Friday, September 2, 2011

Bedside Manner

I was knocked down with the flu this week, a combination of post Toronto Fan Expo physical fatigue, many nights lacking proper sleep, and, oh yeah, my daughter projectile vomiting her fever germs all over me. It was some serious Linda Blair exorcist shit going down (little girls are not made of sugar and spice, but rather strawberries and vomit I discovered). Anyway, laid up in bed on Wednesday I decided to take care of the mess that lay beside it... the mess of paper and staples, bags and boards. There must have been, I kid you not, 200 comics, thirty graphic novels collecting there.

My first step was to sort through, separating the things I've read from the things I haven't. Easy enough. My to read pile consisted of about 20 books (a handful of Unwritten issues, a bunch of Free Comic Book Day titles, and a few stragglers from the past few weeks) and about a dozen trades (I'd just acquired the complete run of Buffy Season 8 at Fan Expo days before so that comprised most of them, the rest were massive omnibuses which always tend to gather dust once I put them down, generally getting about halfway through).

The next step, sort by title, grouping any one-shots or mini-series into one pile to conserve space. To my surprise I (well, we, as my wife is complicit in this too) wasn't collecting as many titles as I thought, with only about fifteen total ongoing series, making the fact that I'll be checking out nearly two dozen new DCU titles pretty ridiculous. I also realized that I hadn't sorted my comics in some time, as there were upwards of seven issues in some stacks.

Step three is bagging the suckers up. I should really do this step more often as some of my loose copies tend to get a little dog-eared with my daughter trying to squeeze between the comic stacks and the bed, or slightly crinkled as the cat uses them as a launching pad to get up to the window. But then my collector days of comics are long gone. I don't buy and preserve them like I used to. I certainly don't individually bag and board each issue. I now tend to group, stuffing in as many comics into a comic bag as will fit without rounding at the edges. It's my nod to conservationism. It's probably not great for their resale value but fuck it, I'm not in it for the money, it's entertainment.

Once I've sorted and bagged, the comic bricks get put beside the bed, for dispensing to the basement shelves ("the keeper pile") or to the long boxes in the shed (the "get rid of someday pile"). What I've noticed, however, is the "get rid of someday pile" is just as large as the "keeper pile" which means I'm buying a whole lot of books that, essentially, I don't really ever want to read again. That's not only a lot of wasted space in my house (or shed) but also a lot of wasted paper and printing and machining and transportation etc. on something that's not worth keeping around. I'm not even concerned by the money aspect, after all, I got whatever entertainment out of it I wanted.

For my reviewing gig, I've had the opportunity to read more digital comic than I can count, and I continue to have that opportunity, but I cannot stand reading comics on a computer. Reading PDF comics drives me bonkers. Scrolling up, zooming in, scrolling right, zooming out, scroll zoom scroll zoom... I hate it. It's not the comics reading experience I like or want. I do it from time to time but I am resistant to it. I'd much rather have the tactile.

But this Wednesday, again, laid up in bed, I couldn't make it out to the comics shoppe, and even though I was undecided about whether I was going to read the first issue of the new Justice League, the first offering from the New 52, I have to admit my curiosity was piquing. I was actually planning on browsing the book and making a game-time decision at the store whether I'd take it home or not. Chances were, considering what a light week it was, that I would buy it, but at the same time, I didn't want Justice League, just as I don't want so many of those books that are sitting beside my bed. I do want to read them, I just don't want them around. This is where the digital comics come in... they allow you to read them, but you don't have them in the physical sense, they're available but they're not taking up any real space, and getting rid of them requires minimal physical effort (a few keystrokes or screen taps and they're gone).

So, curiosity getting the better of me, I downloaded the Comixology app for my iPod Touch, I purchased Justice League #1, and I read it.


To my surprise, I liked the experience. I liked it quite a bit. The comic itself was okay (Devon has a good review dropping later today that almost fully mirrors my own thoughts), but that's not what I'm talking about. The Comixology app, firstly, is free... as should any shopping app be. Secondly, it's fairly easy to use. Browsing their shop is relatively simple (though a search function would be nice), organized in different categories (series, publisher, genre, creator, story arcs, free comics) it's layered nicely to indicate the amount of content you will find within each layer, and once you get to your selection it provides enough useful detail (writer, artist, release date). The Free Comics section is particularly well-stocked with first issues of various indie titles and some original content from DC in the form of character primers (that take you all the way up to Flashpoint, but are, I guess, irrelevant now) and lots of preview books.

What the store doesn't have is a Search function, which is disappointing, nor does it have a graphic novel section which would make it easier if you were looking for collected stories or original graphic novels instead of having to wade through the individual categories. As a plus though, the store does have a "Day and Date" release section on its title screen showing all the new releases of books coming out the same week as print editions (which is handy now that DC has gone D&D) as well as a "just released" area for new-to-digital books just being offered.

Finding the new Justice League book wasn't hard at all, and buying it was even easier as an "in-app" purchase it was paid for through my Apple store account. This means I didn't have to give my credit card info to any new sources, though I'm going to have to investigate how the App connects to the Comixology on-line in case I want to access my comics through there (ah, turns out I already have Comixology account from before).

Reading the comic on the iPod isn't the same experience as reading a physical comic, and on such a small screen a lot of the flavour of the comics visual storytelling process is lost. You don't really get to see full page's layout, so I imagine reading something like J.H. Williams III Batwoman stories from Detective Comics wouldn't translate very well, but for the most part you see one panel at a time through the Comixology's "guided view". Basically as you thumb through it, it takes you from one panel to the next, sometimes it takes you to a zoomed-in section of the panel first either to note details or read text, then zooms you out to see the full image (you have the option of zooming in or out at your leisure as well, though you rarely get the option to view the entire page unless it's a full page spread). It's actually a bit more cinematic reading this way, partway towards being a motion comic in some sense. The "guided view" technology gets in the way occasionally but helps more often then not, and makes reading the story rather smooth.

As well, being able to zoom in closer on the art and see details is both good and bad. Jim Lee's not really known for his minutiae, and his backgrounds are so loose, almost impressionistic in a sense, so zooming in on his artwork doesn't really reveal anything but a mess of lines. His work is best viewed as a whole image. I imagine this would benefit looking at a George Perez book or even Sergio Aragones' work.

One of the other things the guided view does nicely is it saves you from "the spoiler on the next page" or even "the spoiler on the same page"... you know, when something surprising happens on the adjoining page or later on the same page and it's the first thing you saw when you flipped the page, and you say "holy shit" before you've even gotten to the "holy shit" moment. Well, with the guided view the "holy shit" moment will sneak right up on you. Not that Justice League had any holy shit moments, but I can see how it has its pluses.

The further advantage is, frankly, it makes comics readable on a bloody iPod/iPhone. I'm not sure I'd want to read all my comics on an iPod (my eyes are already paying the price of tiny-screen-eye-strain from so much Peggle and Angry Birds) but it's a nice option to have for toting around some reading material without actually having to tote around reading material or worry about having a page-flipping hand free while holding onto a handrail on a manic stop-starting bus.

Of course, the only real issue I have with it is paying the same price for a digital item as opposed to a physical item. I understand the logic behind it, especially for DC and Marvel, who can't afford to undercut their brick-and-mortar, and I appreciate that DC will be dropping the price of each new-release book when the next issue hits the stands by a buck, but there's still, at least to me, a lack of value to digital media, especially such as this where it's a proprietary item, usable only by a specific format and never actually yours. If Comixology goes under, poof, so does your digital collection with it. So while $3.99 for a 24-page story was excessive, especially for a digital edition, I'm willing to do it once. I think after the first month of the DCnU I'll be waiting for the $1.99 editions of anything I want to read, but don't want.

I've already lined up a few of those 22 new DC titles as digital only purchases, and maybe even catch up on some older stories this way. I doubt a fully digital transformation is happening anytime soon, but I'm actually, finally excited about the option it presents.

1 comment:

Devon Sanders said...

Alas, as much as I like the idea of digital, I just can't do it. Something about scrolling around and holding a hot-ish piece of plastic just doesn't do it for me. I'm just too tactile and at the end of the day, I honestly prefer to "possess" the thing that I just bought.