Collective Consciousness: Digital Comics

by Nick Devonald on February 03, 2020

Welcome to our first Collective Consciousness column. We’ve decided to make this a regular column, where we choose a topic and let the CTG staff loose to share their thoughts and feelings on it. The plan is to release it the first weekend of each month. We’re tentatively using the name Collective Consciousness. Like it? Hate it? Better suggestions? Let us know in the comments, either here or on Facebook. We’d love to hear from you guys.

This month we’re going to share our thoughts on Digital Comics. This is a hotly debated topic that is sure to rage on for many years to come. Without further ado lets share our opinions.

Olivier Roth

If you would have asked me 4 years ago my thoughts on digital comics, my simple answer would have been: “Not for me.”. Today, however, my opinion of digital is that there is a place for it, but I don’t believe it will ever completely replace physical copies.

I’ve been reading and, for the sake of this topic, collecting comics for nearly 25 years now. At the time, and still to this day, comics fill an almost psychological need to “collect” that I’ve had almost all my life. Because of this train of thought, I basically scoffed at digital for a long time. There was also the fact that I didn’t really have a platform that I liked to read comics. This all changed about 3 years ago when I bought my first tablet and got myself a subscription to Marvel Unlimited. From then on, I wasn’t fully hooked on the concept of digital comics, but I understood why someone would be.

I think the biggest argument for digital comics comes from a desire to have all your comics at your fingertips as well as not having to have an entire room or storage locker dedicated to your collection – I say from experience. With the advent of subscription models like Marvel Unlimited and DC Universe (please come to Canada!!!), I can see digital becoming a more desired way of reading as the price of physical continues to increase whereas the subscription model, if you are patient and can wait the 6 months it takes to have a comic added (like Marvel Unlimited does it), then you save a lot of money in the long run. Physical copies are nice, but they aren’t as cheap and disposable as they used to be.

All in all, I truly believe that digital and physical comics both have their place in the market and that it will continue this way for some time. I would never want to see physical copies disappear altogether, as they are still fun to collect – regardless of the space they take. 

You make a good point about subscription models changing the way we think of digital comics. There’s a clear trend towards subscription in every aspect of day to day life now, look at the rise of TV streaming services, it seems a new one is announced every day.


Since the launch of Comixology in 2009-2010 there has been an ongoing debate within the comic book community on individual reading habits. The question has been posed countless times, do you read your comics digitally or physically. The discussion continues to this day on which reading experience is superior to the other. I’ve had it many times with friends and colleagues over the years and stood firmly on the side of reading physical books. This year my opinion has started to shift towards the digital side!

My main reluctance to switching over to digital over the years directly relates to my collector’s mentality. I like things. I like holding them, displaying them, sharing them...I just like having stuff. This past year I’ve really started to change this attitude. I obviously still like things but I don’t feel the need to own everything physically. I started to value de-cluttered space more. I find it liberating and honestly much more relaxing to be around. I’m not a minimalist by any stretch of the imagination but I do enjoy a simple room without a ton of stuff bogging it down. This can’t be done with long boxes of single issues not to mention books in piles that need to be sorted into those long boxes.

Another mental barrier I had with switching over was the fact of paying for something and not actually owning it. Through the Comixology app, for DC and Marvel, you can’t download the file and do what you want with it. You need to download and read it within the app. With this model, it feels more like a long-term lease to me and obviously there is no re-sale value. This was a tough one for me but then I thought about how many times I’ve actually sold a book. Rarely, was what I came up with. I also came to the conclusion that the app itself is pretty impressive so I couldn’t see myself wanted to take a file elsewhere to read.

With these bones of contention dealt with mentally I decided 2020 would be the year I switch over to digital reading. I was determined to go 100% digital but in the end opted to still get all Jeff Lemire’s books physically and a few odd indie titles to support my favorite creators and my local comic book shop. I feel the physical sales numbers still drive the market so wanted to back my favorites that way.

I had planned for a clean break from physical books with a January 1st start date but it didn’t quite work out that way. I’m not happy with the tablet I have. I find it tiring to hold. Also, I decided I wanted to finish up a few ongoing mini-series in the same format as I started them. I have been doing some research on tablets and will be going shopping in the coming weeks. I hope to have a new machine mid-February and the minis should be all finished around then as well. I’m aiming for a March 1st start date to my new digital adventure. I actually think I’ll read more because I won’t have the hassle of bagging and storing afterward. I think this actually holds me back from reading sometimes because I don’t want to deal with organizing the floppies when I’m done reading them. One thing I’m still not happy with is the price of digital comics. I do feel the weeklys should cost less in a digital format. I feel if they were about a dollar less per issue I’d be more inclined to take a chance on a few extra titles a month. At the price they are I only pick up what I know is good or what gets amazing reviews on

There you have it, my ramblings on the great physical vs digital comics’ debate! To me it comes down to space and storage. As I grow older, I find clutter stressful and quite frankly if I continue reading at my current pace I just won’t have the space to store everything. Where do you stand? What is your preferred reading experience? We’ll post this article on our Facebook page (insert link). Please comment there with your feelings and musings on this discussion which is sure to be had for years to come.

Some interesting thoughts. I think this switch over to mostly digital represents a growing trend within the comic book industry. You’ll need to keep us updated about your switch to digital later on in the year. And how you get on tablet shopping. Do our readers have a preference for which tablet is best for reading comics with? Let us know in the comments.

Jay Hill

My relationship with digital comics is interesting. I started my journey into the world of comics reading purely digital scans of comics (and manga). I got hooked on comics when I downloaded and binge-read Marvel’s “Civil War” arc and all tie-ins, about 100 books. Then, I started downloading comics regularly. However, these downloads weren’t exactly on the up and up (sorry, I was young). Eventually, I decided to never pirate another book and bought copies of all the trades I loved, to give the creators the support they deserved for the joy their books had given me. This is when I fell in love with print comics.

I tried to read digital comics on Comixology, but the quality paled in comparison to my print copies. Unfortunately, trades are expensive so after being a strictly print reader for a while, I decided to give Comixology another try. And, while the resolution leaves something to be desired, they had a great selection of comics on their Unlimited service. Reading trades on my to-read list (Sandman, Hellboy, Swamp Thing, Doom Patrol, etc.) became a breeze. It was also a great way to discover new comics. It’s the Netflix effect of giving something a watch/read that you probably wouldn’t have made it a priority to buy. That ease of discovery is a great thing for both the readers and the creators.

Additionally, the value is unquestionably worth it. For the standard price of a digital trade, you get hundreds of trades from almost every comic publisher of note and originals. Then, there’s Marvel Unlimited and DCUniverse. They are that same value with higher quality scans and a comprehensive catalog of books. Having seemingly every X-Men series or Bat-book at your fingertips is amazing. Although, one thing I have noticed is that certain digital comics have a “bleaching” effect. This effect cleans up their scans but can also blur out some of the detail and line strokes. This is more apparent in older comics produced with pencil and ink and printed on low-quality paper. Even if the print version didn't look the best, that’s how it was “meant” to be seen. This brings in the question of “integrity” regarding digital comics. Some (maybe being a bit pretentious) could feel that the visual distortion these scans cause compromise the comics.

The idea of Print Comics vs Digital Comics reminds me of the Film Camera vs Digital Camera or Practical vs CGI debates regarding movies. Or, the recent crusade against “motion smoothing” that has caused filmmakers to speak out against televisions that use it. But digital comics have a strong case given the fact that the production of comics is becoming more and more digital. A lot of comics are being produced completely on computers, without an actual pencil ever touching paper. For some artists, it’s the only method they’ve ever used. Added to that, sites like Webtoon are creating comics strictly produced and read digitally. Their unique format of scrolling instead of turning pages has created a new style of sequential art. That site and sites like it are also making it easier for new creators to self-publish and for anyone to read them since it’s just a webpage or app download away. Various companies’ “guided view” also make reading digital comics on a smartphone or tablet more convenient.
Like I said about the Marvel and DC services, I can wait until I have enough money to order every trade of a run or save up for an omnibus, or I can pay $10 and have any issue I want at my disposal immediately. But, no matter the advantages or popularity of digital comics, comics, like all art forms, will be dictated by the artists behind the works. So, just like how Quentin Tarantino always shoots on film, some creators will continue to produce and distribute comics the ways they see fit. But, I say, there should be no question or debate on “How you read comics?” It should always be “Do you read comics?” And there’s only one acceptable answer.

That is an excellent point you make at the end. I’ve never considered the quality difference between print and digital, and even different digital services having different quality. Now I’ve seen it I can’t unsee it.

Wes Greer

Digital Demise?

The world we live in is changing thanks to technology and just about every business out there has had to try to adapt to this new world. We live in an age now where we are spoiled by instant satisfaction. Long gone are the days of getting up off our butts and going to our local electronics store, or book store, or heck, now we don’t even have to go to the grocery store because we can just click a few buttons on an app on our phones and an hour later our groceries arrive at our home! Comics are no exception to this new world and unfortunately, I feel it might be the end of comics (as we know it anyway).

One of the biggest things that attracts me to comic collecting is the fact that I get to hold the actual work in my hands. It is something physical I can hold on to and enjoy and collect. I think collecting is one of the biggest trends in comics. People want to hold on to them for as long as they can because they are essentially pieces of art. Some comics even can go for big money eventually down the line and that’s another huge reason people like to collect them.

Now enter the digital age. Now we can wait until midnight on the release date of a book we want to read, go to the publishers digital store, and within seconds we can read the issue without ever having to leave our couch. If you are someone who just enjoys reading comics and could care less about collecting, this is all fine and dandy, but I know that is only a small handful of comic readers out there. The rest of us enjoy waking up on a Wednesday and knowing it’s new comic book day and running to our Local Comic Shop and bumping into the friends we’ve made there and talking to the employees who we’ve come to know over the years. It’s a whole part of our lifestyle and if you’re on the other side of thirty like myself, you’ve probably been doing this for years! (No old jokes now, I’m only 31 give me a break!) Comics are a part of our lives and I really do enjoy that part of it. I get excited for Wednesday’s every week!

I’m afraid now though that that might all soon end based on the way everything is moving to digital format. We’ve already seen a huge demise in the book industry where all those big brick and mortar book stores have all closed down and Comic Book Shops have been suffering as well and it really breaks my heart. There are so many people involved on a creative team that write these books and when you get it digitally, it’s just not as enjoyable. The artwork is the same, but we get it scanned onto our small phone screens and the WOW factor just isn’t there. When I get a preview copy of a Batman story, I get them all digital format. This I do not mind because when I read these digital review copies, I’m reading them just to read the story and review it bottom line and that works, but I’m also a die hard comic nerd so every Wednesday after my reviews come out, I still go down to my LCS and buy the physical copies so I can see the art the way it was meant to be seen and there is just no comparison. For example, Batman #86 I read digital and the title page has that amazing art of Batman in the rain by Tony S. Daniel and when I read the review copy, I saw it and said ok this is neat, but when I picked up the physical book and opened it, there it was as a huge two page spread and I was just blown away by how much different it was from the digital version.

I’m afraid that if it keeps on this way, we will lose the physical copies altogether and if that happens, the wow factor goes with them. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m totally against digital comics. I think for a catalog service like say DC Universe for example, it is a fantastic idea! I can go back and read titles that I can no longer find out there anymore or ones that cost a fortune and that is great! It’s really a double edged sword. As long as physical copies exist, I am ok with the way things are. Keep digital services like DC Universe where we can go back and re-read older issues we may have missed or not even have been alive yet to read so we can enjoy them today or get caught up on a series where we missed the beginning, but keep future comics from becoming digital only copies because then we lose that whole life style trend I mentioned previously and collecting as we know it is gone and comics will never be the same.

An ominous warning about the future of digital comics. Not all advancements in technology are for the best. While there are definite advantages to digital comics it would be a shame to lose the physical copy and that wow factor.

Nick Devonald

One of the biggest advantages of digital from both a consumer and company point of view is better value for money. You get massive discounts on older graphic novels and series with digital editions, comiXology regularly discount trades down to £2.99. Who can complain about that?

I think the trend to digital started with Steam, the biggest platform for PC games. Originally introduced in 2003 the Steam sales are legendary, and have proved a real money maker. A lot of the physical costs are reduced, developers were making MORE money when their games are heavily discounted due to selling a lot more units, and gamers were getting a lot more games for their money. Sounds like a win for everyone right?

Of course the real loser here are the brick and mortar shops. When was the last time you walked into a game shop and saw anything other than chart PC games? Everything’s digital now. I can see a similar thing happening for comics. Not all comic shops will shut but a lot will.

From a consumer point of view there are huge advantages to digital. I’m much more likely to buy trades I wouldn’t otherwise if they’re discounted to £2.99. And if that means more money for the companies producing them that’s another bonus. They make more money they produce more comics. The industry keeps going. And if it’s a series I really like there’s a good chance I’ll buy it in hardcover at some point as well.

When it comes to physical copies I suspect we’ll always have our trades and omnibuses, but I can see the floppies making the switch to all digital.

The rise of services like Marvel Unlimited (ComiXology Unlimited and DC Universe aren’t available in the UK so I’ll skip over them) is also great. I realise it’s six months out of date but what a fantastic way to catch up with series you’ve missed. Take War of Realms. I’d misses Jason Aarons run on Thor (Not sure how) and didn’t want to read War of Realms without reading the entirety of that. Marvel Unlimited let me catch up with the whole incredible series at a really reasonable price. It’s also a great way for reading tie-ins.

And from Marvels point of view they have a regular stream of income for comics that people would otherwise likely skip. Of course Marvel comics also include a digital code with them which is a great incentive to carry on picking up the floppy while also building up your digital library (although if you’re like me I have loads to go back through and take the codes out).

There’s a bit of division amongst the CTG staff over the future of digital. Let us know in the comments here and on Facebook what your thoughts are. A controversial topic for sure.
We’re always looking for idea’s for our next topic as well. Let us know in the comments. And be sure to check back next month for the latest Collective Consciousness.