Bags, Boards & Gigabytes

Published on February 5th, 2014

Making the jump to digital comics (and trying to look before I leap).

KidRickI’ve been a comic book enthusiast for 25+ years, which has taken up a considerable amount of both time and money. While I don’t mind the permanent ink stains on my fingers, I have had to become mindful of my spending habits. I consider myself a savvy connoisseur of the medium: sampling new titles, cutting items I don’t like, following my favorite creators and picking up what my friends recommend. When so many titles start overflowing my basement and the long boxes stack to the ceiling, it’s time to make a change.

I’ve resisted the pull of digital comics for as long as anybody. The feel of the pages flipping through my fingers, the smell of the new paper (or old paper), the ritual of picking up the latest titles from my local comic shop and the rows of bagged-and-boarded titles lining box after box … all these factors have enriched my experience as much as the stories themselves. I once swore to never switch from paper to digital comics. And it’s not like I no longer love my collection. However, the volume of single issues has grown out of hand and I’m still collecting Bronze Age goodies, so it’s time to make a change. Now that I’ve finally committed to switching to digital comics, it’s hard to know where to begin.

Obviously, I will need a device to store and display the comics, and then it comes down to acquiring the comics themselves. These are tough decisions for which I’ve been giving much thought. There are a lot of options in this endeavor, so it essentially comes down to my needs, budget and the features available. Can I read comics on my laptop? Of course, and I have given it the “old college try”. While there is nothing wrong with this method, the experience is so foreign to reading paper comics that it turns me off completely. Thus, the remaining option is a tablet. But why a tablet? Why do all my friends act as though tablets are the greatest thing to ever happen to comics? It seems that the fact that you can hold the device like a book makes the experience a lot like traditional comic reading. Plus, it is easily portable. The cherry on top is that digital comics come without advertisements, which results in zero interruption to the storytelling.

The first question I faced is what size tablet to get. Generally, I have three options: the smartphone, the 7-inch and the 10-inch device, all featuring different manufacturers and service providers. As a long-term user of the iPhone, I knew that a small screen would make for very challenging reading. I toyed with the idea of a 7-inch screen, but my comics fandom is serious business and I’ve just gotta see every detail from these hard-working creators. Many of these comics offer a panel-by-panel reading experience, and those that don’t will still allow you to zoom in on any image. Ultimately, I need a full, rich experience if I’m going to spend a dime on a device, so the 10-inch was an easy decision.

What really turned me upside down was the kind of 10-inch tablet to get. As I researched, I learned that there could be a problem if I want to use Marvel Unlimited to access Marvel’s digital library service. Some of the issues I saw were technical glitches with Google’s Nexus. In fact, any device which runs Android seems to show glitches, or at least offers a wearisome experience. Eventually, I also ruled out the Nook HD+ and Barnes & Noble’s Kindle Fire, as long as I was going to depend on Marvel Unlimited. Not only must I be able to use MU on my device of choice, but not have to zoom, pinch or worry about glitches, and also read comics from every other publisher out there. I chose the iPad Air.


My final bit of research had to do with how I’d acquire my comics. First, I approached the company who made me the comics reader I am today: Marvel. Initially, the question began with whether it was important for me to read comics as soon as they are released or if I could wait six months when they become available via Marvel Unlimited. For years now, I have waited for comics from Marvel and other publishers to be collected in trade paperback or hardcover format, so waiting is not much of an issue. Marvel Unlimited offers access to more than 13,000 digital comics and new releases are available six months after their publication date. Three plans are offered: a $9.99 monthly plan, $69 annual plan and $99 annual “plus”. Fortunately, I am in a financial position to go with an annual plan. The “plus” plan costs more and offers special collectibles, along with deals on digital comics and exclusive access to events and other perks. None of these perks seem like something I need or want, so I decided on the annual plan at $69.

ComiXologyLogoThe confusing part of buying digital comics came when I looked at my non-Marvel options. I’ve placed many orders from Discount Comic Book Service (DCBS), who offer outstanding discounts on pre-orders from every publisher. I found myself assuming that pre-ordering digital comics from DCBS, Comixology or other distributors would offer discounts of some sort. I mean, publishers want us to buy digital comics, right? So, it stood to reason that they would offer better rates than the retail prices. However, I found this not to be the case. I even looked at the option of subscribing to a title via Comixology, thinking that an advance commitment to a certain number of issues might be offered at a discount, but I was unable to see the price of a subscription at any stage through the purchase process. Ultimately, I elected to use DCBS to order digital comics, who offers a 5% credit of my purchase to future orders.

With all my research complete, it looks like my iPad Air will pay for itself during its lifespan based on my long-range savings from Marvel Unlimited, DCBS credits and the eliimination of bags and boards. Plus, I’ll have them at my fingertips wherever I go and be able to enjoy all the other features an iPad offers. Now, are these the only options for acquiring and reading digital comics? No, they aren’t. Some people use comic reader programs such as Comic Rack, some free and some paid. There are those who download bittorrent and cyberlocker websites, assuming they are comfortable being comic book pirates. And you can even buy comics directly from the publisher themselves.


Now that all the legwork has been done, all that’s left is to take the plunge. Within a week of you reading this, I will have taken all this theory and turned it into application, joining the exhilarating world of tablet ownership and digital comics. This was not an easy project, but I’m certain that my comics reading experience will be optimal, thus making it all worthwhile. I hope that those of you who are debating the switch from paper to digital find solutions to your liking as well. Now, I have to figure out how to break the news to my comic shop owner.

*Thanks to my good friends, Simon, Alan, Karl and David for all your input and recommendations during my ponderous investigations.

Rick “Smash” Hansen