Comic Book Stores Confront the Digital Age

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Comic books have long held sway in the world of adolescent and young adult males.  How does a medium which, at its very heart is all about ink on paper (the look, the feel and even the smell), reorient itself to a new generation of males who are born digital? 

One answer to that question appeared in an article by George Gene Gustines entitled “In New Digital Comics, Each Tap Holds a Surprise.”  It appears that Marvel Comics has “…created a comic book story for the hand-held device.”

The company appears to be trying to enhance rather than change the comic book experience.  As Axel Alonso, Marvel’s editor in chief explains it: “It keeps all the familiar conventions of the comic book — panels, borders, captions and balloons. But it’s not animation — there’s no voice-over, there’s no score — and, most importantly, the reader still controls the experience.”

The experience may be familiar but the interaction is different and interesting.  As the article puts it:  “As each successive panel appears on the screen, each tap or click can reveal a new

caption, subtly change an illustration or replace it entirely. Focusing and blurring effects can heighten the reading experience or simply allow one to appreciate the artwork, which is richer and more vibrantly colored than the printed page.”

Of course, the question arises as to what impact digital can have on the bricks and mortar business of retailing comics.  If you can download comics why do you need your neighborhood comic book store?

I can think of a couple of reasons why:  For one, comic book readers are frequently collectors.  They love the abstract sense of owning something that is in a sense historic (think Action Comics #1 with Superman on the cover) and the economic satisfaction of eventually being able to sell such memorabilia for enough money to finance a college education. 

For the other, comic book readers have a sense of community and the comic book store is a place to see, purchase, evaluate and talk about what’s new. Yes, digital comics will be a threat to traditional retailers just as it has been to virtually every form of retailing.  There may be, however, something unique about the comic book community.  As Mr. Waid states: “’Digital can be a gateway to brick-and-mortar stores for what they do well: stock deep and with a human face to give recommendations.’”




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