I WILL TELL YOU #24.1: Comic Books Might Live, After All

Last week, I thought I had finished my say regarding the topic of digital comics, and here I was all set to take a week off, but sure enough, I thought of a couple of footnotes. Like what, you’re dying to know? I will tell you, and you can’t stop me.

In IWTY #22, I postulated that the frontiers of digital media would eventually eclipse those of print, making it difficult if not impossible to continue publishing print versions of digital comics at some point, a point which would spell the end of comic books as we know them. I believe this to be true, in the sense that comic books will no longer be the primary medium for comics, but with a little bit of reflection, I don’t believe that the day will come where the last comic book rolls off the press, and the printer shuts down. For comics have long been a hobby where reading and collecting are closely intertwined, and when the time comes where the primary source both for comics content and delivery is the internet, the closest thing to “collecting” these entities will be a folder in an internet browser containing links to each individual story. And somehow, I don’t think a list of URL links for, say, Action Comics #1500 – #2000 is really going to satiate those with an appetite for collecting, unless they’re tech geeks as well as comic geeks, and really anal ones at that.

Whatever the face of a future digital comic industry, collecting is not going to go away. If nothing else, the comic books published over the last 75 years that still remain in circulation among collectors and retailers will likely remain so for a long time. And when there’s the existence of a market, there will always be those seeking to tap into it. So it’s reasonable to assume that somewhere down the line, publishers will do just that, producing certain product that will fit into the confines of a comic book rather than utilize the greater capabilities of cyberspace. The music industry is settling into a similar practice, manufacturing vinyl version of new music releases, to satisfy those who might largely enjoy music digitally but nonetheless enjoy the visceral aspect of a product that can be held in the hands and admired. It’s not hard to envision this being a growth market, even; publishers could market print-only exclusives, for example, that would be available at conventions or to digital comics subscribers.

There are those who have done a far better job of envisioning the future of comics than I have, one of them in particular is Scott McCloud, who readers might remember not only as the creator of Zot!, published by Eclipse Comics back in the 80s, but also of two excellent books that examine the comic art form; one being the long-acclaimed Understanding Comics (Harper Paperbacks, ISBN 978-0060976255, 1993) where McCloud brilliantly explains the art form, in comics form, no less! The other was one that I used heavily for reference for IWTY #23, his Reinventing Comics (Harper Paperbacks, ISBN 978-0060953508, 2000), where McCloud speculates on what’s next for comics; that is, digital publication and delivery, among many other aspects. A lot of this book shaped much of my own thoughts about this, and McCloud seems to have had a pretty clear idea of what to expect, even over a decade ago. As with any far-reaching predictions, though, he doesn’t hit the mark every time; he foresaw the advent of portable digital readers (ala Kindle, iPad, etc) but believed these to be detrimental to the advancement of the digital comics art form. And I don’t recall him predicting software-based readers like Comixology, which have done more than anything in eliminating the difficulties of reading analog comics digitally. I absolutely recommend both of McCloud’s books, for those who haven’t had the awesome experience of reading them already. Both are fascinating.

So there. That’s my say. At least I think. If not, you’ll see an IWTY #24.2 sometime . . .

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. Thanks JJ! I’ve enjoyed your tour through the various thoughts about digital media, and one of the things I’ve liked about it is that it’s not mired down entirely by “Oh my god, what will this do to local comic shops??” Being open to what happens with the comics medium as an art form, versus fretting about what happens to comics retailers in that equation is really two different things.

    We’re going to have plenty of opportunity to freak out about our business plans in the midst of this changing landscape, but I think we are well served to compartmentalize that issue and not take our fears out on what is otherwise a very exciting time of potential for the art form. Personally, I’m very much looking forward to see what happens next!

    C.

  2. Hey look! It’s a “Point One” column! What a perfect jumping on spot for new readers!

  3. Thanks, Scott. Yeah, I tried to stay away from talking about what happens ANY time there’s a shift in the business model. Those that adapt to the market can thrive, and those thinking they can continue to do business the same way they have for the past 30 years will not. It’s not a unique thing to digital comics, so there was no point in bringing it up when it’s really a entirely separate and far more general topic.

    @Doug: I tried to follow the same lead as the .1 issues Marvel has done: take something that’s not really worthy of being its own entity, and make it one anyway . . .

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