Digital v Print in comics

I’m in a well paid job, not raking it in, but comfortable. A lot (some would say disproportionate but they are crazy) of my money goes on comics and magazines. I hoard everything (except my Private Eyes oddly), and still have a stack of computer magazines from the 1980s (Zzap 64s if you must know). I clearly have a very tolerant wife. ‘Course, with the wonders of modern technology we’re spared all that agony of storage and unsightly stacks of periodicals, paper cuts and inky fingers. We now have “iPads”, tablets, high definition wide screen monitors, laptops screens, and mobile ‘phones (if you squint hard enough or use the zoom function) to consume our reading material.

We’re well into the digital age, my entire comic collection (complete runs of 2000AD, Judge Dredd the Megazine and associated titled, plus a few thousand assorted British newsstand (remember them?) and American comics) could fit on my lapop. Or, why restrict to local digital storage. Were I to be extra clever, they could be kept remotely in the “cloud”. Convenient or what?

The thing is; I’m in my mid 40s and I don’t adapt well.

Willingly nor easily.

We’ve all read some digital publications. I belong to far too many Facebook groups, and I can see that many of the members subscribe to digital comics and magazines. I’ve read and heard people extolling the virtues of digital publishing – how many magazines, books and comics you can store, easily downloadable or readable online (assuming you have a connection). You can store thousands of publications on a tiny piece of hardware.

But isn’t having the object in your hand, the actual publication be it book, magazine or comic, that admittedly was probably once a grand spruce, pine, or birch (other trees are available) part of the attraction? The medium isn’t as important as the content, but for me it certainly adds to the value.

I consider myself a luddite. A reasonably modern luddite. I’m not that committed really, a bit half arsed. But I don’t see a need for further progression. Technology for me stops at around 2004, hardly back to 8 track cartridge or the gramophone, but the cloud leaves me cold. What’s the point of having something that is so ethereal?

Something that you can’t touch?

I’m a big fan of music. I will listen to MP3s, but basically, I would prefer not to. I’d much prefer to have the CD or vinyl, even tape. I spend some of my time hoarding old cassette players to make sure I still have the means to play my collection of Luke curated C90 compilations.

Comics and magazines are the same. My routine at 13 was to get up on a Saturday, wait for the paper to arrive, with my shot of thrills slipped inside the daily black and white (I am old) misery report. There was a period when I used to walk a 5 mile round trip to get my weekly fix. These days, my magazines and comics arrive through the letter box

(I still visit my local comic shop to get my American stuff), hopping out of bed (careful to wear dressing gown not to scare the kids), back to bed with coffee, and wifey snoring peacefully next to me; and importantly: not disturbing me (love you darling).

‘Course it also means that I’m like a Klegg with toothache when I don’t get it.

This isn’t meant to be a balanced argument weighing up the pros and cons of print over digital. I’ll be clear, I am completely in favour of the continued sacrifice of thousands of our arboreal friends to satisfy my reading demands (though obviously recycling is the way to go). To me deforestation is a fair price to pay for not having to rely on a hunk of plastic, metal and glass.

I prefer my reading matter in a form that I can touch, smell, fold, carry without needing an electricity supply (although I will admit some form of lighting is necessary occasionally), which unfortunately somewhere along the line has meant the processing of vast swathes of forestry and counting the days
for your kids to move out so you can turn their bedrooms into homes for your ever growing perilous pillars of periodicals.

Yes, okay, I have all my comics in the attic, their weight causing structural damage to my house. In a corner of the marital boudoir are my motorcycle magazines, copies of Retro Gamer under the bed with music magazines and recent comics.

Yes, they are probably a fire hazard. A potential conflagration on a grand scale, the flames would light up the town, confuse low flying aircraft and the devastation would lower property values.

Granted, they take up quite a bit of space, but isn’t that part of the fun? Where is the fun in taking a tablet around with you? Where are the stacks of comics and old magazines at the bottom of the wardrobe? Why do you need batteries or a power supply to read? (Lighting is given). What about the hours, nay, days, of sorting them, losing yourself in back issues that you forgot about? It’s a chore, but it’s not really. Can
you do that with an iPad? Hell no.

I don’t think you can savour a digital publication in the same way. I treat material that exists purely as 0s and 1s differently from physical product. Best example outside of reading matter is music. Unless I have the physical CD / Vinyl or whatever, I won’t play or use it as often as I would if I did. Comic wise, Brian K Vaughan and Marcos Martin created a really cool web comic a few years ago called Private Eye. I began following it, but lost track and in the end I waited for the physical collection. It’s a lovely package that looks great on the shelf, gathering dust along with the other books I may never read again. It’s the medium, the print, paper, staples / glue, the smell (which is a tad weird I know) and the feel that for me contributes to the value, it’s the medium and the content.

I don’t want an e-mail notifying me that my comic or magazine is ready to be downloaded. I want mine
dropping though my letter box, wrapped in a plastic bag in quarantine, segregated from the thrill sucking bills and junk mail, ready to be unleashed, or walking into a shop to pick my titles. Such a heady thrill I flick through a comics news websites, scanning for specific articles. I read stuff, but I don’t really absorb. They are handy for bits of gossip, but for a proper article, you can’t beat dead tree journalism.

I’ve read digital magazines (which to me sounds like an oxymoron). I still rue the day that I threw out all my Comics International and Comic World (I had to sacrifice something when I moved into my now wife and step kid’s home – and it wasn’t going to be the comics). They are like a snap shot, a paper time capsule of the news and events that were occurring in the world of comics. All the articles from the nineties about the unbridled (and short lived) expansion at Marvel UK, Kevin Eastman & Tundra throwing money around like there was no tomorrow, the interviews with creators, the rise of Image and the reviews of long forgotten titles and runs. I can’t imagine you’d get that kind of history with an ephemeral digital edition.

I know that I am probably in a minority, and I’m going to go the way of Old One Eye and all the other dinosaurs, but for as long as I am about, I want inky fingers when I read, not a smudged tablet screen.

Luke Williams

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