I read my first comic book 17 years ago. I bought it at a garage sale and read it over four times that day. It never occurred to seven-year-old me that I might want to preserve that comic in some way; that one day down the road, it would have value to me. I would go on to own many copies of that story. I re-bought that issue at conventions and after diving through sale bins, I found graphic novels that contained it. But most importantly, I found a digital copy. Of course I’ve held on to that original, and I have a good quality copy that’s sealed away for safekeeping, but my digital copy is the one I turn to most frequently. Sure, it lacks the romance of a bag and board, and I don’t get to savour the sensation of carefully turning the pages, or proudly restoring it to its rightful place in my long box, but at the same time, having a digital copy means that I can enjoy the story and art without worrying about damaging that valuable piece of my personal history. Many of my comic-reading friends have challenged my move from paper panels to the digital medium. They swear they could never give up the excitement of Wednesday morning’s rush for new comics. But my friends are imagining a sacrifice that doesn’t exist. As a self-professed comic junkie, I am here to tell you that digital comics are an asset to avid readers and they do not replace traditional single issues at all. Let me explain.
Comic collectors are consumers of nostalgia. Fans tend to favour the characters they grew up with and the fondly remember key events from the past. A big part of nostalgia is the act of collecting, itself: buying those special covers, rare variants, even collectables that feature favourite characters and franchises. All you need to do is visit any comic convention to see how far the fan’s love of nostalgia goes. Toys from the ‘80’s are displayed in their perfectly preserved packaging, and golden-age comic books are certified and encased and sold at a premium. There are bin divers, so called because they jump headfirst into bins of old issues looking for that one elusive issue to add to their collections. Of course, the value of vintage comics has something to do with it. With rare comics ranging in the tens of thousands, it’s no wonder collectors are so eager to find those treasured volumes. Despite all of these factors, there are still benefits to digital collecting.
There are many reasons for collecting comics digitally, with the obvious being that digital comics cannot get damaged. No fragile pages to worry about, you can enjoy a comic while you sip your coffee without fear. On top of that, many comics now include a download code, so if you're not willing to give up going to your local on Wednesday morning, why not download the free copy? The most popular source for digital comics is ComiXology. Owned by Amazon, they carry titles by all the major publishers and have even published indie titles under their own banner. What comic readers may not realize is that many of their publishers provide DRM-free comics, meaning once the book is purchased through ComiXology, the buyer may then download a PDF version and view it whenever and however they like without having to interact with ComiXology again. The comic-reading software employed by ComiXology allows for intuitive reading of all types of comics, whether you’re reading the newest Detective Comics issue or catching up on your favourite manga. The software allows you to examine panel by panel, and zoom out to see the full scope of the page. With all of these options, on top of the fact that you can access your collection anywhere with internet access and download titles to read off-line to your personal devices, there’s very little reason not to make the shift.
In my two years of collecting digitally, I have amassed a very respectable collection and taken full advantage of every 99 cent sale ComiXology has had to offer. With a thrill of excitement, I reach for my phone on Wednesday mornings and carefully choose my reading for the week before heading out to my local to look for variants, graphics, and toys. That’s the real beauty of keeping a digital library; it’s convenient. These days, I am lucky to find a few minutes to myself, let alone read, so I keep a stash of digital music, movies, novels, and comics that I can enjoy on my commute. My phone, tablet, and laptop are inundated with comic series that I need to catch up on and I just keep adding to that list. The best part is that I can carefully curate the titles that come home and take up shelf and long box space. My comic collection has become a tribute, a museum of meticulously chosen story arcs, incentive covers, and original sketch covers. Now I’m not saying you should give up your pull list, and I’m not saying that you should clear out your long boxes, not at all! Keep heading to that great local spot and keep checking the bins for that one elusive issue you’re missing from your collection. But when you pick up an issue that has a download code, redeem it. Download an app, whether it’s Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, or ComiXology, and try having a couple of issues handy on your phone. Imagine it: you’re stuck on transit and there’s a delay. Instead of sitting there infuriated, you have a comic to read. You’re supposed to meet someone but they’re running late. No worries, there’s a new comic right there on your phone! The point is, there is a place for both formats in your busy life. I know a lot of people who have told me that they can’t keep reading comics because their lives are just “too full” and it’s “too much to keep up with.” Digital comics are the answer. You’re not at the mercy of store hours, you can dabble in whatever franchises you want, and it’s all just so easy. The idea that you have to choose between technology and print is ridiculous. Through the miracle of modern technology, we have redefined so many parts of our lives. Why shouldn’t that apply to the way we read comics as well?