Can Marvel Digital Comics Conquer The Comic Readers of the World?

Will the geeks of the world let go of their paper collectables in favour of keeping modern? Here's my first hand account of going digital!

Being a late-starter has become somewhat of a career for me. I was a late-starter when it came to puberty and spent the majority of my school days as the second shortest boy in my year (thankfully I wasn't the shortest!). I was a late-starter when it came to girls, mostly because I spent a lot of my time living inside the pages of my comic collection. Most recently I was a late-starter hopping on board the digital comics train. And it has got me to thinking: Will the geeks of the world let go of their paper collectables in favour of keeping modern? Let me set the scene for you. Like most of my fellow comic-geeks I have been collecting since the moment I read my first comic book. I have managed to rack up quite a collection across the past 20 years, with long white cardboard boxes stored in various homes across Australia in an effort to manage this growing monstrosity. A few months ago I decided to uproot and try my luck in the UK; this however led to much angst over what was to become of my babies (aka. comic books). Luckily I have close geek friends who understand my pain and they offered to store what they could. But life is a little different now that I am here in London. I need to stay light, able to move across countries and crash on people's couches at a whim, before the Australian Calling drags me back home. You can interpret this simply - no comic collecting. And it hurts. What do I do without my fix each week? A new subscription in the mail. A paper bag of printed heaven from my local. These were my inky life blood. I had seen the ads for Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited and all of the various tricks to lure you in. But I held my strong conviction that that sweet smell, that raspy touch of paper was the only way I could ever stave off the ache of withdrawal. How could a computer screen ever give me the experience that I loved? Comics are so much more than just the story within. And now I see things differently. Just a week ago I bought an annual subscription for the digital comics archive. And I am here to say that perhaps, just perhaps, I had been a little hasty in my earlier opinions. Let's look at the major points: Price. Cold hard cash. This has always been a major factor affecting how my collection grew. A single comic is not cheap (AU$5.50 at least back in Oz) and, when you are as widely branched as I tend to be, the monthly comic cost is hundreds of dollars. Yet for one whole year's access and to be able to read as much as is possible I paid US$60. Less than a month's usual fix. Range. It's not like Marvel has every comic they have ever printed up there; but they are working on it. There are over 10,000 issues already digitized and each week at least 25 new issues are added to the archive. I have definitely already discovered gaping holes in their Captain America collection and plan to make them aware of the absolute oversight that is not having any Sleepwalker, but how many local comic shops have every issue ever released sitting in their back issue storeroom? Age. Another concern I had was that all I was going to get were the classic but out of date issues. These issues are available to read and I am loving being able to discover or revisit the first appearances of my favourite heroes. But when I did a search for Avengers I found that they have issues #1 & 2 of the Age of Heroes reboot which are only a year old. The search also revealed that they have digitized Avengers Vs Pet Avengers which was published in January this year, but thought I would just ignore that this mini-series ever existed. You are never going to get the newest comics that are currently sitting on the shelves. If you did you would find many small comic stores going out of business. Ease of Search. Whilst the search system is quite clunky, and for some reason often does not notify you of issues that do actually exist in the archive, you can quickly wander through the thousands of issues and varied titles and series. One function I am loving is that it presents you with all of the appearances of a character. I love Moon Knight but that hero has a history of short-lived stop-start series. I am now able to track down all of the other titles and issues that Moonie pops up in when his series is on hiatus. Ease of Use. Okay, this is one of the biggest let downs. And it differs from issue to issue. There are two ways that you can read a Marvel digital comic. Full page view or guided zoomed view. The full page view is great to see the layout but too small to read the words on my little laptop screen. Perhaps this would work better on a 27 inch iMac. The zoomed view takes you from panel to panel to read each section and when it works well it is brilliant! When it doesn't it is horrible, and I have found some issues where the pre-determined guidance system seems to have no idea that need to read all of the captions on a page. Experience. I am not going to lie to you as this is not an ad. There is nothing about the experience of reading a digital comic that feels like the 'real' paper one. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, it is just a completely different way to read a comic. I have happily hammered my way through many issues now, so clearly it works; but the feeling is not the same. Have digital comics changed the way I read and collect comics? No. I must admit that I still crave that paper-based fix, and being able to read the story whilst still taking in all of the layout of a page, and not just the isolated captions. I could read paper comics all day, but staring at the screen for a couple of hours makes my eyes go funny. Paper comics very rarely have 'glitches' that interrupt the flow of the story, or caption and speech bubbles that are hidden or overlaid and impossible to read. But my digital comics subscription has opened me up to a world of stories that I could not afford to discover otherwise. How could I get a copy of Avengers #11 into my hands? Maybe I could spend a fortune to get a pricey trade collection or buy the original (choking on my drink right now). Not going to happen. I am one of those strange people who doesn't like trades; I am addicted to the collect-ability of an original. But I got to enjoy that classic tale just yesterday (the Avengers meet Spider-Man... awesome!). There are so many wonderful Marvel characters that I would love to read but up until now I couldn't justify the cost of collecting EVERYTHING. This is no longer a problem. I can go back to those early issues of Weapon X that I didn't read, and Secret Wars II, Excalibur, Dark Tower or Marvel Zombies. I have a virtual library at my beck and call. I can guarantee that I will go straight back to my paper comic subscriptions and standing orders as soon as my life allows for it. But I am also going to keep my Marvel Digital Comics subscription. Side by side I will be able satiate both of my hungers - for collecting and for reading. I have found my comic-book Shangri-La.
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A director & cinematographer by trade, but a Geek by choice. David grew up on the beaches of Sydney, Australia where he spent most sunny days indoors organsing his ever-expanding comic collection. Snubbed by the world at large, he wrapped himself in the sweet, sweet tales of the Marvel Universe and only resurfaces for Cheezels.