It’s Time: Digital Comics 2.0

"…and then to make fun of it, I had to find a THIRD device."

“…and then to make fun of it, I had to find a THIRD device.”

Comedian Louis C.K. has a bit that he’s probably stopped doing by now about life here in The Future. In it, he goes into great, profane detail with the help of an experienced MSP about how we (“the worst generation so far”) instantly act entitled to amazing, miraculous technology that didn’t even exist a couple of years ago. He talks about being on one of the first flights ever to have wifi and being blown away by it, only for it to go down mid-flight and the guy sitting next to him to immediately say, “This is bullshit.” I once heard him sum it up on a talk show: “Everything is amazing, and nobody is happy.”

What I’m trying to say is, I know how I’m about to come across in a second. Nevertheless:

Digital comics aren’t good enough. It’s time to shake off the lame and get in the game.

I know! I know. Long before the New 52 ushered in DC’s same-day-as-papyrus digital editions and Marvel’s competitive drive brought them along for the ride, I was clamoring for any glimmer of hope that I could one day read Gambit on the monitor in my office. I didn’t even have an iPad to read on– iPads did not exist as a thing!– and still I would cry out, “Argh, I had to drive all the way to the store in the snow and find a place to park and they were sold out of Heroes for Hire and now I’ll never know how Humbug feels about the Superhero Registration Act! All because this bass-ackwards industry is too scared of change and/or huwting the wetailers’ feewings to implement an option that has existed for pirates and music lovers for ten years. This is ridiculous. We need digital comics. They can be PDFs; they can be CBRs; they can be Word documents with Spider-Man clip art in them. The talking paper clip can read over my shoulder the whole time; I don’t care. Enough is enough. This medium needs to join the future already in progress.”

And it did. It finally did. Unfortunately, as typically happens, that future is the past now.

Marvel once did something with the internet that really impressed me in an issue of Amazing Spider-Man. At the end of the book, there was the typical big reveal of the next arc’s mysterious villain, and it was a guy named the Looter. In this one, lone, shining instance, Marvel acted like they realized not everyone has been reading Amazing Spider-Man since 1971 and might not necessarily know who the Looter is. Rather than wedge a bunch of exposition into the issue, however, they included a link to the Looter’s wiki entry at the bottom of the page.

Or rather, they included the URL. They did this, you see, back before Amazing Spider-Man was even available digitally. The reference to the wiki was done on paper.

imageStill, I was dumbstruck by the elegance of it. I thought it showed great potential for where digital comics could be headed. “In the future, that asterisk that used to point to a footnote explaining when Batman last fought Kool-Aid Man could instead be a link that took you to the actual issue,” I wrote at the time, “or even just opened up the cited panel from that issue. No idea who the villain is? Click on his face and his wiki entry pops up. Hell, you can have the sound effects make noise when you click ’em for all I care. Let’s open this format up!”

So anyway, I wrote that more than two years ago. Nothing like that ever happened in a comic book I bought ever again. Graphicly did a bit of it, but greener pastures beckoned. You never hear about it now. And that is unbelievably lame. We’re so close.

Marvel does have some added content for the digital age, of course: the “DVD extras” featured in its “Marvel AR” tags, which can be found enhancing artwork all over its books. If a book you downloaded has one of these AR tags, and you want to see the extra content, simply click the little “AR” and feast your eyes. Ha ha!, I’m kidding of course. You have to download a separate app on your iPhone, and then scan your iPad with your iPhone. And that is insane. I am afraid to be typing all this right now, because my brain is urgently whispering, “There is no way you have that right. The commenters are going to immediately make fun of you for making such an obvious mistake, because there is no way that idea would escape alive from the meeting room where it was first proposed.” But I’m not positive, because in a year I have never even tried to look at the AR content, because you have to download a separate app and then scan your iPad with your iPhone.

Are you kidding me? You’re not. This is the best we’ve managed so far.

This is bullshit.

I challenge you, o publishers, o comiXology, o providers everywhere: the time has come to stop screwing around. There is an amazing tool sitting in your toolbox that you’ve never even unwrapped. You know that digital is a substantial revenue source for you now; put it to work. Link to related content. Upsell me with those footnotes. If Brian Wood uses John Sublime and the Omega Sentinel in his X-Men comic but gives the reader no idea who those people are and why they should care, hey, do that with a click. Make your weirdo make-em-up words clickable so we can settle how to pronounce “M’kraan.” There are a million things you could be doing, starting with “literally anything.”

Jim Mroczkowski would also like to know why it would be the end of the world if he could drag and drop files from Windows onto his iPad, but that’s not your problem.


  1. Agreed 100%. I wish “they” would stop making things like these infinite comics and AR and just put in clickable links. How hard would it be for Comixology to incorporate some kinda browser technology into their app just like Facebook’s and Twitter’s apps do (open a browser that isn’t quite as good as a real browser, but enough to share the information).

    A true 2.0 version would be to let readers add the links like a Wiki…..

  2. We (Frozen Beach Studios) tried to do something like this back when the second volume of the Pound launched.

    We wrote our own reader, with no DRM, filled the book with trivia, the ability to turn off layers (colors, balloons) and links to external stuff. It’s here if you’re interested:

    Each paper issue had a QR code to scan to take you right to the digital version of the book with all the extra options.

    Unfortunately it’s hard to fight the big guys and get any traction.

    • @charlesp1138 Wow. That reader is really cool. I would love to be able to see something similar to that take off. I love how you can see the references to things. Stuff I wouldn’t have even noticed before, like the beer on page 1. Really cool!

    • This is great, it’s like pop up video for comics, great work. Plus ability to every see the pencils in every page. I’m sure this took awhile to produce and don’t see the big guys putting in that work.

    • Thanks for the kind words.

      It DID take a long time to produce, but putting the books in is trivial really now that the reader is built. That’s the reason we opened it up to anyone else who wants to use it either as a supplemental tool to a print comic or as a digital-first platform.

  3. It’s funny, I don’t usually hear people complain much about digital comics. Usually the fans are so estatic about them that aside from the lack of splash pages and panel perspective they’re happy. I think Marvel’s AR app is pretty lame. DVD extras in a comic? That’s just behind the scenes on a page? Weak. But I don’t read digital comics, so I personally don’t have any complaints myself.

    Maybe Jim could point out how other companies have advanced while Marvel/DC haven’t. To me, everything falls short to what they invent in sci-fi movies. Everything is either making something small bigger or vice versa, making it HD or slimmer. Weak. So what’s this future scenario that comics are missing out on that others have capitalized?

  4. In 2013, A.K.A. the age of technology wonders, you kind of expect to at least be able to click on something… But alas you can’t! I tried installing the Marvel AR app on my Samsung Galaxy S2 and it failed. Twice. I just gave up and decided to read my comics the old-fashioned way, sans extras and google something if I’m not sure who this character is or what event they’re referencing.

    But yeah, having to use your iPhone to read something on your iPad, huge fail of epic proportions!

    Unless digital comics add something over reading the old paper format, I’ll never make the switch, there’s no advantage aside from physical space and having the possibility to read something on the go and download it in seconds.

    If us, fans, can come up with ideas on how to improve the service, how come some corporate dude who’s paid thousands of dollars can’t come up with a solution to our demand? I mean, how hard is it, really, in this decade of techno-marvels!!?!?

  5. I’ve never been able to get the stupid AR thing to work (either with print or digital)…so now I just don’t bother.

    • You know, I found the same thing! I had to hold my phone over the page at all kind of weird angles to get the video to play. I think it’s a great idea, and it’s something I wanted to use, but it got to be a pain.

  6. As far as extras are concerned, I loved that DC included an issue’s variant covers along with the digital version of the issue. Sadly, they recently stopped doing that.

    • Marvel does it here and there. I recently bought all 6 issues of Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine and the variants for the first issue were included

    • DC used to do it on every comic and then just stopped about a month ago. I liked it a lot and would tout it as one of the advantages of digital over print. I hope they bring it back.

  7. The biggest thing about digital comics that i’ve noticed so far is they they are ignoring the lesson you learn on the first day of design school; Design to your format. Trying to take a print comic page and squeeze it into different orientation and media format is on its best day, just a ho hum solution. Trying to serve multiple masters doesn’t work so well. I think they’re starting to do it better with the digital exclusive books in landscape format, but its still a print page chopped in half.

    I would like to see digital comics be so different from print than its almost a different universe. Create different user experiences and even stories for different formats. Use the technology and strengths that the media format brings to the table. Really this comes down to design, thinking and strategy.

    • I’m pretty much anti-digital unless its free, and I’ve been getting more and more used to reading comics on an iPad, but I agree with you, and this article. It’s a damn computer DO SOMETHING COOL instead of hindering my experience. “But you can zoom in!’ Not something I care about or find myself doing often. I would love little links, or some sort of motion, really anything to make it different from my paper comic that makes it worth “not owning”. That AR thing is wack, I thought for sure you’d be able to click it on digital. Makes me miss the old school editors notes in comics.

    • @theWAC1, isn’t DC doing some of the stuff you mentioned with DC Multiverse?

    • dude. i know exactly where you’re coming from. i actually self publish a digital comic that is done in a single panel landscape styled so that it can be read perfectly on tablets or computers.@
      those guys don’t get it, yet. hopefully they will create more comics specifically to be read this way.

      i’m also working on a new title that will very interactive. i want to embrace digital comics in a way i hardly ever see it done.
      a way that makes it fun and interesting.

  8. Better than the wiki entry, how about they link to comics that feature the looter, including his first appearance, and any notable appearances he made since then? The wiki entries can get pretty….crazy…when you try to read them. However, using this feature to push people towards more books?

  9. Those AR clips are soooo bad (as a rule, there are exceptions), and they are bombing my youtube feed. Your reminding me that I need to unsubscribe from Marvel’s updates, because there are just way to many now.

  10. Avatar photo Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

    It was when Diamond Dallas Page appeared after I scanned an AR panel in the middle of reading an otherwise wonderful issue of Avengers Arena that I swore off that particular app.

  11. I was getting comics digitally for a couple of months but jumped ship and went back to paper. The fact I was paying 3 to 4 bucks for a “file” I don’t own was ridiculous. Plus the largest tablets still don’t reflect the proper dimensions of a physical comic book… especially for 2 page spreads. A larger tablet for comic reading needs to come onto the market. If they do this and drop prices I’d hop back into digital in a second.

  12. ““In the future, that asterisk that used to point to a footnote explaining when Batman last fought Kool-Aid Man could instead be a link that took you to the actual issue,” I wrote at the time, “or even just opened up the cited panel from that issue. No idea who the villain is? Click on his face and his wiki entry pops up. Hell, you can have the sound effects make noise when you click ‘em for all I care. Let’s open this format up!””

    It’s funny, when I was younger, in the late ’90s probably? Marvel came out with a few comic CDROM things that were pretty awesome and exactly what you’re talking about. I still have the Spider-Man one. I forget the exact issues, but it included the main issue, complete with narration, and intro from Stan Lee, music, and sound effects. When there was an editorial star, you could click on it and it would give you that entire other issue to read. I loved it. They also had one for Iron Man and I think some others.

    Oh! Here’s the X-Men one:

    I guess I’m spoiled by guided reading. When I get one on .pdf I get annoyed, I find them a pain to read.