Thoughts on online comics archives

[I clicked on the “add new post” link on my BBn dashboard and the site didn’t react. It just sat there, motionless. It woke up after a second click. I guess it wasn’t expecting to ever be used again.]

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.

Look, Mr. Levitz, no one likes those motion comics. It’s a classic instance of corporate types not understanding technology 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. No one’s ever going to want motion comics of Vigilante, that’s for sure. So Vigilante just sits their in your vaults, costing you money for storage space and not netting you a dime. So for God’s sake, why not pay a few interns to scan the series in its entirety, and then charge me a monthly fee to read it (along with other titles, of course).

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.

  1. J_Stone left a comment on May 26, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Actually, I’ve got a bunch of old Vigilante issues around here, I think. I was a big Vigilante fan as a youth. Remind me next time you’re over, and I’ll see if I can dig ’em out for you.

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