Digitisation – Agonising over the move from print to digital comics

I still have a Batman duvet cover, resplendent in all its Keaton/Nicholson glory. As I was four when that film was released I can safely say that my relationship with Batman has been so long that I can’t remember when it all became so important to me. The only me I know of is a me who loves Batman.
Strangely though it took me a long time to start reading Batman comics. In my early teens I’d been thoroughly freaked out by a copy of Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum, and had left it there. But when I picked up a copy of The Dark Knight Returns in a comic shop in Brighton at 19, it began. Much like with Arkham Asylum, I was stunned by its adult nature, but this time I was old enough to embrace it. Batman: Year One (My favourite) and The Long Halloween quickly followed, with my current TPB collection somewhere around the 100 mark.
My books may be slightly skewed towards Batman and Zombies….

There was always something nagging at me though. I may have been ploughing through books, but I wasn’t up to date, and I wanted to be. Over the next few years I got to within a year of the monthlies, picking up the TPB’s on release day. Even being 6 months to a year behind Morrison’s enormous run wasn’t enough. I didn’t feel like I was doing enough. Ask most people for one fact about me and they’ll more than likely say “He’s a bit keen on Batman”. To be that guy and not be picking up the monthlies didn’t sit well with me. So I needed to make the jump.

Several times I arrived at this point only to step back from the edge. I’d look down and all I could see was a maelstrom of events and crossovers. It had been over 20 years since Batman had an origin story. How and where could I step on? I had no idea.

Then the New 52 came along.

The new Justice League! Here to save me from indecision!

I’d heard that DC was considering hitting the reset button. Then it solidified into concrete news. They were going to stop every monthly title and start again from #1. This was my moment! I had the perfect start point. Not only that, but IDW has started a new TMNT comics just a few months previously! I could easily pick up a few issues and start that too. But before I could take a leap, where would I buy the comics and which ones would I pick up?

Daunting was the only way to describe it. This felt like a new world. What the hell is a pull list? Don’t I just buy it?

Driving to the local comic book shop wasn’t an option; as I’m prone to being bone idle, and I couldn’t face driving into the heart of town every Wednesday.  Maybe I could just get them delivered to my door instead?
After some searching I found a website. Full of informative and friendly people. Plus they charged reasonable prices! The website was easy to use and they quickly explained the process. So now I just had to pick my starting titles. A list was quickly drawn up, and I threw in a couple of punts just in case something I wasn’t expecting grabbed me.

So I knew the prices, could afford it, and had made my choice. Now to start collecting.
There were two things I didn’t take into account. The first was that that releases were spread over each month, and secondly I’m one impatient so and so.

I’d order each comic as it came out, regardless of it being on its own that week. I took big hits on postage (as it got cheaper for more issues) in pursuit of being first in some race with no one I actually knew. A severe dent in my overdraft, plus my upcoming wedding, was needed to shake me out of that course of behaviour.
I picked up some boxes to keep my comics in and bought some tabbed dividers to keep them all in order. My compulsion to list and keep things just so was being fulfilled as I read each issue, put it carefully back in its boarded bag, and placed it in its correct place in the box. Looking back over my burgeoning collection filled me with glee, and I happily took part in forum discussions on the latest goings on. After a few months I’d settled into this comic book business quite nicely thank you very much.

Doesn’t it look lovely? All neat and tidy.
A year into the New 52 and it was nearly Christmas 2012. I’d started reviewing comic books, and was lucky enough to be sent digital versions for free to cast my amateur eye over. Even better, one of them was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! I was being given a free copy of a comic I was already buying, and I all I had to do was tell people what I thought!

The PDFs of these comics I was sent to review planted the initial seed in my mind. Reading on a screen was no hardship, and they took no space. But in the new few weeks I’d see something that would really get my mind going. A colleague at work came in with his shiny new Nexus 7. I’d never got on board with the whole tablet thing, but this was a good size, looked pleasingly simple, and had piqued my interest. Luckily my colleague is an easy going chap, and obliged when I asked if I could download a comic app onto it. You know, just to see what all this digital business was about.

My workmates old Nexus 7.
My Nexus 7
What I saw was the future. Swiping between panels had me glued. The whole process was so easy and way better than reading it on a PC or laptop screen. But I didn’t have the money for a tablet, and with no other real use for one I couldn’t really justify it. That seed had grown its first shoot however, and really it was only a matter of time.

In the meantime I rationalised not ruining my bank account buying a tablet using the reasons I very much did like buying print comics. The feel of the paper in my hands and owning a tangible object, spending a bit too much time ordering my comics, and changing it around just so I get them all out of their boxes and faff around with them.

Fast forward ten months and I’d just got married. My new better half already owned a Kindle and was loading books onto it for the honeymoon. I wanted to read too but didn’t want to have to borrow or share. Fortunately our family and friends were extremely generous, so we had enough money to pick something up.
We settled on a 2013 Nexus 7. I’ll fess up now; half of the appeal was having a Nexus 7 sat alongside the Nexus 4 I already own. I guess you could say I’m a ‘Google Bitch’. Otherwise it’s suitably understated and is a good size for holding for long periods of time. I just needed an app to get some comics now!

Turns out that was a very simple choice. Comixology has deals with Marvel and DC, as well as plenty of smaller publishers. Being number one in the market made me feel a little better about not actually owning the comics. I buy the right to view them on any device attached to my account. So as long as Comixology is in business so am I. Of course you can’t lend the comics to anyone, which is a shame. But on the flip side I can read my comics on my phone. As long as you’ve downloaded the comic onto your device before you go out you can read them wherever you like.

The app is now installed on both the tablet and my phone, so I’m within a few swiped of my comics wherever I am. The phone is small but turned sideways still makes for a fairly decent viewer.
The tablet is awesome. Light enough to hold for long periods of time (it can add up when you’ve gone a bit crazy on New Comics Day), with enough space to store hundreds of comics. Even then it isn’t a worry as I could just leave them up on the cloud and just download the ones I want to read or always want access to.
The near instant delivery and lack of postage costs is very cool. But there are downsides.

I’ve lost my previously mentioned glee in collecting. This is the one part I’m struggling with. But being realistic I don’t have infinite space to store my comics, many of which I read once and then just pack away. You could argue it’s collecting for collecting’s sake. There is no longer the thrill of seeing my comics had been delivered either.

Overall though I feel these are reasonable prices to pay.
If something is that good, and stands out, I can buy a TPB and enjoy that. But the usual monthly titles can trundle along and be consumed.

It’s been a long road. Maybe the answer to “Should I make the jump to digital?” is to not think of it as a final choice. Digital comics aren’t going anywhere, and for many people like me they will fulfil your needs each month. But that’s not to say you can’t go out and buy a TPB or print comic. You just need to balance it.
I’m in my second month of buying digitally now, and I think I’ve found mine. You just need to find yours.

If you have any questions about any of this then I’m happy to try and help. This isn’t about pushing my opinion down anyone’s throat. I just wanted to share my experience. You may be trying to figure out what to do yourself. If that helps you, then I’m all for it.

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