I’ve been reading comics books since…well, since I could read. My mother genuinely believes I learned to read by reading comics, and I’m inclined to believe her. I was such a devoted fan, it became the one punishment she could threaten me with that terrified  me.

“Do it or no dinner for you!”
“Whatever…”

“Take care of it or no television for a week!”
“Big whoop…”
“Get that done or I’ll tear up those comics!”
“Nooooooooooo!” (runs to clean/wash/do whatever I was asked)

That said, I stopped buying comic books about four years ago.  It had nothing to do with me feeling “too old” – those who know me can tell you this is probably the exact opposite of how I feel about myself.  No, I stopped buying comics because they just became too damned hard to store.

I’m not a polybagger.  This phrase may seem alien to some of you out there, so to clarify: I bought comic books to read them.  I fondled them, stacked them, read them over and over.  My comics looked used, almost abused.  But well-read, lovingly so.

Others…sterilize them. They buy their comic books wearing surgical gloves so as not to get any of their body oils or moisture on them, slides that comic immediately into a plastic bag – or, to be more accurate, a polyethylene sleeve and seals it away forever.  Not a page is to be turned, ‘lest ye crack the spine or crinkle a page.  The comic is to be kept in Pristine Condition™, never to be removed from its poly upon pain of death.

But I digress. The point being, I bought comics to read them, not to collect them – although I had my fair share of boxes, which brings me to my problem.

Not being the stereotypical comic book reader, I do not live in my mother’s basement. I do live in an apartment in New York City, and with just that statement I see a lightbulb of dawning realization appear above your heads.  To wit: I do not have the space needed to store something as space-intensive as boxes of comic books.

Those of you who do not “collect” comics cannot fathom how quickly your collection will grow.  Towards the end of my comic-buying days, I was still purchasing on average about 10 titles a week.  That adds up to over 500 comic books a year, which is a fairly conservative number among the comic book crowd. Most, I’d wager, end up with closer to 900 comics a year.

Your typical “short” storage box will hold approximately 150-175 comic books. I used the “long” boxes, which held around 220.  This means for just a year of comic purchases, I needed 2 boxes. Which doesn’t seem too bad, does it?

Translate that over 10 years.  Now 20 years.  Picture the warehouse in my apartment.

Now double that, because again – your typical comic collector buys more than I did. And they’d buy multiple copies, because if a specific issue goes gold…it become a valuable commodity, especially if sealed in plastic from day one.

Imagine over 100 long storage boxes, in someone’s apartment.  I’ve seen law firm file rooms with less storage needs.

I stopped buying comics at the same time I stopped buying paperback books.  It was easier with the books because I’d gone digital already; I could still own my ebooks, saving physical paper books for those I needed/wanted for research or specific interests.  The fiction I read simply for personal enjoyment, I could keep in digital and save considerable bookshelf space.

There really was no such outlet for comic books, until recently.

Comixology is the sole repository for all things digital in the mainstream comic book industry. If you’re going to buy digital from the Big Two publishers, Marvel and DC Comics: you go to Comixology.com.  They have a slick online Flash-based reader that you can flip the pages of your e-comic, and they have apps for the Android and iOS platforms.

But…there’s a catch.  You can’t read your purchased comics offline (with a caveat).

Comixology is an online-based storage and reader for digital comics.  Your comics exist only on their servers; you cannot download content to your laptop, desktop, tablet, smartphone…you get the idea.  Unless your device is connected their network, you do not have access to your own collection of comics.

If I’m on a subway and want to read the stack of e-comics I’ve just digitally bought – I can’t download them, I can’t read them until I get home and connect online.

If I decide to go to the park or a cafe or a friend’s house, to read/show the comics I own…unless there’s a wifi connection, I can’t access them.

(I did note a caveat: if you’ve purchased a DC-published title, AND you’re on the Android platform – you can read offline.  But ONLY that combination.  Marvel Comics and frankly any non-Android OS device (this includes you Apple users!), including Windows PC users, are excluded from this.)

This seems wrong to me, on so many levels. Why do I have to pay full price for comics I do not feel I actually own? Why can’t I read my comics, as I can with my ebooks, without connecting to someone else’s servers?

Comixology has been…distant, on the issue. Their official stance (and I have the email from them) pretty much stops at “We have no plans for offline content at this time.” It’s frustrating, this.

DC Comics just today began an initiative to release digital comics on the same day as print comics, for all of their published titles. This is a first for the comic industry, and would be an incredibly exciting one…if not for the issues with Comixology, the only venue through which you can legally purchase their digital comics online.

I’ve been a bit of a bother over the past few weeks since this has been announced, prodding DC Comics and Comixology via Twitter that a change is needed. As noted, Comixology has been less than enthusiastic or encouraging.  But I’m hoping to start a campaign with DC Comics instead.

I’ve sent a letter to them via their website, and to various email addresses @dccomics.com. I don’t know if my views/opinions will be listened to, and honestly couldn’t tell you how large a concern this is among the comic book community. I do know for a fact that many of us “older” comic fans have stopped buying for similar reasons; digital availability would be key to bringing many of us out of the shadows and back into the fold, and the potential for new users in this digital age?

Staggering.

Anyway, here’s the content of the letter I’ve spammed to DC.  ¡Viva la revolución!

First, a congrats to DC for a successful launch of the new DC universe; Justice League #1 was a great read, and so far I like what you’ve done with the personalities of (at least two of) the heroes I’ve known and loved since I started reading back in the 70s.

I’d pulled out of comic book purchasing just a few years ago. Not because I outgrew them, or couldn’t afford them anymore; quite the opposite, in fact. I love comic books today as much as I did back then, perhaps more so because I can appreciate the art and writing much more than I did as a child.  I can certainly afford to keep feeding my habit, again more so now than back when I was scrambling to put together a few bucks so I could go out and buy a stack of 30-cent titles.

No, I got out of comics because of simple realities of living in a large city – real estate space.  It was one thing to collect comics when I was still a teenager or child living at my mother’s home, not caring about my “footprint” and it’s impact.  Living on my own in today’s market, it simply doesn’t make sense for me to keep stacks of boxes of comics in a 500sq foot apartment – just as I could no longer find bookshelf space for the hundreds of paperback and hardcover novels I had. They all needed to go, and I needed to stop buying them or I’d find myself living in a giant book warehouse, which frankly would not do wonders for my social life.

Jump ahead to the launch of the New DCU.  I was excited, not just to see what DC had done to the characters I’d watched evolve, mutate, and revert over some-odd 35+ years (I’m 42). No, I was excited because of the same-day digital releases of comics.

Finally! I’d converted to a digital ebook reader, and this worked perfectly within my digitized ecosystem. I could continue to own as many books and comics and magazine as I wanted, only now they’d all be stored on a compact hard or flash drive – not taking up valuable apartment space.

I could have my cake and eat it too, and I was overjoyed to finally see this come to fruition.

Except. You decided to go with Comixology.com for this, and while I can’t complain about your choice given that it seems to be the only real venue available – I no longer feel as if I actually own the comics I’ve purchased, nor do I feel the same sense of value I once did.

It isn’t because of any misguided sense of tactile loss in that conversion from reading paper vs reading digital; I have no problems there, I’ve been doing it for years now with digital books.

No, my problem is Comixology’s own incredibly limiting programming.  I’ve purchased my issue of Justice League #1, incidentally at the same price as those who’ve bought a paper version. I’m happy with the quality of it.  What I’ve come to realize is that Comixology LIMITS your use of that comic.

I cannot read my comics offline. At all. Unless I decide to go out and purchase an Android tablet or phone, which seems incredibly velvet-ropish of them to do so.

I used to look forward to Wednesday releases. I’d read through them on my commute home, ignoring any looks on my subway ride from those seeing a “grown man in a suit, reading comics”.  To hell with them, this was how I’d wind down after the day and loved the experience.

I thought I’d be able to recreate that experience with digital, using my tablet or laptop to read on the subway commute.

Except. Comixology doesn’t allow OFFLINE STORAGE OR READING OF CONTENT.

It’s as if I’ve purchased a book, but can only read it if I go to the bookstore where I purchased it.

I could go to Comixology and complain (and I have!), but really they don’t seem to care – spouting boilerplate responses and generally seeming to be dismissive of the issue (quote: “We have no plans to allow offline content”)

If you’re going to offer digital releases – give us choices. Digital readers offer protected (see: Adobe DRM) ebooks, why can’t they offer digital comics as well? I, and I’m certain many others, would LOVE to see comics available for the Nook Color and the upcoming Kindle tablets.

The advantage of these formats? I can read on my laptop. My desktop. My non-Android tablet. My digital reader.

And all offline.

For THAT, I’d happily pay full price because I’d still feel a sense of OWNERSHIP.

On Comixology, I feel as if I’m paying full price to rent.

I wouldn’t do that with movies, I wouldn’t do that with ebooks. I certainly don’t intend to continue doing that with digital comics.

You, as the publisher, have a stronger voice than I do. I’ll hope that you can see the marketing and sales potential of this, and use that leverage to either force change with Comixology, or strongly consider other venues and delivery medium.

Because I’ll guarantee you, you’d gain considerably more new users by going digital – and more than likely, regain a lot of users who, like me, could no longer continue storing physical comic books.

I’ll still purchase a few titles here and there, because I love DC and always have; I’m intrigued enough by the NDCU to overcome my opposition to Comixology’s restrictions, at least in a limited capacity and in the short term.

But to keep me, and many others – we simply want choice, and to feel once again that we actually have ownership of the comics we’ve legally purchased.

Best,
E. Charles Tucker