WHOSOEVER HOLDS THIS HAMMER: How I learned to stop worrying and love digital comics.

WHOSOEVER HOLDS THIS HAMMER appears every Tuesday exclusively on Comic Book Daily.

The digital age is upon us, or so I have been told. I must admit that when I first heard that comic books were going to be online for viewing in digital format I was pretty skeptical. I found it strange to think that someone would want to read comic books without being able to hold one. That tactile experience, I thought, was an essential part of reading comic books; however, I put aside my judgement and decided to investigate further.

Marvel took the lead in championing online comic books. DC is only starting to catch up and both companies have very different business models. DC comics only offers a set price for each book (about $2 per issue), while Marvel offers both a set price for downloadable new comics and has its Digital Comics Unlimited service. It is the Digital Comics unlimited service that really shines and what I will be talking about in this article.

The service costs $10 per month or $60 per year (I bought a year membership) and gives me access to over 7000 different issues from the Marvel library. The books are a minimum of 6 months old and the majority of the titles comes from the last 10 years or from the 1960s. You never download anything (you read it all online using flash) and I can log on to any computer anywhere there is an internet connection. It will not work on the iPad due to Apple’s irrational hatred of all things flash. Thanks a lot Jobs. Anyway, I now can read as many comic books as I like for an entire year.

Reading comics online actually works really well. With a click of a mouse I can advance from panel to panel. You don’t get the same experience as if you had the comic in your hands but you get a good comic book reading experience. So have I stopped buying comic books at my local comic shop? In a word, no. In fact, reading comics online has caused me to buy even more in a shop. First I should mention the incredible value for money that the Digital Comics Unlimited is for the comic book aficionado. Remember the more you read the better a deal $60 per year becomes. But it will be argued that it is only a good deal if you would have purchased the comic book anyway. Fair enough. For some time Chris Owen (you can read his blog here) had been telling me that the Ed Brubaker Captain America was one of the best comic books out there. Fifty-Six issues are available online and they would have cost me about $225 if I bought them all in issue or trade paperback format. Now I had to read them much later than everyone else who bought the monthlies, but I got to experience the great story for about $1 per issue. And anything else I read is basically gravy.

My “gravy” so far has been the new Hulk series, a bunch of Dr. Strange mini-series, all the Annihilation books, and the first Runaways series. If I never use my Marvel Digital subscription again, it is good until June, it has been well worth it. These books were not ones that I normally collect, and since I, like many of us, do not have the finances to purchase every single book I wish to read this is a great way to supplement my comic book addiction.

In addition, the Brubaker Captain America series caused me to pick up Secret Avengers, so now I have a new series added to my pull list. Reading comics online will cause fanboys to buy more comics, and those who wouldn’t buy monthly comics can still enjoy all the great stories from the House of Ideas. The Digital Comics Unlimited service will not replace comics books, and by extension brick and mortar stores, but will only enhance the reach of the industry by providing customers with more options. I would recommend the use of Marvel Digital to anyone and there are quite a few free samples available online at the Marvel Website.

And DC better get their act together. You don’t have to be second at everything guys.

Anthony Falcone Written by:

Anthony Falcone is a freelance writer living in Toronto and he is the Ayatollah of Rocknrolla. You should definitely follow him on Twitter.

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  1. November 5, 2010

    How long can you comfortably read digital comics in front of your PC, and are you using a desktop or laptop? Does portability come into play?

    I love the idea of digital comics but part of the reading experience is holding the physical book, flipping the pages, taking in the page and then the panels and dialogue. Paper type greatly affects the reading experience but online you get the material bright and vibrant on your screen.

    My other concern is keeping a copy. I know it’s an old collector mentality but I have a lot of books on my shelf and I go back and read them every five to ten years. With the Marvel subscription you have to pay annually to keep reading. With iTunes and other downloadable media you have the book until the format changes or the file is no longer available.

  2. Anthony Falcone
    November 5, 2010

    Like anything with a computer screen, you should read for about an hour and take a 15 minute break to rest your eyes. Ideally, using some sort of pad device would be great. The ipad is out due to the above-mentioned flash issue, but whenever RIM comes out with their new tablet it will be tempted to pick one up simply to read digital comics.

    I would also have to ask you if you love everything you buy? That is, do you really, really need a copy for the shelf of everything that you purchase? If you are very selective and you enjoy everything and want to display it proudly on a shelf that is great, but if there are some books that you are on the fence about this is a great way to read the stories.

    Also remember that the per issue cost of digital unlimited is so inexpensive that if you really decided that you also needed a hard copy for the shelf you wouldn’t really be much out of pocket for testing it out online.

    Everyone should sign up for this. Not as a substitution for buying the hard copies, but as a way to supplement your love of the medium.

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