Welcome to our latest feature, the Sunday Roundtable! Each week the Graphic Policy team will discuss a topic, giving their thoughts and insight.
This week’s first topic, Digital vs. Print comics! It’s almost as controversial as Marvel vs DC with some folks. Team Graphic Policy, what are your thoughts on the two ways to consume your comics? Discuss pluses and minuses of each. And what do you see as the future for each?
Daphne: I prefer digital to print for a couple very specific reasons.
Looking at the pros and cons of both mediums for a moment – print can be damaged or lost much more easily due to careless pets or natural disasters, and also takes up physical space that can be really inconvenient in small apartments like I’ve had. And of course print has ads.
The cons of digital are things like DRM on reading material, losing space on electronic devices, or the possibility of network issues and data loss.
Print offers the actual experience of reading, of turning a page and having an object to feel and hold and smell. Tangible objects make for more meaningful emotional connections to a collection or series.
Digital formats are what I infinitely prefer for a very personal reason though: safety. Comic shops are notoriously unfriendly to women, and there’s a lot of gatekeeping fans who don’t want “fake geek girls” or people who can’t “prove” they appreciate a series to buy comics sometimes. Being transgender I also just generally don’t feel safe in public often due to my short life expectancy and the high rate of hate crimes against trans people. With digital comics I can find really old or obscure issues of stories I want to experience for the first time, read about characters I want to learn about without having to prove my nerd cried, and enjoy the stories I love without feeling like my safety is at risk or I’m in an unfriendly environment. For me that makes digital the best option any day of the week.
Edward: I am not much of a collector when it comes to comics, in fact I have lost all of my physical collection at various points in my life and it hasn’t really bothered me. That being said, the format doesn’t really matter to me, only the story. Whether paper or screen, as long as the message is passed I am happy, though digital make it far easier to purchase and consume, even though I still buy both.
Brett: I read both, and while I like digital for the convenience, I feel like you can miss out on amazing two page spreads. I think there’s something about the tactile touch of the comic page, but that’s what I’ve mostly read for 30 years.
Is anyone bothered with digital products that you might not “own” it like a physical one? Or the service might shut down? That’s not counting PDFs you can download.
Daphne: I do worry about the service shutting down or the digital rights management people encode in files causing problems someday. But I have faith in the Internet to come up with some way to get around that if it ever becomes a reality.
Alex: Maybe I’m an old soul, but I’m a staunch print fan. I enjoy collecting comics as much, if not more, than I do reading them; bagging and boarding is actually relaxing for me, an I love hunting out old back issues. I’m fortunate in having a really awesome Local Comic Shop that has a large selection of back issues that I enjoy looking through.
Like Daphne said, print offers a tangible object to interact with, and, perhaps the biggest bonus for me, it isn’t on a screen. I don’t mind digital comics, but given a choice, I’ll buy print any day of the week over digital.
And yeah; I’m not a huge fan of owning a license to a product that I can get a physical copy of for the same price.
I do still read digital comics, but they’re limited to Marvel Unlimited, and the review copies we get through Graphic Policy.
Daphne: Having moved from the US to Russia and back, and going from state to state a few times in my life before settling in Oregon, I have to say I really appreciate not having too many super heavy trade paperbacks and individual comics to drag around. Those big cardboard boxes can be such a nightmare, especially when I’ve lived above the ground floor of a building. That’s another thing I like about digital over print. It IS awesome to see all my trades taking up space on my bookshelves though.
Alex: Yeah, I agree with you there, Daphne; my comic collection is spread between England and Canada because moving them from one place to the other is expensive and/or time consuming. It’s also mildly annoying that I can’t reread the full run of Ultimate Spider-Man as the best part of a hundred issues are across the pond.
Christopher: Honestly, I do enjoy digital if I’m traveling, or trying out a new series, since it is something I can read at my leisure. However, I also enjoy collecting the physical thing. Each medium has pros and cons associated with it. Than agian the same could be said about books, and ebooks. In the end I think it comes down to personal preference.
A slight addition. Also it seems to me people if they see you with a physical copy tend to leave you alone if your reading it. With digital I think they are more likely to approach you.
Brett: What do you think of digital’s limitations compared to print? I find it harder to appreciate double spreads, and some times when a the reading flow goes from page one to page two and back, I some times lose that. I tend to read straight PDFs so don’t get the benefit of guided view, which is on me, but still many are allowing you to download PDFs now, so that may become a bigger issue.
Alex: Personally, I find that, aside from a lack of physical product, for me that’s another major limitation. I find that reading a straight PDF limits your ability to enjoy a full page (and I usually avoid guided views if I can).
This also may be unpopular but I also miss the ads. I find that the ads are usually placed in a way to add tension to the comic; not always, but sometimes.
Edward: The double page spreads still work in the right context, especially if they are edited together well. I find that the reading experience is not all that different after figuring out a way to navigate. What is interesting as well is that there are no more left page reveals in digital, because every page can be the left page if needed.
Daphne: Totally agree about the left page reveals. That’s one of my other favorite aspects of reading digitally. With the right editor and formatting some digital comics have this awesome flow to them I don’t think paper comics can replicate. So it also depends on how much the writer or publisher has embraced the digital medium. I think we’ll see a lot more experimentation with the digital format as time goes on.
Alex: I think that’s the problem I’ve had with digital comics; most digital comics I’ve read are digital copies of print, not digital first.
Brett: What advantages do you all think digital has over print or vice versa? There’s absolutely things one can do the other can’t.
Alex: Print is much more collectible, where as digital is MUCH easier to get your hands on (digital downloads are pretty quick compared to traveling to a comic shop). There’s also an absolute lack of storage space for digital, like Daphne has already mentioned.
Brett: But what about storytelling itself between the two? Digital we’ve seen other things mixed in like small amounts of motion, music, information, do you care about that as readers? Marvel had their enhanced app for print, but seem to have given up on it. I know I used it a half dozen times and it was buggy as all hell.
Daphne: X-Men ’92 uses the comiXology app to some great results when it comes to transitions between panels or pages. It’s the kind of thing more comics should do. There’s some great examples of freeing up screen space for actual art by having speech bubbles disappear so new ones can take their place.
Alex: That’s actually pretty cool. I don’t really have an opinion on this, because I haven’t experienced anything like it before, but it definitely sounds like a selling point for digital comics.