Digital Comics VS Real Comics
A few months back, I signed up for Marvel Unlimited, a relatively new service that provides on-demand access to thousands of digital comics from Marvel that you can read online, on your phone or on your tablet. The service offers an all access pass to the Marvel Universe and costs about R500 a year, which is incredible value for money.
I initially signed up for the service with great hopes of writing a review on Electric Sheep. Unfortunately, my review of Marvel Unlimited is pretty simple:
- It’s a potentially great service plagued by buggy mobile apps
- There is no easy way to browse through the thousands of comics on offer
- The offline support is limited to six comics- which you can’t access without a working internet connection.
It’s pretty easy to get frustrated by any of the above issues. But…there is one area where the service shines, and that is the content. The library of comics on offer is absolutely amazing, fantastic, spectacular and uncanny. Plus Marvel keeps adding new comics to read each month. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for some of the more recent titles, or if you’re looking to dig into classic issues from the Golden Age of the Marvel Universe. Marvel Unlimited is worth the price of admission for any comic book fan.
After playing around with the Marvel Unlimited app, I’ve given a lot of thought to how digital has changed the ways we consume media. I thought back to what it was like when I first started collecting comics as a kid. And as much as I like all things digital, I think I had my first “old man moment” when I started thinking about the future of the comic book.
I remember the trials and tribulations of trying collect comics while growing up in South Africa. My local CNA had a modest selection at best (basically X-Men, Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, and maybe a few other titles). Availability was often sporadic. I once spent months collecting the first three issues of a particular run of Amazing Spider-Man and then waiting the usual four weeks for the fourth and final issue which mysteriously never came…This kind of stuff happened all the time.
I started collecting comics in an age of scarcity. I remember going over to my cousin’s house and finding out that he had bought a direct edition of X-Men #25. It’s the issue where Magneto rips out Wolverine’s skeleton, and my cousin had picked it up for a whole R25 – which was a lot of money when I was a kid. It was the last copy and there was no way to get another one. I spent years trying to find a comic that my cousin wanted enough to trade for his copy of X-Men #25 but never found one.
One of the best parts of collecting comics was actually going to my local comic shop. The first comic shop I went to closed down shortly after I first visited it. It didn’t take me long to migrate over to Zed Bee in Edenvale which is where I spent the majority of my formative years, as well as all of my pocket money. Visiting Zed Bee was the highlight of my week and I can honestly say that my love of reading and writing was born in that store.
I still try to visit Zed Bee as often as possible. I love browsing their shelves, talking to the staff and getting their recommendations about what’s worth reading. Earlier this year I got into a fascinating conversation about how the comic book is the only medium where dozens of writers have interpreted the same characters for such a long time – pretty much 80 plus years and counting.
Thinking back to my experiences of collecting comics growing up and it makes me feel conflicted about a service like Marvel Unlimited. Part of me wishes I had something like it when I was growing up. I don’t think I could have ever imagined that one day; it would be possible to read almost any Marvel comic with the push of a button. I think that would have blown my tiny little mind.
But for all the value and convenience, I don’t think I would have traded it for my memories of collecting comics.
I hope that any kid growing up today gets their parent to sign them up for something like Marvel Unlimited. I hope any kid lucky enough to have a tablet buys a digital comic or two on a regular basis and spends less time playing Angry Birds or taking photos of milkshakes on Instagram. But I also hope that the parents of those same kids take them to a comic shop so they can buy actual comics.
There are so many great things about the digital world. Digital makes our lives more convenient and can offer value in ways that the real world can’t. But when I think back to my experience of collecting comics as a kid, I realise that you lose something if your only experience of something you love is digital.
It doesn’t matter if it’s comics, books or music. There is no question that the majority of the content that we’ll consume moving forward will be digital. But there are still some books that I want to own as physical books. There are still some artists that I want to see live instead of on a playlist. And there are still some experiences like visiting your local comic shop that no digital offering will be able to match.
So what does the future of the comic book look like? More than likely, it will be mostly digital. But hopefully there is still a bit of room for the real comic books that I grew up with. I’ve still got the entire collection that I built up as a kid and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.