Sometimes it looks like comic books, in their physical form, at least, might go the way of the cassette tape. Access to comics on the internet has never been so sophisticated. Comixology has brought comics from over 75 publishers to the online world, including companies like, oh I don’t know, DC comics. Marvel has its own digital platform and subscriptions, and creator owned, independent webcomics have a flourishing online community.
It looks a little dicey for the physical comic book, but there is one thing that will ensure that actual books are bought and read, and that thing is artwork.
Comics are different than books in a number of ways, but one thing that you’ll notice right away is that the story and narrative are told through images, on a page, in a specific order. Unlike most books, which would read in a similar way whether the text was scrolled through on an iPad or flipped through in a paperback, comics are designed to be read as they were drawn, which is almost always in the style of a page. In other words, the words of Craig Mod, in fact, they have definite content, or content with a well defined form.
Why does that matter when you can see the art on an iPad or computer screen? Well, people love original art. They even love prints of original art! Original artwork draws people to conventions in droves, it sells for hundreds of dollars, or hundreds of thousands of dollars if it’s a Todd MacFarlane cover for The Amazing Spider-Man. Anecdotal but relevent, I know people who will read stories about characters they don’t care about if they think the art is good enough.
Rather than fearing the internet as the end of something, the comics community has, more or less, embraced a dual existence where digital content and physical content both have a place. Mainstream publishers put all their back issues on the internet (for a fee, of course), as well as selling digital copies of current issues (a heck of a lot cheaper to do than paper runs, I’m sure) for the same cover price you pay in a comic shop. Webcomic creators host content free of charge, but sell physical copies, as well as merchandise to those interested in spending money.
And they certainly are interested in spending money. Dresden Codak, a long-running webcomics, set a goal of raising $30,000 to print a book copy of the first years of the comic. Currently, the project has raised $358,684. Let me reiterate that all that money is being raised for a physical copy of something that is available online for free. That’s an extreme example of something webcomic artists have being doing for years. They even have a wonderful storefront, Topatoco, solely for the distribution of internet comic merchandise.
As long as people are willing to pay money to hold something that they love in their hands, to see a page laid out the way it was drawn, comics will be just fine.
Oh, and if anyone was worried about the effect that digital comics will have on those high auctions prices, I’m pretty sure physical content being more difficult to find is the dream of collectors everywhere. More to fetishize.