A Comic Pundit’s Thoughts On The iPad And Digital Comics

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At some point last year when I was traveling abroad and catching up on Kirkman’s Invincible, I began to wonder why I was being relegated to reading said sequential art on my phone or laptop and not on a dedicated comic book reader. Most publishing companies including the one I’m currently working for has either been underground working on their own tablet device or waiting for Apple. And now we have the iPad. Panelfly and Comixology have both stated publicly that they’re working on iPad apps, but will it be enough? I still enjoy going to the comic book shop on Wednesdays to pick up the latest books.

Anyway, I asked Douglas Wolk, you know, our resident comic book guy about the iPad and his thoughts on digital comics.

Douglas Wolk: I think it is frankly insane that DC and Marvel don’t sell (most of) their comics on the day of release in a la carte, open-format, digital form. There is a gigantic audience that has now fully settled itself into downloading homemade scans of comics every week; you can get ’em on “0-day” with mere seconds of effort. That is the format in which their customer base has declared they want to consume comics; to not offer it to them in that format is to commit slow suicide.

But of course the reason they’re not doing it is that their grasp on the direct market is so tenuous, and if one of them fails, or Diamond fails, or more comics shops fail, the whole house of cards goes down. They’re betting that the two markets are not the same; they’ve also constructed their whole business model on “collectibility,” which obviously disappears the moment you’ve got digital reproduction.

Me, I like physical things. I strongly prefer having comics that I can not only read but give away or lend or sell or drop in the bathtub. It’d be great to have easy access to a complete digital archive of comics–and wouldn’t it make sense for continuity-minded publishers to post apropos links to things that tie into their new comics each week? But, you know, comics-bootleg blogs and Rapidshare effectively do that anyway.

I bet if there’s a digital format to beat, it’s going to be Longbox, but I could be surprised. I’d still much rather see things offered in .cbr or something similar rather than a proprietary format.

Yes, the iPad is a Kindle-killer–color, for one thing!

One curious thing is that the vanguard of art-comics for the last few years has been comics that foreground their physical-object-ness: not just Asterios Polyp and Kramers Ergot 7, but handmade things, screen-printed things, things with Walter Benjamin-style “aura.” The future may be going in two directions at once.