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2010: The Year We Switch to Digital?

by  in Comic News Comment
2010: The Year We Switch to Digital?

(This post fell backward through time and landed in my word processor. I thought I’d share.)

Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. We’re a year into the Obama Age of Comics in this first decade of the new millennium. As you know, President Obama managed to save the economy and recede the recession (and his hairline!), so we all have plenty of money to spend on comics. Unfortunately, space termites ate all of the trees on Earth and we’re all going to choke to death. But that’s not important right now. The comics, them’s what’s important.

A year ago, we all wondered if Amazon would become our local comics shop– if a digital marketplace that sold print media at a stiff discount would replace the brick-and-mortar-and-flopsweat stores to which we were all so accustomed. Did it? Not really, but it might not get its chance, what with screens and hard drives rapidly replacing paper and staples. Welcome to the age of the iPhone v.6, of Kindle v.12, of Internet Explorer 18 and Firefox 42, of torrents of torrents and jpeg jamborees. Or maybe jpeg jambalaya. Mmm. A new form of comics emerges from the burning corpse of the old one, and so we get– well, I don’t know what to call them. Digicomics? iComics? Just don’t let it be motion comics— are these the future? Or are they the present? Is this What The People Want? Is it what I want!? Is it what women want? Does only Mel Gibson know the truth!?

As adult comic book readers/collectors/amassers, I’d imagine many of us are object fetishists, in a way. It’s not just the comics we want, it’s the thing itself. The ink and the paper, the staples and, in some cases, the mylar sheaths with backing boards. It’s the feel of the paper, the difference between newsprint and glossy and cardstock. It’s the smell. Oh, the smell. The physicality is part of it, right? Part of the experience of reading, and not just for comics. Would I rather read a leatherbound Agatha Christie or have it be one of many files on my Kindle (which I still somewhat believe is the devil)? For me, the decision is an obvious one. Give me the darling wrapped in dead cow.

Personally, I think physical comics and books will always exist in some fashion, even in the nichiest markets, printed on synthetic paper (space termites, remember); but the way of digital lies ubiquity. Think of the cost factor. Publishers would save buckets or barrels or briefcases or other storage units starting with ‘b’ of money. Printers would save none, because they would no longer exist, using moneyless barrels as clothing, as the impoverished are wont to do– easier to throw oneself over the falls, that way. The publishers, however, are still going to charge you for the content, because they need full barrels in order to feed their neglected families. They don’t have to pay for the ink and the paper and the staples anymore, but they’ve gotta pay the writers and artists and letterers, and hey, might as well make a bit of profit while they’re at it, so I imagine the price won’t be going down too much. iTunes charges two bucks for an episode of TV, remember, which is a ludicrous price when compared to the DVD sets that are constantly on sale, but them’s the breaks for internet immediacy. 

I’m afraid I’m one of those people who doesn’t want to pay for digital content, though, because– it’s on the internet. I’m already paying for the internet. Anything on the internet should be free. I don’t want to pay for something ephemeral, something that could disappear at the whim of a computer virus or hardware failure. I don’t even own an iPod! That’s why I think FreakAngels is such a damn good idea. Give them the content for free and ask them to buy the physical item– the lovely, lovely thing. Some of them will listen. 

But I’m an old man. Okay, not really, but I always feel old, so, in the context of this one-sided internet discourse, I am an old man. Get off my lawn. I love my ratty old comics, those poor dears read so hard they fell apart, slowly decaying in boxes somewhere. Deep down, I love them with all my heart. With my mind, however, I understand the digital argument: why the hell do I keep these tattered objects around? Nostalgia, probably. Would I really really mind replacing them all with digital copies? Except for a few sentimental old issues I’d want to hang on to, probably not. It might not be so bad. Do I really need these copies of Hulk #385 or Archer & Armstrong #3? Will I ever reread them? I can’t answer that now– but what if I want to read them later? Better keep ’em, then.

Should comics be cutting edge, or should they be old school? I say give the next audience what they want. We’re the geriatrics, holding on for dear life to all the things we loved in our pasts. Technology angers and confuses us. We remember the days of newsstand spinner racks and being able to afford comics *and* gasoline. Maybe it’s time we gave up our old ways and listened to the whippersnappers. Maybe they’ve got something with this digital format. It’s going to be a long and rough labor, no doubt, but hopefully the baby will be worth it. Hopefully we can afford to feed it.

What format will the digital comics take? We’ve seen a variety of them already, and I’m not sure what works the best. Simple jpegs like FreakAngels? Hideous “comic viewers” like Zuda or Marvel’s Digital thingie? Intuitive .cbr files that the pirates are all into? Or, heck, how about this? Again, it’s not perfect–  strictly linear, one direction or the other, you can’t just flip back three “pages”– but it takes the format and possibilities and it makes something of them, something that still feels like a comic, that puts the reader in charge, like s/he should be, and gives us sequential art that fits a designed space. I don’t know who this “Balak01” guy is, but he’s onto something.

We all know the Singularity is approaching; these digicomics will eventually become sentient and take over the world, and, hopefully, rid of us of those devious space termites. But until then, we have these things to think about. We shouldn’t, however, forget the people behind the comics, and what works best for them. Can we bear losing our retailers, our printers? Our object men?

I wonder all of this because I’m interested in my own comics-publishing venture, and I’m thinking about the web. It’s cheaper, it’s easier, and it’s more direct, sure. But it’s not quite my dream. One also has to think about the formatting, the dimensions, the level of interaction– so many more possibilities and variables than print comics. And how about the crossover into ink and paper? We can’t all be FreakAngels, but we can try. I’m interested in seeing what happens.

Which comics will you be buying?

[Post Script Update Time: Speaking of various digital ventures, I’m actually putting new stuff on that other blog I supposedly have. You can read it if you want, I guess. Also, I’ve gone and bought myself an Xbox 360, so if you would like me to shoot you in the face on Call of Duty: World at War (or shoot me in the face on Team Fortress 2, which I am inept at), you can find me under the gamertag Billuccho, which, luck has it, is also my AOL Instant Messenger name. Feel free to add/harass me online and see how long I put up with you. The internet, man! It’s really something.]

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