I WILL TELL YOU #22: A New Golden Age

Last week, as you’ll remember, I spoke of Diamond Comic Distributors and iVerse Media’s recent launch of Diamond Digital, a partnership that’s intended to give both companies a definitive place in the emerging world of digital comics publishing. A rather interesting facet to this plan is its attempt to hold a place in that online world for traditional comic book retailers whose primary way of doing business continue to be over-the-counter sales.

Now, you all read last week’s column, right? If not, why then here’s a non-stop flight right back to IWTY #21. Or if you’d rather, I’ll summarize: my point with that piece was that there is no place in the world of digital comic book publishing and distribution for retailers who cling solely to a brick-and-mortar style of commerce, and that Diamond’s well-intended but ill-conceived attempt to slow the fleet so that these aging ships don’t fall behind will only delay their ultimate and inevitable sinking.

This perhaps can be considered a small flaw rooted in a good-hearted move in an otherwise sound business strategy; a strategy that’s based on the presumption that all of the publishers involved in this endeavor will essentially publish two versions of each comic they produce. One is the “standard” and familiar print version, and the other will be the “enhanced” digital version, which could include additional creative or media content such as concept sketches or audio narration, but could also be nothing more than an electronic version of the actual comic book.

And so far, that’s pretty much been the limit to the thought process of what a digital comic book could or should be; it’s more or less seen as an electronic “variant” edition of the “regular” print edition. And to be fair, comic books as we’ve known them have been around for generations, and the generations before ours have known them in no other media except print, so the idea that digital comics can break free from this format is a hard one for many to grasp.

The limitations of print have always existed within our lifetimes, so we have largely accepted them with little in the way of thought challenging those boundaries. “We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented,” Ed Harris’ character said in the brilliant The Truman Show, in reference to Jim Carrey’s, whose own Truman Burbank character had grown up in front of hidden television cameras his entire life and never thought to question the odd curves his secretly-scripted life had thrown at him over the years. We’ve seen page counts vary, sure. We’ve seen evolving artistic styles bend the rules of traditional panel layouts. And once in a great while, efforts like Barry Windsor Smith’s Storyteller or Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library even play with the size of the product, to great effect.

But on the unlimited space of the digital world, there are no page counts. Or page layouts. Or page sizes. Because, there are no pages; multiple sheets of paper bound together are an inherent element, and limitation, of printing, a centuries-old invention that’s so pervasive in everyday life that it’s not only difficult to think beyond, but nigh impossible for most. So panel layouts, in turn, could become largely irrelevant, with digital readers like Comixology’s steering readers through a story. And size, in a dimensionless world, becomes a meaningless concept. In a paperless, non-physical media, the only true limitation is the imagination of the creators. Instead of picturing this space as a digital snapshot of a comic book, as publishers are currently doing, picture it as a massive sea of white, ala The Matrix, with a visionary creator standing in the midst of it saying, “I have an idea.”

Once the frontiers of this world begin to be truly explored, something is going to become very apparent: digital comics will become the norm, and not the “variant”. Once the medium is used as a canvas and not as a scanner, the stories created within it may not even be able to be reproduced in print, or contained within it. Once creators figure out the potential of such a medium, it just might be hard to imagine how comics ever could have been solely a product of the printing press.

So will this mean that comics could outgrow the format that they’ve been associated with for the past 75 years or so? Will comic books as we now know them be gone forever once the digital medium truly takes hold?

I will tell you: yeah. Comic books will die.

But the art form will be on the brink of a brand new Golden Age, shedding its paper cocoon and transforming into something so wonderful that it can’t even be imagined. More next week.

JJ

About Jim Johnson

Jim Johnson (@quigonjimm) will tell you! He got a chance to write for the big boys at CBR, so we don’t see him around the site as much as we used to. Check out his stuff anyway!

Comments

  1. JJ, you set comics up to become an elitist collectible, much like vinyl nowadays. I’m not saying that’s good or bad, but it’s the conclusion I draw after reading this installment. And I’m intrigued. . .

    • Shhh . . . you’ll give away the ending!

      But yeah, that is kind of where I see print comics going, although I don’t see anything elitist about it. There will always be a collectors’ market, and there might remain a large enough audience who simply prefer print media for reading. So I imagine there will remain a large enough demand to support traditional comic books, albeit in much smaller print runs.

  2. mike mannix says:

    The print comics will die sure, eventually. As long as the big two keep up the the superhero genre the industry in my opinion will still remain on life report. I dont think the digital formats even do anything for comics at this point in time. Sales keep lowering and american comics will soon fade away.

    We need companys like image, radical and BOOM to lead the way for comics. It is such a boys only club feeling when it comes to comics here in the states but look at manga in japan were everyone reads comics because there is something for everybody and the part i personally love is that the different publishers over there dont poke fun at each other and act like jerks. The publishers will ocassionaly get together and talk about “well sales are low in the demographic, how are we going to work on that?” and they help each other out but doing whats best for the medium! American comics surprise me that they are still around.

    Its funny how they think movies will help sales when in reality you only get about 2% of the crowds who see these super hero movies and start collecting comics. So all in all i dont see how going digital will help this industry but you can only sit back and watch.

  3. Dean Avedisian says:

    Digital comics to me have nothing to do with comicbooks as we know it. It is an entirely different media style. It is unlimited as to how the images can be viewed, read and laid out. It is almost like those early 1970’s TV things where you played a record, and the image moved from one to another in sync with the story heard on the record. I always wanted to get one, but never did. But now it is with the computer. The people that subscribe and view them will not be called comicbook collectors. They will have no idea what comicbook collecting means and they never will know. However, they will not need to, as it is different from the collect, read and box hobby of old. It’s just like going to any website daily or weekly and reading the content and looking at pictures. So I’m basically suggesting that it is an entirely different creative medium and as JJ points out, ‘The sky’s the limit’. If the comicbook in print goes away, oh well. So be it. I like what I have and have been doing. Once a classic always stays a classic. There is so much stuff out there and still so much stuff I have yet to read that I will be swamped with reading material for the rest of my life. Let new art forms progress! People will decide and adapt. I just myself can not read comic-style material on a screen. I LOVE downloading images, but most of them are from covers of printed media. A transference of a medium is similiar to what I studied in an art history course. One point being of how photography at first was not considered art, that it was just a copy and that the only good art was sculpting and painting. And look what happened. Photography has transformed lives, politics and life as we know it. Yet, people still paint, draw and sculpt and have sold their works for millions of dollars. And some of these artists are contemporary. Digital comics is a new facet in the creative world that I think is fantastic, but I just don’t care for that type of format.

    • Great observation about photography; its general usage remains largely to capture moments in time for preservation, but has also indeed evolved by professionals in the medium into an artform. Not unlike digital comics currently, which to date has essentially been to replicate print comics. There will ALWAYS be a place for this, mostly to preserve existing comics (more on that next week), but can also become a form unto itself.

  4. Well, I add this…

    …the PHYSICAL comic book will die, the medium will live on.

    Don’t be afraid of the future, it’s where you’ll spend the rest of your life!

    • You guys keep touching on next week’s points . . . ! 😉

      You’re absolutely right. The death of vinyl didn’t kill the music industry, the eventual demise of film won’t kill the movie industry, and the lack of print won’t kill comics. So there!

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