Being a 21th century digital boy in a 21st century digital world I do a lot of my comic book reading on tablets. I was thinking about it realized my indecision/obsession with Tablets has landed me in the position of having used Windows, Android, and iOS. My plan is to have a future post where all three duke it out but before that I thought I should talk about Digital Comics in general.
The first question one might ask is why read comics digitally at all? Comic books are traditionally read in print and its a medium that has worked well for over 100 years, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it? Well fuck all that noise. We live in the future and aren’t going to waste all the great advances in technology just because its scary and different. Here is my list of reasons going digital is awesome.
Your Whole Library With You On the Go
I can not express how awesome it is to be able read anything in your library at any time on a whim. I travel a lot for work which means I don’t have the majority of my collection at any given time. The great part about digital comics is I don’t have to chose what I want to read ahead time, I just head out and then on the plane can cycle through my collection and pick what I want to read. Even if you don’t travel its extremely convenient to just dig through your digital collection to find the book you want to read whenever you want. I have a decent collection of floppies (monthly books) and the truth is that once I’ve read a book and put it in a long box it has all most no chance of my pulling it back out to read. I’ve gotten better about going back to my print collection since I decided not to bag and board any more but I still have to be pretty motivated to dig through my boxes to find an issue. With Digital I just have to do a quick search and download the issue if its not on my device all ready, and when I’m done I can just delete it and re-download whenever I want.
Digital Comics Don’t Take Up Space
Since I graduated high school, I’ve moved 8 times. Each of those 8 times there is at least 4 or 5 moving boxes full of books I’ve packed up and moved every single time. I have a copy of Fight Club I’ve put in boxes and unpacked and put on my bookshelf 8 times having never opened it up and read it after the first time I read it in high school Books are heavy y’all. Books take up a lot of space. Books are kind of a pain in the ass. My comic book collection consists of 2 long boxes, 4 short boxes and one full book shelf of trades. I like the physical copies I have of things but if I’m being honest I know that 75% of those books will stay in their box / shelf until years from now they go back in a moving box and are moved again.
I’ve managed to sell off and keep my book collection to one bookshelf that is fairly full. I work on a blood in blood out system that if I get a new book something else has to be sold or given away. This could have meant a lot less reading for me but its actually been the opposite. I’m reading now more than I have since I was in high school and not filling up my house with books I’ll never read again.
Digital Comics Look Better
When they print comic books they are generally trying to print that book as cheaply as possible in order to maximize profits. These days they still look pretty good and the pages are glossy and high resolution, though the paper may be thin. However if you are reading older comics that were printed on a non-glossy paper chances are they look pretty bad these days. The paper may yellow and the ink might settle. Digital comics don’t damage with age. They are 100% consistent in their looks and it doesn’t matter if its the first or hundredth time you’ve read them they will be identical quality.
Older Comics are Actually Cheaper
Lets say you want to simply read Action Comics 1, the first appearance of Superman. Now you could spend 3.1 million dollars for a near mint copy at auction for the cleanest possible issue. Or you could spend 99 cents on comiXology and get the comic in HD. Yes I am aware this is an extreme case but Marvel and DC are on their way to digitizing their entire back catalog and if you want key issues from the golden and silver age you can get them for between 1 to 2 dollars. There are lots of time I don’t want to spend the money or time searching for a key issue but just want to read it and digital comics is the only way to do that.
Digital Comics are Constantly on Sale
I’ll get into this more below when I discuss the ways to get digital comics but one of the great parts about digital books is there is all ways a sale to be had. Marvel has 99 cent comic book sales every Monday and Friday and DC generally has week long theme sales of 99 cent books. Not only are there 99 comic book sales but I have also gotten graphic novels and trade collections for pennies on the dollar of retail price. I was able to get the Walking Dead Compendium Vol. 1 which normally sells for 59.99 retail for 4.99. You are able to get most trades daily for 10-15 dollars and they are often on sale for 5 dollars. Not only are there great sales to be had but there are also tons of books you can get for free. If I were to guess I’d say 2/3rds of my comiXology collection is entirely made
Digital Comics Can Include Features Print Can’t
There are a lot of cool features that can be done in digital comics that can’t be reproduced in print. DC comics has several series of digital first comics like Batman ’66 which have cool features and tricks that can’t be done else where. Marvel similarly has a series called Marvel Infinite comics that are digital only and contain special features.
Most pay for digital comics have a version of comixology’s “guided view” that will allow you to read the comic panel by panel instead of through the entire page. This feature is great for new comers who have trouble following the direction of the comic panels across the page. I find it also helps to focus your reading and prevents spoiling reveals that occur at the bottom of the page. When I read Catwoman 1 through guided view I couldn’t see her apartment blew up at the bottom of the page. It was a genuine surprise for me that I wouldn’t have had if I was reading normally.
Now that we are all on board for the awesomeness that is digital comics lets talk about how to get them. There are really five main ways that a person can read comic digitally.
Comixology is the bread and butter of digital comics. They are the standard and the best anology is they are to digital comics as itunes is to music. They carry all of the major brands with Dark Horse being the only exception. In fact when you are on Android or iOS the official Marvel and DC Comics app are created from comiXology.
Comixology has apps on all major platforms, Windows, iOS (Apple Devices), Android, and Kindle Fire. You can also access and read comics from comiXology through any major web browser (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Safari). Comixology is a buy once read anywhere platform. Once you purchase a comic book you can read it on any app and download and delete it as many times as you like. Your purchased comics are part of your library and stay in the cloud.
Comixology has also began releasing comics in HD. At first these were only available on Apple devices but now you can get the HD versions of comic books on capable Android and Kindle Fires. HD comic books do not cost any more and if you have bought a comic book in the past it doesn’t cost more to get it in HD. If it is all ready downloaded on your device you will be prompted to re-download the book once it is available in HD. You can also choose in the settings to not download books in HD if you would like to save space, as HD comics take up more.
Comixology is constantly having sales. Marvel comics has sales every Monday and Friday for 99 cent single issue comics. These sales generally have a theme, they may be 100 or so issues in a certain run of X-Men, or maybe issues that revolve around Hawkeye. DC Comics generally has weeklong sales that start every Tuesday. These don’t occur every week and also generally have a theme. The theme will usually coincide with a TV, or movie event, so when Man of Steel came out there were hundreds of Superman comics on sale the week before. There are also random sales from all other publishers occurring regularly.
Along with comic books on sale there are also a lot of free issues availible as well. Image comics generally gives away all first issues of series for free. DC has a set of key issues like Detective Comics 27 that are free. Marvel does their free books a little oddly. They give out a set of about 5 comics free every month but its not on a regular schedule and they don’t make it very obvious when they do. The only way to know is to go to the free comic section in comiXology regularly and eventually these new marvel books show up.
Comixology has collected editions (trade paperbacks) and also single issue comics. Single issue comics are released the same day on Comixology as they are in print at around 8 AM Central Time Wednesday morning.
2) Comic Reader Apps
Did you know that Comic Books have their own file extension type? Word Documents are .docx, PowerPoints are .pptx, and Excel files are .xlsx, and Comic Books are either .cbr or .cbz. These files are more or less a modified version of a zip file that only contain picture files. Windows and Apple can’t natively read these files but there are lots of programs available to do just that. Every major operating system of tablet has a decent reader you can purchase or get for free. Below is my opinion of the best reader for each.
Windows 8.1 (Surface)
So let’s not beat around the bush here. If you are using a comic book reader app like this you are doing so to read pirated comic books. I’m not totally against this but lets not kid ourselves into believing this is totally legal behavior. You really should pay for your comic books if you can but there are some times when I can understand why one might let their morality slide and get pirated comic books. First, if there isn’t a digital version of the comic book and you simply want to read it. There are a lot of old comic books that would be too expensive or difficult to find that you just want to read. In these cases pirating the comic book may be the only way to actually read it. Secondly is to get back ups of comic books you have all ready purchased in print. In this case you could technically scan the book yourself and create your own digital version of the book… Or maybe just use the version someone else made. I’m not going to get into detail on how to get pirated comic books so you are on your own there.
3) Kindle Books
The kindle fire has made a real dent in the tablet market and since its initial release made it self one of the major players in the game. I’m a big fan of Amazon in general so I preordered and bought a 1st generation kindle fire the day they went on sale. While there were a lot of features to like my main selling point was that there would be full color graphic novels on sale. Initially kindle was the only place you were able to buy DC Comics Graphic novels but now there are several options including iTunes and Google Play Store. However, Kindle is still by far the best place to buy graphic novels.
Kindle prices are all most always the best. Most graphic novels are between 10 and 15 dollars and sometimes less than 10. This is pretty much across the board and kindle will generally be anywhere from a couple of dollars to as much as 10 dollars less than iTunes of Google Play.
Kindle apps are available on all major operating systems. You can read your kindle graphic novels on iPad, Android Tablet, Windows Tablet, or Kindle Fires. If you are buying on iTunes you are stuck in Apple-land, along with buying on Google Play. The only other place you can buy graphic novels that works across all operating systems is on comixology, which when they are not on sale generally go for retail print price.
There are some downsides to graphic novels on kindle.
First they are not in HD and look grainy and bad especially on larger tablets. The initial set of graphic novels released for kindle were made for a smaller, non-HD 7 inch screen. They have not gone back and updated the resolution on those files so some of the graphic novels look pretty poor. This is a weird problem they have and it seems to be on a book by book basis. Some graphic novels I have for kindle look fine while others are at a distracting level of poor resolution.
Second there is no pinch and zoom on kindle graphic novels. They have a “smart panel” view in which you can view the books panel by panel but that is the only way to get a closer look. I know some people love this type of view but I don’t. Most the time it is not a big deal but if its a two page spread it would be nice to pinch and zoom so I could read the dialogue without going into smart panel mode.
Lastly the kindle special features don’t work on graphic novels. You can bookmark pages but that is about it. The graphic novels don’t have real page numbers or features like highlighting, x-ray, and hyper-linked table of contents. I get why highlighting and x-ray aren’t available but it would be nice if i could skip to a specific issue in the graphic novel with out digging around.
Overall these downsides are annoying but not so much a hindrance that I don’t use kindle for graphic novels.
4) Marvel Comics Digital Unlimited
You may notice that single issue comic books and graphic novels are pretty expensive. You may have even said to your self, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if there was a Netflix style streaming option that I could pay monthly and read the comics i could dream of?” Well tiger, you just hit the jackpot. Marvel Comics has just that service available and the good news is that its actually a pretty good deal. Marvel Comics Digital Unlimited gives you access to over 15,000 comic books with new books added every Monday.
The selection is surprisingly very good. The back catalog isn’t complete but for a lot of series it gets pretty close. There are nearly complete runs of books like Amazing Spider-Man, Uncanny X-Men, and The Avengers. As for new comics there is a 6 month waiting period after the book is originally published before it is released on Marvel Comics Digital Unlimited. As far as I can tell this is for every thing that came out that week six months ago which can be 25 to 30 new books released each week. If you can wait six months after release to read your comics you can read every book marvel puts out for pennys on the dollar.
There are three options as far as payment goes for a subscription. You can pay monthly for 10 dollars a month which you can cancel any time. You can pay for a year’s subscription for 70 dollars for the year (50 dollars less a year than paying monthly). Lastly, you can buy the Annual Plus membership for 100 dollars a year (still 20 less a year than paying monthly). The Annual Plus membership gives you a lot of perks but the only ones that really matter are an exclusive figure (this year its a marvel legends rocket raccoon), two exclusive variant cover comics, and 15% off all digital comics from marvel.com. Now if you really want to save some money and don’t care about the variant cover comics this could be your cheapest option. Right now both variant cover comics go for 20 each on ebay. The Rocket Raccoon figure is also selling for between 20 and 50 on ebay right now. So if you pay 100 dollars upfront for the year and sell all three bonus items you can potentially net 70 to 90 dollars back bringing the yearly cost down to 10 to 30 dollars.
The Marvel Comic Digital Unlimited app is available on Google Play and the Apple App Store, so Windows 8.1 users are shit out of luck. You can technically read comics through any major web browser but app is how this service is meant to be used. If you have a kindle fire you can side load the app using the OneMarket appstore or finding the APK online. My experience in side-loading on kindle fire was so-so. Sometimes it worked fine and others weird things happened like the comic wouldn’t fill up the entire screen and i had to constantly pinch and zoom to read, so I’d try a trial membership first before getting a yearly if you are planning on using it only on a kindle fire.
There are a couple of other subscription type comic book services out there but they are all fairly shitty. Scribd is the best competitor out there but they do not have DC or Image and their marvel selection is a lot less than MCDU. Comicfix has a similar catalog as Scribd and also noticeably missing Marvel, DC, and Image. They have some good reads and are worth checking out but in my eyes aren’t ready for the big leagues until they have both the big two (Marvel and DC) in their catalog.
You can now buy single issue comics and graphic novels from Google Play, the Apple App Store, and the Nook bookstore. If you are really invested in these operating system ecosystems it may be worth your while to buy from these places rather than the kindle store or comixology. However you really wind up getting stuck with that type of device and it makes it harder and harder to switch over in the future if you would like. You may be ride or die Apple right now but who knows maybe you become android curious in a couple of years. The thing is there is just too much benefit in getting your books on a cross platform app like kindle or comixology vs. straight from iTunes. Not only are you giving your self the ability to read on other devices but the price is fairly consistantly cheaper on comixology and kindle no matter what it is you are buying.
There are also certain comic books that you can buy that also come with a digital copy as well. Marvel comics gives away digital codes in all comic books that are 3.99 and higher (which is most at this point) that can be redeemed on comixology. DC Comics used to sell digital combo versions of a lot of certain series that would cost a dollar more than the normal print version. However very recently they killed this off due to low sales and lower redemption numbers of the comics. Apparently people were just buying the combo packs just to get a version of the comic in a plastic bag… DC has mentioned possibly just giving the codes for free the same way Marvel does so let’s cross our fingers and hope they do.
The Downside of Digital Comics
Ok lets be fair here, not everything is sunshine and rainbows in the land of digital. so let’s go over a few of the downsides of digital comics.
You Can’t Re-sell Digital Comic Books
Your digital copy of Action Comics 1 isn’t going to someday be worth 3 million dollars. If you look at comic books as an investment than digital comic books are going to give you a 0% return on investment. Now some may take that to mean that because they can’t be sold your digital comic books are worthless but that isn’t true. If you are buying comic books because you like to read them, and reading them gives you joy, then digital comic books do in fact have worth.
The fact is that at the end of the day the vast majority of modern comic books are not worth much of anything at all. When we see a story on the news of someone finding a pristine copy of Detective Comics 27 and retiring off the millions they make does not translate to your copy of 1991’s X-Men 1 is going to be your life on easy street in a 20-30 years.
Comic books gain value based on two things, availability, and desire to own. Action Comics 1 can sell for upwards of 3 million because it’s desire is extremely high and it is extremely rare. There are only two known CGC 9.0 graded copies of Action Comics 1, which are over 75 years old, and have arguably the most recognizable comic book character of all time. The comic book speculation game is a crap shoot and the truth is that if you are trying to make money off of comic books you are much more likely to be sorely disappointed. There are, however, a few high value modern books that appear every now and then. A first print copy of Walking Dead 1 goes for upwards of 9 thousand dollars (mostly because it had a initial print run of only 7,000 copies). Saga number 1 sells for around 100 dollars, New Mutants 98 sells for 300 dollars. I even have a couple of these in my own collection, Batgirl 13 goes for 22 dollars and Edge of Spider-verse 2 is currently going for a ridiculous 75 dollars. These are nice little surprises but at the end of the day are just blimps in a sea of comic books I own that are worth little to nothing.
You Don’t Actually Own Your Digital Comic Books
Remember reading through iOS 8’s terms of service? No? Just clicked agree? Well buried deep terms and conditions of your digital comic book transaction it will say that you are not paying for ownership of the digital comic book but for a license that gives you the ability to read that comic book. Yes you don’t actually own that comic book that you paid for.
I’ll give you the nightmare scenario. Something happens to comixology and it goes out of business. You go to log in and get a website error and are suddenly locked out. All the comic you spent years paying for have suddenly vanished and you have nothing to show for it.
Now Comixology could go out of business. Along with comic books I have a decent online streaming collection of movies. Some of these I bought from Target Ticket when they were on sale and a month ago I got a notice that Target Ticket was shutting its doors. I wasn’t left screwed over and without any of the movies I bought. The movies I bought were ultraviolet and part of my digital locker so they were still available on several other apps. Target Ticket also gave me the ability to transfer all my purchases to a rival service, Cinemanow free of charge. This seems more like what would happen if Comixology went under, I believe it is likely they would allow us to download our comics we own and transfer what we have to another service.
Image comics has actually taken action in preventing this from happening by allowing users to download DRM free back up versions of all their comics you by from Comixology. If you buy digital comics from the Image website they come completely DRM free PDF’s that you can download as many times as you want. I don’t suspect that DC and Marvel will follow suit but you never know. I would have never imagined iTunes would go DRM free but they have been DRM free for years now.
Should you even be worried about this? The truth is that digital goods is still a new frontier, we don’t really know what long term effects will be. Buying into digital is a little bit of a gamble. You are putting your money into a platform entrusting that it will be around for a very long time. But let me give you the other nightmare scenario. There is a fire in your house and all of your print comics are lost. Maybe its not a fire, maybe your house is broken into, maybe your comics get infested with silverfish or bugs. The fact is that as much as digital comics are a gamble print comics can be just as much of a gamble.
No matter how future proof you think things are they can quickly become obsolete or destroyed. There is a decent amount of CD’s I bought in high school that have CD rot and parts of them are unplayable.
In the last few years it feels like I can’t go a whole week without seeing a digital vs. print article that waxes poetic about how print is dying and everything is terrible. Here’s the thing. It doesn’t have to be either or. You can actually like reading things digitally and like getting them in print as well. I know that at the end of the day I’m more likely to read and re-read the material I get digitally yet I still have a pretty hefty collection of print comics. I still have a pull list at my local comic book shop and I still get some books in physical trade paperback. I like collecting comics. I like going to new shops when I travel and I like the digging through bargain bins and finding treasure. Just because I like print comics doesn’t mean I then must also hate digital comics. We don’t have to be binary, its possible to like two things at the same time!
If you are die hard print give digital a try, see if you like it and at the very least just create a comixology account and get something for free. Who knows you may wind up loving it…