the comic store – that’s one experience that I happily leave behind.  No offense to anybody here, but my experience is that comic shops are disproportionately patronized and staffed by the smelly, unkempt and socially awkward.  To be fair, though, I haven’t stepped foot in one in about 4 years (thank you DCBS), so perhaps things have improved. 

  20. Comics need to be a $1. That is all. I don’t care how comics do it, but they need to do it. I’m having a hard time justifying $4 comics to myself.

  21. Well I’m thinking the digital comic might save the comic industry over print, and a valid move.  For one, paper & printing cost have gone up, and with that  the rise in price for a single issue comic. Prices have just sky-rocketed!  I’ve been reading comics since the 70s (and really earlier) off and on.  I used to could buy them for around .75 cents (Atari Force, anyone?), and they’d rise incrementally as time went on–so I can appreciate some of the comments on the "smell" of a freshly printed comic, the anticipation of going to stores and checking out new arrivals, etc.   But when they got up to $2.99 it pretty much killed my hobby for me.  I think that’s too high.  Yes, I still read them, but mostly graphic novels, and an occasional single issue, loaned books (libraries, friends), past comics I’ve bought, and so forth.  Therefore I can only think that by going digital, they’ll drop the price, and some more fans will see the hobby feasible again.  I don’t think scrolling up and down is a valid problem (really after video gaming?).  Finding the right format might be harder in the short run (vhs vs. beta, etc.), but I think something could be found.  I think the Kindle looks to be the better way to view them (for me), although I don’t own anything like that–I’m unemployeed currently, so have to pinch pennies.

    As Stuclach already stated in the first response posting, they’ll have to iron out a few things before all this can be done, but I believe it can be done hopefully.  I might also add that storage is a problem. I’d prefer a new format where I don’t have to deal with long boxes, bags, and all that, and storage.  Another thing I’d comment on is the thought on meeting people at the comic shop and the communtiy in that.  I live in a small isloated town in Texas.  We used to a comic shop here, several from time to time, but they’ve all folded.  About the only thing available to me is Barnes & Nobles, a similar media store, 7-11, but the nearest comic shop is the next town over, and not much of a community-minded group over there, so really it’s a solitary event (with the exception of a couple of friends here and there), and I sort of feel that’s more the norm unless you do live in a larger metro area.  Most of my community comes via piped in like iFanboy (which I very much appreciate), and other online sites.

    I do think the reader needs to look nice like the Kindle, portable so you can take it with you wherever you need to go (school, office, different room in the house, etc.), and able to supportive of other media would be great too.  I’d prefer that than reading it over my PC as for me, my back wears out more quickly than anything else due to the chair I use to sit in, but if I could take the reader over to a nice reading chair with a decent light source, I’d be a happy camper. I still think though that comics generally offer a great medium, one that still distinguishes itself from other art forms, so hopefully it will continue to provide that in the future.


  22. @Mike. Normally I’m not a fan of your articles, not because they aren’t written well (they are), we just tend to disagree on things. That’s why I’m taking a short time to tell you that I thought this article was incredible. I was having pretty much the same thoughts you were while reading the curse. You make an interesting comparison to the digital mixing program you were talking about. My friend picked up a set that lets him mix directly off of his iPod (you pre load two tracks and have two knobs that work as your turntables. It gives you pretty much all the options of a normal setup, althogh sometimes loading a track can take longer than expected. It’s pretty slick other than that problem.) But that’s besides the point.

     From now on I’m paying closer attention to your articles. You’ve made a reader out of me.  (and gained yourself a twitter follower.)

  23. @robby:  You’re wrong, with XBox Live and PSN I’ve played more games socially then ever before.  And now with games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero I’m no longer relegated to playing with my nerd friends.  Sorry, I know this isn’t the forum for this but I thought I needed to point this out. 

  24. We pretty much share the same sentiments. I’m not opposed to digital comics, I just think many people are imagining them to be the magic panacea for the ills of the comics industry. And judging by the music industry… it really didn’t do much. I really don’t feel like getting into it here (I had a day-long discussion on twitter about the failing of Ebooks to take off even with a popular ereader and that the claims of digital music helping out truly unsigned talent are grossly over stated) but essentially I just feel digital music evolved over a short amount of time. This feels like a fanbase demanding their medium change and I don’t think that’s going to work out well.

    Crossgen comics was the first company to experiment with "e-comics," that is they posted free PDFs of issues on their site 6-8 months after they were published. It was part of one of the many stated reasons for the company folding. Apparently no one really likes Marvel’s digital comics service and most Web comics still look like comic books or strips. (That is 8×11 portrait.) Zuda, believe it or not, has tackled taking the existing comic book form and adapting it to the shape of the modern screen (widescreen landscape). During the LongBox discussion , one of people in charge responded to me that until they get comics made exclusively for LongBox, they won’t fit the shape of the screen.

    Perhaps when Apple comes out with a tablet I’ll rethink it. I read my comics laying on the floor, facedown. You can’t do that with a computer screen. That’s where the physical nature of the comic becomes important. Great article. 

  25. I don’t know why people are looking towards Apple’s hypothetical tablet to read digital comics.  Digital ink is a far superior product for that purpose.  You could read PDFs of a comic on a Kindle DX right now, if you wanted to. 

  26. @PudgyNinja: Only in black and white. Color digital ink is a long way off, according to the last word I saw from Amazon.

  27. Speaking of the Kindle: http://bit.ly/28yFih They just cut their prices.  I would actually be willing to pay a $1 each for black and white comics that I could read on my computer (or a Kindle, if I had one).

  28. I still think hard copy comics have several years, if not over a decade, left.  However, I see newsapapers and maybe magazines maybe going digital because of the net, tablets, smart phones, etc.

  29. Mike–what kind of stuff do you like to spin?!

  30. hey guys–

    nice comments, as usual–@anson17, glad you liked this one! @AlexG–well, back in the day, I was a house DJ but since I started playing in San Francisco, there was a lot of progressive house in my crate. Now, when I play out for parties (you know, at people’s houses, even a few weddings), I play almost everything that makes the crowd happy (but I don’t play stuff I dislike), from hip hop to hair bands to pop to funk to house to whatever. I use Abelton primarily when I actually mixing since I don’t have turntables around anymore.  But, you know, I still love playing vinyl the most, I gotta admit.

     @pudgyninja — next time you see a comic book store, try a visit. I am curious, because, I agree, it wasn’t that long ago that a comic book shop was just basically a nerd den with bad lighthing and inappropriate acne. I think the better shops–the ones that are surviving–are really changing things up, with different books, toys, etc…



  31. @conor – True, but there are a lot of good B&W comics out there.  I just think that digital ink is the superior technology when you’re talking about replacing paper.  As long as you’ve got to stare at a glowing screen (be in on your desk or in your hand) I don’t think that digital comics can really break out.

  32. I don’t think print media (gee, isn’t that a ridiculous term to use to talk about BOOKS, dammit, I mean fucking regular old PAPER) is going anywhere anytime soon. It certainly isn’t being phased out. What IS happening is that digit versions of books (and comics) are going to become more prevalent. That’s fine–I’m great with that. Actually, most of the comics I’ve read for the past few years…I’ve read them on a computer screen (GASP!). But at the same time, there really is no better reading experience than the printed page. That’s worth something. So what will happen? The printed versions will be sold at a higher price point. But $5 for a single issue? For certain titles, yeah, I’m fine with that (!). And I’ll have to pay it. But that’s okay. As it is now, to me there’s not that much worth buying physical copies of. But the things that ARE worth owning a physical copy of, hell yeah, they’re so important to me that I wouldn’t mind paying quite a bit for, if it comes to that.

    The technology of the book has yet to be surpassed in terms of readability, convenience and user interface with the product. Ebooks on tablets have their advantages, but the experience isn’t as personal or versatile: you can’t write in the margins of an eBook, you can’t make notes in the back, you can’t roll an eBook in your hand. If you have a tablet or laptop with an eBook on it, then you’re taking something expensive, delicate and very valuable (i.e. stealable) with you…whereas you could just be talking along with a little paperback in your hand–which is a much FREER experience. I use a lot of eBooks, I read a lot of comics on the screen–but for things that I REALLY care about, there’s no substitute for having a unique physical copy of them. They’re easier on the eyes, for one thing. They’re worth paying more for.

  33. @mikeromo – I used to go to a store by my office.  It was close enough that I could get down there during lunch.  I dropped $40+ a week there, easily.  Then one day, while I was browsing (not reading cover to cover, mind you, just flipping through a book to see if I wanted to buy it), I was told "this is not a library."  Walked out, never looked back. 

    I’m sure that if I went to Comic Relief or Isotope, I’d have a good experience.  But those places aren’t going to be the shop I would go to on a regular basis.  They just aren’t very convenient.

    Out of curiousity, I’ll go back to that store that I walked out of to see if it’s changed.  I kind of doubt it.

  34. Checking out that online comic site-looks great, way better than marvel’s crappy one.

    It’ll take a long time for me to accept digital comics as the way to go, instead of a cheaper version of the print comic. That tablet looks awesome though, much more comfortable than a book. Better have good battery though. 

  35. I’m currently looking at buying my next laptop/netbook based on how comics will look on them.

  36. I find your timing for this article uncanny. Yesterday I was at my friends LCS & was having this exact conversation with another customer.  His view is that the Apple Tablet is going to revolutionize comics & he would have no problem gettinghis floppies digitally & for the same reasons everyone here has stated above.  He would continue to buy hardcovers & trades but that would be it.  My question is what happens to the LCS?  I know there are lots of awful shops out there & many of you wouldn’t mind leaving them but there are really great shops out there like my friends:  http://localheroescomics.com/  in Norfolk, VA and I don’t want to lose that great enviornment.  I believe this will be the great casualty of comics going digital & like Mike said in his essay we’ll become more closed off & have less interaction with like-minded people.  Going to the LCS isn’t just about getting floppies, it’s also for the communal aspect.

  37. I’m with you Mike, and it’s nice to finally hear this side of the argument in larger numbers! I really thought I was alone in my concerns about digital comics.

  38. Great article.   Yes, digital print media will take over in the next decade no doubt about it.   Like a lot of technolgical advances, we adjust and evolve with it.

    Bars and coffee houses are going to be the winners.   If I ran a coffee house, I’d have comic book night, movie night, novel night, etc to get like-minded minds tegether to socialize about that subject.  If the comic-book store goes by the wayside people still need a place to socialize about their hobbbies.

  39. I am a fan of comics regardless of the delivery method. I have a Marvel Digital subscription and love the access to tons of books from any computer I use without having to store all of the issues. I doubt that digital will replace print completely. It’s far more likely that floppies will die and hardcovers and TPBs will rule the day. Too many people enjoy the tactile experience of paper for it to completely die out.

  40. Any company’s dream is to sell you something on the internet that they don’t have to distribute. They prefer to sell a virtual thing. But do we consumers always get something better with the advance of technology? I’m not spending money on digital comics because I don’t want to be reading comics off a screen. The book is way more versatile and I want to own them as beautiful objects. If it goes completely digital I’m out.