Hey, That's My Cape! Dreaming in Digital [Comics]

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There comes a time in every comic reader’s life when you stop and look at the amount of boxes piling up around you. Long boxes, that is. I’m not a collector of comics per se but I’m not a disposer of comics either. Some titles I keep because I know I want the chance to read them again in the future, but for the most part? The thought of throwing away hundreds upon thousands of dollars of product makes me want to cry.

I’ve gone through my boxes a few times in the past, weeded out what I definitely didn’t want and donated them. I’m a charitable person but giving away my entire collection? Even with a tax credit it still makes my bank account scream at me. But am I going to take the time to sell them and make back a portion of what I spent? I don’t see that happening either. It would be a full-time job. So what’s there to do to ensure this doesn’t become a growing problem? I know, it pains me to say it too. Digital comics.

Digital is the future. I know it, and you know it. There’s really no way getting around it. I’m not even an “old school” comic reader and it’s already been a difficult evolution to watch. Do I think comics and other books will remain in print for a long time even after digital has taken the market? Absolutely. I don’t believe digital is an inherently bad thing, although it may be that for some (especially local comic shops) but it’s also something I’d been avoiding.

And then I received an iPad for my birthday.

“This is it,” I told myself, “I have to do it, or I at least have to venture into uncharted territory and try.” It was scary, to be sure, but it also felt like the smart thing to do for myself personally at this particular moment in time. Boxes were piling up, I’d just moved into a smaller living space, and I didn’t want the problem to continue. So last week I decided to test the waters and purchase that week’s books digitally. And it didn’t go as well as I’d expected. I had never seriously explored the digital comic apps for functionality before, simply for looks but I didn’t think it would be difficult. It was.

I first launched DC’s application and was faced with the most popular titles before the latest titles. When you think about it, most online sites feature their most popular products on the front page but for a industry built on new, weekly items, I assumed they’d be what I found first. Once you clicked on any of their imprints, there was nothing clear on the next page to say where that week’s books were located. That was my first frustration. I tried searching for each book individually but I knew there had to be an easier way.

I decided to move to the comiXology website on my regular computer. I definitely found it easier to search for and compile my weekly list on that site and the computer. Right off the bat I noticed a section titled “Same Day As Print” and then the date. Ok, now we’re cooking. I clicked on every title I wanted, which added them to my cart where I could check how many I had and see if it matched up with my usual list, and also see how much I was spending. Even though I knew titles bought on the comiXology website would be instantaneously available on my iPad app once I purchased them, I wanted to go back to the app and do the buying there. But when I did, I realized the app has no cart.

Here’s where I really got frustrated because, to me, it shouldn’t be this complicated. In truth, it’s not really, perhaps I was making it too complicated myself and was let down when it wasn’t how I pictured it would be. But the fact remained, I still had no comics to read. All I could think to myself was, “I could have already been dressed and driving to a comic shop by now and at least I know how to dress myself and drive.”

Once I found that week’s comics all on one page on the comiXology app (not DC’s app) it was a simpler process. You still can’t put books into a cart because just like any app store, you purchase things one at a time, but at least I was getting everything I intended.

The actual reading experience wasn’t difficult for the most part. The only downside to something like the iPad is of course, it’s not the same size as a comic page so depending on the lettering, I needed to make the image slightly larger in order to be able to read it.  The only other hiccup was when it came time to read Batman #5. When I originally discussed my experiment on Twitter, I had several followers remind me that the art in that particular issue was meant to be a little wacky, sideways, and upside-down. I thought I’d just pick that one up in hard copy but realized it made much more sense in my experiment to buy it digitally. This is one of those things creators need to be aware of when creating content now. If you went to the page for that specific book in the store you where greeted with a message before the plot summary. “This book contains upside-down and sideways pages. To maximize the reading experience you may want to lock the orientation on your device.”

And problem solved. But I know there’re still people out there who will tell me it wasn’t the same as looking at the hard copy. And believe me, I’m certainly not sold on digital, but perhaps a side-by-side reading is called for down the road as well. Buy a few copies digitally and get a friend to loan me the same books in print. Though, that’s another little aspect of this all that came to mind while going through the process. As far as I know, I can’t let my friends borrow one of my digital comics unless they borrow my iPad. To me, letting a steady comic reader borrow a book they weren’t reading to show them how good it is or introducing someone new to comics to a series you know they’ll love, is part of the experience. I’d be happy if someone let me know how you can legally share a digital comic but as far as I know that’s not possible and slightly sad in the scheme of things.

So, what are my thoughts overall on my foray into digital? I’d say it was just ok. I can’t say it was good because of my initial frustrations but the reading experience wasn’t all that different from flipping pages. Are these sites and applications difficult to use? No, they really aren’t. I just happened to have a bout of confusion when I first tried. It happens, and perhaps there was something subconsciously working against me, who knows? There’s alerts you can set up to remind you when new books are out, which is a handy feature, but I’m not ready to make this a weekly thing just yet. It did, however, allow me the chance to purchase Batgirl: Year One which has been out of print for a while. Although, when all is said and done, I’d still love to own a hard copy of it.

I’m not a true believer in digital, but I’m not writing it off either. I think those who are curious should give it a chance, and I still have a lot of playing around to do on my own (including checking out other company’s apps). I still love the feel of holding a book but at least for now, digital may be a helping hand to my particular collection problems and a convenience worth the learning curve.

Read more of Jill’s columns at the Hey, That’s My Cape! topic page!

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