Poe’s Point > Thoughts on Online Comics Archives

[Poe’s note: This is a bit of an experiment. It’s not exactly a toy-related post, and I do prefer to maintain my laser-like focus on toys, lest I water down the brand by making PGPoA yet another pop culture commentary/news site. So please, post a comment and let me know whether you find this interesting or would rather I stick to toy stuff. I have a few ideas for columns like this, but I can always post them over on my other blog, where I posted this one first.]

Marvel Comics has a great online service called Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited, which allows users to read thousands of back issues for a monthly fee. It’s awesome, but I’m a DC guy these days, and I just don’t get why DC Comics hasn’t done it yet. If they did, I’d sign up in a second.

DC has a huge library of comics, and tons of them have never been collected in trades. For instance, after being introduced to the 1980s version of Vigilante via the action figure and the two-issue story in DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore, I wanted to read his series, but there was no way I was going to buy a ton of single issues off eBay–I hate single issue comics and recently switched to buying only trades when I can help it. But Vigilante’s never been collected in trade paperbacks, and he’s probably not popular enough to warrant them anyway.

But one way to build some equity off that title would be to throw the entire series–all fifty issues–online. I really don’t understand why DC isn’t getting on this. An interview with DC’s president, Paul Levitz, reveals a disturbing lack of understanding about this potential market:

I don’t think if you create a comic flat for print that it’s likely to be the perfect thing for a digital world. I enjoy having The Complete New Yorker on my bookshelf in digital form, but I don’t look at it very often. I think in the end the great success is when you’re creating for the dynamic of the medium you’re in. Will there be conversions that make sense? We have the motion comics project that we’re doing with Warner Premiere, our sister company, which takes comics created for print and adds some limited motion and an audio track of narration and description.

Does anyone really like those motion comics? They seem to me to represent a classic instance of corporate-types not understanding the medium and trying way too hard–and burning money while they’re at it. It’s got to be a lot cheaper and easier to just scan comics than to turn them into motion comics.

I don’t think motion comics are the future of comics online–certainly not old comics. No one’s ever going to want motion comics of Vigilante. So Vigilante just sits their in the DC vaults, costing money for storage space and not netting them a dime. For God’s sake, why not pay a few interns to scan the series in its entirety (along with a hundred other titles in the DC catalog), and then charge a monthly fee to read it?

As for Marvel’s digital archive, my understanding is that many titles’ runs have random gaps in them–possibly due to popular storylines being collected in trades. But apparently, there are many cases where random issues are also missing. This is bad business. I can understand making at least two tiers of service–a cheaper one that excludes issues that are currently in print in trades, and a more expensive one that has everything–but there’s no excuse for random issues of, say, Uncanny X-Men not being in the archive. Get those gaps filled in.


Pic of the Day


You read, therefore you’re–what, exactly?


  1. nerdbot

    Maybe I'm old, but I just do not enjoy reading on a computer or any other digital device. That goes for pure text, so I imagine it would also be true for comics.

    Out of curiosity, I tried to check out something at Marvel.com once, a while back – but I couldn't get it to work on my system. In that case, it was a vintage Iron Man. But I certainly have no interest in subscribing to new online content.

    More importantly, I agree with the concerns expressed by dayraven and Andrew about the potential harm to comic shops – and therefore ultimately the comics industry – should they move toward web publishing.

    As for the question of why the companies haven't put more of their older books online, I can tell you it is a matter of money. As an archivist who has worked on many digitization projects, I know how surprisingly expensive it is to put a collection online.

  2. Andrew

    I really don't like online comics. One of the big reasons for this is that they take business away from comic shops. Why would most people buy old comics if they can get them online? Plus, I like the feeling of holding a comic book in my hand.

  3. Poe

    I don't have anything against pop culture commentary/news sites–I just think there are enough good ones that I'd just be playing catch-up the whole time.

  4. I never understand why they don't put old comics on the web. Since they're not making a dime off a comic that hasn't been in print in 20 years anyway.

    On the flip side, I don't think DC's plan is so evil. Honestly, they're probably not doing it to prolong the death of the comic book industry. If you can get any old comic off of DC's website, why would you ever go to the local comic shop? All those back issues that now fetch $40-50 and might be the key to keeping some comic shops open, are now obsolete.

    I think DC and Marvel to some extent are trying to prolong the inevitable for as long as they can. When it all goes digital the scant few hundred comic shops that are left will turn into dozens.

  5. Jeez… the last thing we need is another pop culture commentary/news blog! 😉

    I think DC should just put the comics online. I'm not a fan of motion comics. I think the medium will work fine online. Web comics have been popular for years now, and they've been around for over two decades. There are a lot of stories I'd love to read, but its a matter of not knowing where to start or not wanting to invest in the TPB's.

    If they had some sort of subscription, or they could get revenue from advertising or something, I think that'd work out well.

  6. dayraven

    not to mention, in light of rising prices for paper comics, this seems like the big pus to officially brush off print comics for good. seriously, go to your LCS and check out the 25 cent bin… a ton of stuff in there that at one time meant stuff to us, the comic readers. now, they'r worthless… and marvel pushing to digital may well provide a cheaper future for new readers, but it kills the print format enirely. and in the long run, this kills comics as a collectible, because w/o print comics to rot and decay and get destroyed, there's no rarity to the commidity. so you kill comic shops.

  7. Frowny McBeard

    I'm not so all about digital comics. I've done it when I had to (like, say, Miracleman, where the only book I could actually find at any price I could afford was book 4) but I suppose I'm a luddite in that respect. I spend enough time staring at a screen, and I've found the Marvel Essentials and DC Showcases to be ideal for public transportation.

    And once comics are "motion comics" they aren't really the comics they were anymore, y'know? Levitz is echoing Scott McCloud in that respect-thinking exclusively in terms of traditional layout as it pertains to digital comics, where paper is no limitation, is a little bit of a disservice. I certainly don't think it should be applied to back issues, but it seems like Levitz is thinking in terms of the future, not their back catalogue.

  8. Vile speculation here: I think DC might be dragging their feet on putting everything up digitally, in the hopes of playing the long game. Complete guess; but given the choice of putting, say, Jerry Lewis up digitally for a pittance, or hoping to cash in on a "commemorative" edition later, DC's hoping for the latter.

    If something like their new version of Vigilante takes off (it won't) or vigilantes became the pop culture fad du jour again (they might, but it won't help) or the book's creators become hugely popular (which would've happened already if it was going to), then DC could (maybe) cash in on reprints. Unlikely, yes, but not impossible. Close, though.

    I could be completely wrong about that, but I think it makes sense. But Poe, I'll keep an eye open: I'm pretty sure I have the 80's Vigilante #1 from the quarter bins…

  9. dwaltrip

    Nice article Poe….I like it.

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