There’s been some talk in the comics blogosphere recently about the viability of printed products in the 21st century, with suggestions arising that print is dead or is dying. It’s hardly a new notion or argument. Funerals and wakes have been held for print media time and time again, and they started in the 1990s. A decade later, we’ve yet to see the paperless society that many touted as the wave of the future. That wave is never going to make it to shore.
It seems as though concerns have arisen again in the wake of this year’s Comic-Con International San Diego. Among the major comics-related announcements were new initiatives for digital comics. DC has arranged the production of a semi-animated incarnation of Watchmen, capitalizing on the buzz surrounding the forthcoming movie (slated for release in March). Marvel touted a new deal with horror writer Stephen King, as they work together to produce N. Nintendo will release comics specifically on the Wii video-game system.
Other previously announced and launched programs include DC’s Zuda online comics, Marvel’s Digital Comics Unlimited and Platinum’s relaunched WoWio downloading service. People download pirated comics to save themselves the trouble of paying for the product. People are reading novels on their iPhones. People are reading online editions of their local newspapers rather get ink smeared on their fingers. E-mail dominates the realm of written communication.
Are these harbingers of the end for those of us who enjoy our comics, books and papers in more traditional, concrete formats?
Christ, no. Don’t be ridiculous.
Those recent and not-so recent developments in the world of comics have understandably led to some discussion about the viability of print comics. Newly appointed Cloak & Dagger writer Valerie D’Orazio suggests that if comics are to keep up with technological advances, someone needs to develop a new kind of digital-comics reader. Warren Ellis dismisses the argument of print’s demise altogether, rightly pointing out that he, along with many others, are earning a fine living producing material produced in print form. Matt Fraction rightly pointed out (though I can’t find the source now) in the middle of the furor of digital-comics announcements last month that they really just supplement the traditional print medium of comics, that they’ll never replace it.
These new forays into the world of digital comics aren’t the first such attempts to boost interest in the medium by reaching out through other media. A few years ago, both Marvel and the now-defunct CrossGen Comics tried to reach new audiences with DVD programs. You could find a select number of titles from both publishers on DVD at Wal Mart, and those willing to check discount bins might still be able to track those failed products even today.
Do I think the Marvel/Stephen King, Watchmen, Wii and other projects are doomed to failure? Not at all. In fact, I hope they’re successful. While I think comics will always be remain a print product, at least in the public consciousness, digital incarnations of comics, both classic ones and new products, bolster the print medium. Marvel’s had some success with massive CD archival projects, of course, and a number of webcomics have proven to be creative successes as well as financial ones (to a certain extent).
I love comics, and I work in the newspaper industry. One could argue that I have a personal, vested and emotional interest in the survival of print, and that’s true. But my eyes are open. There’s no denying the impact of the digital age on print products, but predictions of digital media replacing print ones haven’t proven to be true.
Print isn’t going anywhere. It’s a permanent part of culture all over the planet, and in many ways, it can serve as a more permanent record of that culture and history. There’s one overwhelming factor that ensures the survival of printed product, and that’s human nature. We human beings are tactile by nature. People like the smell of a new comic or an old one. Crossword enthusiasts like getting newsprint on their fingers as they fill in their answers in ink. And there’s nothing like a well-stocked personal library of favorite books, the spines pointing out from bookshelves in one’s den.
That so many of us are collectors at heart as well makes me believe that it’s another predisposition of our species. We like to keep, we like to hoard. Collectibles can serve as trophies for some, a symbol of a successful and fulfilling hunt. An Adobe Acrobat .PDF file on one’s PC desktop just doesn’t fill that same need.
I suppose one could argue that print as we once knew it is dead. Several sectors of print publishing have had to adapt to survive. Circulations have changed, and the business of advertising is understandably different, given that more and more options are available to those seeking some form of paid promotion.
The nature of the content is different as well. Tastes have changed. Audiences have changed. Entire cultures have changed. As such, the world of print has been irrevocably changed as well. It doesn’t face extinction. Instead, it stands out as something of a Darwinian success story.