Completely to my surprise, I’ve become a huge fan of digital comics. There, I’ve said it, and you can’t make me take it back. I didn’t start off as a fan, but like a new convert learning about Scientology, I didn’t realize it until I was eyeballs deep in it. For months I had been buying comics that came with free digital copies but I didn’t do anything with them because I didn’t have a device that would allow me to read them properly. Sure I could have used my phone, but it’s less than satisfying. That all changed when I received an iPad mini for Christmas, and I have to say that I love this little device. It is small enough to be truly portable but the screen is big enough that it doesn’t feel like I’m trying to look at something on my phone. Also there are lots of great apps, some of the best of which are the various apps from each of the major comic book publishers. Suddenly, I discovered that I now have a device that can make use of all those free digital copy codes that I hadn’t bothered to do anything with. Thankfully, they were attached to the comic itself; otherwise I would have probably lost them.
The Marvel codes are 12 character alphanumeric codes that must be entered into a website in order to get the digital copies, which is a bit annoying, especially considering that I was new to digital comics and had a considerable backlog. However, a few hours and about 150 codes later, I was ready to start enjoying my digital comic collection, and man did I ever enjoy them. Over the course of a Christmas vacation I was able to catch up on months of comics without having to bring a short box around with me or risk damage to my physical copies by shoving them into a backpack. The image quality is just plain awesome. It would be easy to assume that reading comic graphics on a digital screen would be a strain but so far all the comics I’ve seen have been excellent. Although I have glasses and all around pretty crappy vision, I very rarely have an issue reading a page of comics on the screen. On the rare times I do, I can just double tap the panel I’m having issue with and it automatically zooms in on the panel. It even works for two page spreads by focusing on small areas at a time. All of the major publisher apps are powered by Comixology, which means that they function in nearly the same way, making it as easy to switch between publishers without too much culture shock.
Another reason I am a big fan of digital comics is that I can find and read many back issues that I wouldn’t easily have access to otherwise. All of the publishers are working to fill in the back catalog of old comics, and while their complete libraries aren’t available yet, quite a few substantial runs are. One of my first strictly digital purchases was Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #27, ultra rare books that I could never possible hope to hold in my hands. Now I’ve got them, in digital form.
I also use the digital format to follow and read books that I’ve heard good things about but was unaware of at the time they were released or books I could not justify buying at full price. New books online are priced the same as the physical ones—probably to keep retailers from rioting—but older books are often discounted, making it worthwhile if you don’t mind being a couple months behind reading the book. Some publishers are also looking for new ways expand their digital footprint with things like digital first content or digital codes for other products like trade paperbacks.
Although all digital comics so far use the same developer, Marvel has clearly taken the lead in this digital frontier. They seem to really be pushing people into the digital realm any way they can. Many of their titles come with free digital copies. However, their method of pushing digital copies does have its flaws. The digital copy that comes with the physical comics isn’t really free, since they charge a dollar more for the books that have them, and there isn’t an option to buy the book without the code. The store attached to the Marvel app runs 99₵ sales every Monday and sometimes has other specials to celebrate comic or real life events. I have gotten some great comic runs out of these sales, which made me very happy (although my wallet less so). While other publishers have sales, they are less frequent and often a bit lack luster. Another really cool thing is that each time a Marvel code is redeemed, the store that sold the book gets a small credit, provided the purchaser specifies their retailer from the provided list. It may not be much per book, those little bits will add up, helping out local comic stores.
On the other hand, DC prints two versions of the book, one with a code and one without, and the book with the code comes in in a polybag. Unfortunately, they don’t really explain how their system works. Until a month ago, I had no idea that’s why they had polybag versions of comics. While I personally am willing to pay the extra dollar for the digital copy, I can understand why not everyone wants to pay extra for something they aren’t going to use.
As with all new things, there are some downsides. Pricing at times can be inconsistent. Captain America Vol. 7 #1-5 are still $4.00 each despite being up to six months old now even though other titles from the same publisher are down to $1.99 after only a month or two.
Unfortunately, the support is sometimes questionable. On a couple of occasions I have not been able to redeem codes for various reasons and have submitted help tickets without a response from the publisher. Other times after returning home from my local comic book store, I’ve opened a book only to find that there isn’t a code inside. At that point I’m left with the choice to either pay for the comic again, or to do without the digital version. I’m hoping they will get some of this sorted out in the near future.
I am looking forward to seeing where this interesting new realm of comics is going to take us. For all my love of digital comics, I will always enjoy having the physical book in my hands, even if I don’t necessarily read it in that form. For some people, though, this is exactly what they need to keep reading their comics, without cluttering up their house.
The best part is that by expanding how comics are published, they can hopefully spread the joy of comic reading to even more people. With access to comics in all forms increasing and the popularity of comic characters growing, thanks to all the new movies that have come out in recent years, we are hopefully close to a new and wonderful comic book resurgence.