Not long after moving into the new house, we realised that there just wasn’t enough room my ever-expanding comic book collection.
And so, with a heavy heart, I canceled my account with my local comic book store, and started the process of re-subscribing to all my comic books digitally, via Amazon’s Comixology service.
A big part of why I still went to the store — San Francisco’s amazing Isotope Comics, to be specific — was because a good comic book store is also a great place to hang out.
Even after the comics had started piling up to a dangerous degree, I liked just visiting the store too much to really consider an all-digital alternative.
It got to the point where I was using my boxes of comic books to prop up my desk. Seriously.
So for me, after more than a decade of regular trips to comic book stores on two coasts to pick up my haul, this is the end of an era. For the comics industry, currently in the middle of a tremendous boom period, it’s a sign of big, technology-driven change to come.
And unlike what happened to the music industry, the digital comics revolution seems to be helping everybody: customers, creators, publishers, and stores alike. But mostly me, with my storage issue.
The app for that
The de facto standard for digital comics is Comixology, an app that lets you buy and read comic books on the web, phones, and tablets. It started as a tool to help comic book store customers manage their in-store “pull list” subscriptions, but pivoted into digital comics circa 2009.
When Amazon bought Comixology back in 2014, it claimed that people were using the app to download 8 million comics per month. As of June of this year, The Guardian reported that digital comic books accounted for 10% of all comic sales in the US alone.
Comixology works a little bit like the Amazon Kindle apps, but for comics, and looks like this:
When Comixology first came around with this app in 2009, the big publishers like Marvel and DC were holdouts, leaving it to the smaller, independent companies to stock the virtual shelves. Plus, independent companies like Dark Horse Comics were insistent that they could make their own way, with their own apps.
But times change, and now just about every comic book publisher releases their comics via Comixology, selling them at the same price you would buy it for in stores (usually between $2.99 and $4.99 per 20-to-30 page issue. This hobby ain’t cheap). And they come out on the same day they hit stores.
In addition to the new releases, there’s an already-huge-and-growing selection of archival issues from comics’ long history. On Comixology, you can pick up Action Comics #1, Superman’s 1938 first appearance for $0.99, which is vastly cheaper than the $3.2 million that a print version sold for at auction last year.
You can manage subscriptions in Comixology, so it automatically downloads your new comics every Wednesday, which is when the fresh books hit stores. And many publishers (except Marvel and DC Comics) let you download restriction-free PDFs of your purchased comics to your computer.
An extremely nice bonus is that Comixology also lets brick-and-mortar comic book stores set up digital storefronts. So I can still buy my comics and have some cash go back to the Isotope.
One annoying thing: Last year, Amazon took out the ability to directly buy comics via the iPhone or iPad, seemingly chafing that Apple takes a cut of in-app purchases. So you have to actually buy the comics via the web browser on those devices.
Netflix for comics
The other absolutely vital app for comic book readers is Marvel Digital Unlimited, for web, iOS, and Android. It’s $10 a month or $69 a year, and despite some bugs it’s absolutely wonderful.
Marvel Digital Unlimited looks like this:
Marvel Digital Unlimited is basically Netflix for Marvel Comics: It has 17,000-plus comics from Marvel’s 75-some-odd year history, going back to the era of World War II era of Human Torch and Captain America comics. Every Monday, a new batch arrives.
The company has a clever way to keep people on the hook for new comics: Marvel Digital Unlimited is on a permanent six-month delay from Marvel’s regular release schedule. So while you get every Marvel title, including its recent run of pretty great “Star Wars” tie-ins, you have to shell out for the regular issues if you want to stay totally current.
Marvel also wisely curates lists of notable storylines and character appearances, making it easier to navigate that overwhelming flood of comics.
There are some drawbacks. You need to be connected to the Internet at all times to fully take advantage of Marvel Digital Unlimited, since you can only store 12 comics for offline reading at a time. And the app itself is super buggy, with crashes on the regular.
But for the value you get, it’s totally worth it. And no, there’s no equivalent app for DC Comics, so no Batman or Superman to be found here.
To be continued
There’s a lot you lose when you go all-digital. For instance, many comic creators are still designing their pages with print in mind, and they don’t always look great on a smaller screen:
Both Comixology and Marvel Digital Unlimited make it easy to zoom in to each individual panel, but then you lose the effect of the page as a whole.
On the other hand, Marvel and DC have both been using the potential of digital comics to play around with formats and styles.
And since 2013, Marvel has had its irregular series of “Infinite Comics,” designed to be viewed on a digital screen:
At the same time, DC has been running experiments in short, weekly comic book series spotlighting major characters like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, selling each for a cheaper 99 cents.
Meanwhile, Marvel has made it a point of including a digital download code with its print comics, so you get both copies (and hiking prices $1 per issue almost across the board for the privilege). DC tried, but ultimately abandoned, a similar initiative.
All of that said, the absolute best part of digital comics is how it’s sparked a reinvigoration of the comic book market. By removing the need to go to a comic book store, digital comics have opened up the door to a much broader audience, well past the traditional, stereotypical comic book nerd.
It means that in addition to established characters like Wolverine and Ant-Man, there’s finally established room in the market for non-superhero, non-traditional comics like “Saga,” “Lumberjanes,” and “The Wicked and the Devine” to become smash hits.
And so, while I’m definitely lamenting the fact that I’m going to be visiting Isotope Comics a little less, at least I know that I’m still supporting both my local comic book store and a growing industry in independent comics. Plus, hey, fewer boxes to lug around.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
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