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.