A post from my Marvel blog of more than a decade ago, addressing then controversy of the time about the rise of digital platforms selling comics.
This is all just my own opinion, but…
I’ve been watching with a growing sense of amusement-turning-to-horror all of this recent Sturm Und Drang set off by an executive at another comic book company who declared that, if they were allowed to, personal reading devices like the Kindle would spell finito for the comic book business. Now, I don’t know the guy who said this personally; I’ve never met him, never spoken to him. But given his position, I expect he must be a pretty bright individual. So the fact that he’s this worried in such an irrational way is, frankly, baffling to me. But now, the web sites have started following suit, predicting their own doom-and-gloom scenarios.
I don’t know, maybe it’s just the overall economic situation that’s got everybody feeling so frightened, and the Kindle makes for an easy scapegoat to rally against. But I find this position completely wrong-headed.
Here’s a quick reality check: technology doesn’t go backwards (at least not without a catastrophic change to the culture along the lines of the dark ages—and for the moment, let’s assume we’re not going to have another one of those any time soon.) Once you’ve invented the Atomic Bomb, there’s no going back to a pre-Atomic age—you’re where you are, baby! Once the Automobile is invented, the desire for Horse-and-Buggy rigs is naturally going to diminish. And it’s a fact of life now that the current generation of kids gets a great deal of their entertainment value from personal devices, and as the technology continues to improve and get cheaper and better and more capable, that’s only going to become more and more the case.
But that gives everybody who makes comics a tremendous opportunity, so long as you realize that COMICS ARE THE CONTENT, NOT THE CONTAINER. It’s not 32-pages of pulp-paper stapled together that makes it comics—it’s telling a story using a sequential set of words and pictures in unity. And given that comics is a visual medium, it’s ideal to transition to new formats such as the Kindle. Also, it’s cheap and ubiquitous—once you eliminate the cost of printing, and you can deliver your product directly to any consumer who wants it, you’ve got an enormous opportunity to reach an entire mass audience that currently isn’t a part of our readership. This is precisely the opportunity that so many pundits have been clamoring for ever since the landscape of the newsstand periodicals business dried up—and yet, these same pundits seem to have problems recognizing this fact because the shape of it isn’t familiar.
Does the digital revolution spell the end for print, though? I don’t think so, at least not in the short term. There are still enough people who crave the comics experience in a tangible way, and while that’s likely to change over the course of years, it isn’t going to just stop on a dime. If anything, the enormous power to expose and ensorcel countless new eyeballs gives us the opportunity to get at least some of those people into the habit, and carry them over to the print side of the street.
The reason people love comics isn’t because of the package (although there’ll always be a certain amount of nostalgic attachment to the way you discovered comics first), but because of what’s inside that package—the great characters, stories and artwork that we all love enough to seek out every Wednesday. And all of that can and will survive the transition to these new formats and delivery systems.
So say it with me: Comics are the content, not the container.