Thoughts on Book and Comic Book Collecting…

It looks like the technology to pull me kicking and screaming into the future has indeed arrived.

It started last Xmas when I went ahead and purchased a Kobo eReader as a means of controlling the sheer volume of books I tend to read and keep at home. After an at-least 8 year slow purge of physical books from my life (with the biggest sprint being last year as I was finishing up my basement renovations), I came to accept (because I always realized it) that the main reason I loved having books around is to go back and reference them (at most) or enjoy the cover artwork (at least).

Out of the thousands of hard covers, paperbacks, or table books in my collection, there were only a smattering of them that truly made it beyond that level and into the “re-reading” category. So, in truth, having all this “stuff” wasn’t doing much except take up space. Hence, the move to Kobo. Now, as then, the point was always two-fold of which books I would continue to purchase physically (usually either visual/graphical books or those from series I really loved and wanted around the house) versus digital (for consumption and curiosity). The point of going with Kobo was basically that all I could use it for WAS read. I didn’t want something for surfing or anything else. Basically, a book equivalent of a Discman or a Walkman (remember those?). I copy or download books, I read at my leisure.

As I also noted, graphical books – or more specifically comic books – were completely out of scope for this move. As far as I was concerned, I was not ready to move to digital comics. Almost 40 years of time, energy, and memories invested into this love of the four-color medium meant the move could not be easily accepted.

And then DC decided they needed to “clean up” their entire line of books. Whether this was to get clear ownership of their flagship titles (after all the lawsuits), or whether it was to get a bigger slice of revenue by branching out and enticing new readers, it doesn’t matter at the moment. What matters to me is the fact that as far as I’m concerned a big final chapter is being closed on a Universe I’ve loved for 40+ years. A vast majority of the characters I loved growing up (like The Justice Society, for prime example) would no longer be published. All other characters would be revamped and brought up to “today’s standards”. Hence, things like Superman -outside of powers- would be a different character.

DC’s strategy is that this would be a great “jumping-on” point for fans. Of course, the reverse is true. It is also a great “jumping-off” point.

In thinking back to events that made me stop reading specific comics or companies, it’s always been these kind of wholesale wipe-outs. The Spidey Clone Saga took me out of reading Spider-Man until JMS came to the title. Then, ret-conning his marriage to Mary Jane took me completely out of Marvel (so I didn’t have to bother with things like Skrull replacements in a body-snatchers theme). Now, DC is closing off many titles/ characters I really like and offering new versions.

Are they interesting? Yeah, some. Are they worth investing time in? Probably not. Comic fans will cite things like “What Crisis brought in was revoked 10 years later” and other arguments along the line of everything that gets revamped goes through another revamp after a number of years anyhow. But I’m just a little tired of it at this point. To me, I wonder why I should try to care about any new characters or situations. Heck, even the movie studios aren’t really interested in modern superheroes, they’re always going back to the original source material of the 60’s-70’s anyhow! And since I’ve got all those books, I’m not missing anything šŸ™‚

But I digress. The point I was trying to get to until I distracted myself was that this “new” DC universe is not where I’ll be spending my money. Indeed, the thought of purchasing comics that won’t give me the satisfaction I expect and then having it “linger” in a box in my basement is just not right. So, in evaluating the costs, I decided to get an iPad last month. After all, from what I had seen, it was the closest technological gadget for mimicking the experience of reading a comic.

I spent the month experimenting with the various apps for downloading and reading comics and tried out a bunch of free ones (either previews or specials). I discovered a few things. Notably, all the Marvel comics I read of titles I stopped buying/ reading held no appeal for me. Sure the characters were the same (ie; acted the same) but the stories had nothing new to offer. Thus, nothing to gain there. The DC titles I sampled were of titles that were considered ‘classics’ but again, didn’t do anything for me. However, I used the time to catch up on some older material for the experience. And then, I went ahead and purchased a digital comic.

As someone who has always “needed” to hold/own/have a physical copy of anything/everything, this was a big thing for me. Suddenly, it wasn’t an .mp3 or .m4a file that I could “see” – this was a file on my iPad “only”. And space on my iPad is not as limitless as my basement – which means regular clean-up. However, the biggest difference in this case is that although I might have to delete this file one day, the rights to READ it still belong to me. Which means, that should I want to, I could re-download it without cost (since it was already paid for) and read it again.

So what do I gain? Pretty covers I can see in my listing of “my comics” in the app I use, the experience of reading a comic in an almost-identical size, the kind of clarity of image I could only hope to see on the printed page without glare, the ability to carry dozens of comics with me at a single time without worrying about page creases or coffee spills, and a clutter-free life.

Does this mean I’ll stop buying physical comics? No, not yet. There are still titles and characters I will prefer to hold in a physical copy. But, after testing the waters with the iPad, those are much smaller than they were when I first thought of this experiment.

Of course, this discussion can go on and on and on. About my reasons for getting an iPad. About the debate of being a Comic Reader vs a Comic Collector. About the things you can do with a physical copy (like loan it to a friend, pass it on to a child, etc) that you can’t do with a digital copy (at the moment). But there’s no reason to go there. The material will always exist now. This was not the case at the beginning of comic book time. This means that there will always be options for seeing, reading, or owning anything that you can potentially “miss”. The time of “collector mentality” is also something that doesn’t necessarily apply any more. etc, etc, etc.

Instead, I’ll just close with one very important point:

If a fire ever took out my comic collection (35,000 when I stopped counting 11 years ago), I would have nothing to show for it but my memories. If a disk or system crash ever takes out my iPad, I could replace everything on it by logging back into my accounts and re-downloading what I’ve already purchased. Kind of puts a lot of things in perspective, doesn’t it?

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