Or an Ode to the Local Comic Shop
First, I’ll admit that I am eagerly awaiting Christmas so that I can unwrap my Kindle Fire. I can’t wait to fire that bad boy up and browse the webs, read some books, listen to some musics, watch some videos and, of course, read some comics. The ability to read comics wasn’t the reason I decided to go with the Kindle Fire. It’s 7″ screen may hamper any true enjoyment but it will still be fun. For some reason, Avenging Spider-Man keeps coming with digital downloads when I pick it up and Marvel offers free digital read lunches so it’ll be nice to have a portable way to check out some of my favorite stories. It’s enough to not turn me off completely to digital comics. I’ve read some comics online and it’s not an entirely bad experience.
To be completely honest, I can’t really make many major arguments against digital. As the world seems to be marching toward progress (which, to me, means toward Skynet’s inevitable takeover), it only makes sense that the comic book industry will be heading that way, too. You can find everything online. It’s convenient, it’s fast, and it’s pretty darn impressive. If you had told itty bitty me in the early 90s that one day I’d be able to even do my grocery shopping without ever leaving my house, I would have laughed. Computers and the internet have completely changed the way the world works. Whether that’s good, bad, or apocalyptic is yet to be seen.
So why not offer comic books to the world on the internet? There are people who like technology for the sake of technology and many geeks happen to fall into that category. It makes total sense for a publisher. Plus, it’s cheap to do. You produce the comic, you save it onto a server somewhere rather than print it and then you let anyone with some dollars download it straight to their computing device. No printing costs at all. It’s a pretty sweet deal for the publisher. And it’s great for those technology gluttons who just can’t get enough of progress.
The thing is, I really love comic books. I can give you all the reasons you’ve probably heard before: when you buy comics, you actually own something. When you have them in your hand, it’s a tactile experience. The paper smells good. They’re pretty light so they travel well. You don’t need electricity to enjoy them. And so many more. But I think there is a largely unsung element to print comics and that is the act of actually getting your comics.
In the digital world, there is no face or name to attribute to your experience. You’ve got marvel.com or comixology.com or whatevergetsmemycomics.com. You have customer service when it doesn’t work and you can only hope that it hasn’t been outsourced.
Not so for the local comic shop (LCS). When you walk into your LCS, you can almost guarantee that the man or woman behind the counter speaks your language. And not just in the sort of racist way. These people speak geek. They’re reading what you’re reading. They’re reading what you’re not reading. When they give their opinions (of which many have a lot of), its from firsthand knowledge, not just parroting what some corporate office is telling them to talk about. How many retailers can honestly say that?
What I really like about my LCS is that it’s like Cheers in there. When you go regularly, you’re known. The more you go, the more your opinions matter. The more you go, the more candid advice you get. My most recent encounter resulted in obtaining a copy of Animal Man #1 because my “obsession with Batgirl offends me.” And you know what? Animal Man is a pretty good read. I probably wouldn’t have picked it up, otherwise.
There’s another advantage of the LCS. Even smart data collecting software is going to offer you two things: titles similar to what you’ve been reading and whatever title is being promoted by the company for whatever reason. They want sales that directly benefit them somehow. They don’t care about broadening your experience. They care about making sales. But I was recommended Animal Man based on his interest in the title.
There is a sense of community when you go to your LCS that you won’t find on websites filled with forums made up by rabid fanboys with creative takes on spelling and grammar. Face to face contact is more human, more companionable. I think what people forget when they’re debating print vs. digital is the people aspect of the business. The more into the digital age we sleep, the more out of touch with simple human interaction we become. You know the stereotype of antisocial geeks? It’s only going to get worse if we don’t have places to go to interact with other people with similar interests. We need print comics, we need places to go to get print comics.
There are plenty of advantages to digital comics. I won’t ever deny them that. But we need print. We need the newsstands, the local comic shops, the social aspect of the business or we risk losing the ability to be social ourselves.