Whether you’ve been a diehard comic book fan for years or you just want to see what they’re all about, you may find reading them digitally a better experience than on paper. Here’s how to get started with digital comics.Digital movies and music have become almost the norm these days, but digital comics a bit rarer to come across. It isn’t as easy to find a good source of digital comics, a reader for your favourite platform, or an easy way to keep it all organised. Here, we’ll lay out some of the best ways to get started going digital with your collection, so you don’t have to spend hours scouring Google.
Note that for the purposes of this guide, we’re going to stick to locally-stored digital comics, as opposed to the online subscription models. Major publishers like Marvel and DC now have their own online readers and libraries, but that doesn’t give you a lot of freedom — you’re stuck to whatever their libraries offer, and you can only use their comic book reader. By storing your comics locally on your computer, whether in PDF format or the popular CBR and CBZ comic book formats, you can curate your own collection, read it with a number of different programs on any device, and keep all your comics constrained to one collection, not a bunch. That’s not to say there aren’t other great digital readrs out there — previously mentioned Graphic.ly and Comics for Android come to mind as great digital stores — but this method is, in this Editor’s opinion, the best way to go digital with your comics.
Why Go Digital?
As you read through this guide, you may think that it sounds like a lot of work, especially if you already have a pretty good physical comic book collection going. Here’s why going digital is a good idea, though:
- You can bring your entire collection with you: The biggest reason to go digital is the same reason you don’t still carry that old discman around with you to listen to music. You can pack tons and tons of comic books on your laptop, smartphone, or tablet, and take them with you wherever you go — no worrying about ruining your pristine books, or lugging around heavy trade paperbacks.
- You can easily read old or out of print issues: Sure, the first few issues of Spider-Man have been reprinted about a hundred times, but if you want to dig into some more obscure or less popular issues, they might be a little harder to find (no one’s going to reprint the Clone Saga, guys). It’s a lot easier to get your hands on old, rare, expensive or out of print books digitally than it is to track down the physical issues. You’ll get a chance to read stories you might otherwise never had read, which is really great.
- It’s cheaper: Even if you aren’t getting them for free, you’ll still end up paying a lot less for digital comics. Not only do the older physical issues get pretty expensive, but it just plain costs more to buy them on paper — namely because you’re paying for the paper. Why pay $US3 for one issue when you can get 250 issues for $US15?
- It’s just a better reading experience: Many will argue with me on this one, but it can be a lot more comfortable to read these comics on, say, a tablet than on paper. Sure, there’s something to be said for going to the comic book store every Wednesday and cracking a new issue open. But if you’re reading them digitally, you don’t have to worry about spilling food on them, ripping them by accident, and frankly the glare of today’s glossy comic book paper is just plain annoying. Plus it’s much easier to prop your laptop or iPad up when you’re sitting on a couch than it is a comic book.
For the record, I don’t mean by any of this that you should ditch paper comics altogether. I understand that for many fans, nothing beats the feel of paper, the accumulation of a big collection, and the pride of having gotten that issue “way back when it first came out”. I think both paper and digital comics are great, and have their time and place — and while I have pretty much switched to digital entirely, I in no way think everyone else “should”. I do think maintaining a digital collection, whether replacing or on top of your existing collection, is a great idea.
To go digital, you’ll need three things: A source of comic books, a good method of organisation, and something to read them on. Here’ I’ll detail some of the best solutions I’ve found for all three to help you jump start your digital collection. Photo by S. Diddy.
Where to Get Digital Comics
Digital is still a budding format for comic books, so you’re likely going to be scraping bits and pieces of your collection from all over the place (which, frankly, isn’t unlike real comic book collecting). Here are some of the best places you can grab yourself some digital comics:
Straight From the Publishers
Amazon, eBay and Other Online Stores
Scan Your Own
As always, we don’t condone piracy, but we know some of you like to live life on the edge, or believe that if you own the comic already (whether in physical or PDF format) that downloading them in the more readable CBR or CBZ format isn’t unethical. If you can cobble together an RSS feed, you don’t even have to do a lot of work—you can just get the latest issues as soon as they’re released online, too. You already know how to use BitTorrent, so we won’t go into it too deeply here — just remember (as always), don’t be an arsehole, support the industry, and don’t blame us if big brother comes knocking at your door for stealing Jughead’s Time Police.
How to Organise Your Collection
I’m a stickler for organisation, so I like to make sure my collection has a unified file naming convention and is well sorted for easy access. When your comics come from all over the place, this can be tough. While some programs will let you assign metadata to your comic files, just like iTunes does with your music, my preferred method is just organising them myself in folders.
As a quick example, let’s say I have three batches of X-Men comics, each from different locations — say, one from a small DVD collection, one from a DVD collection from a different publisher, and one that I scanned myself. They’ll have different file naming conventions from each other, but will be the same within each batch (more or less). So, I’d grab my first DVD collection, select all the files, and run it through my renaming program of choice so it fits my standard: Title (Volume) number (e.g. Uncanny X-Men (Volume 1) 123.cbz). How you set it up is up to you, but the file renaming programs themselves should be pretty self-explanatory.
Reading Your Comics
If you’re just reading PDF files, your usual PDF reader will probably suffice, but there are quite a few digital comic readers out there that have not only extra comic book-specific features, but can read the popular CBR and CBZ files. Here are a few options for each platform. This list isn’t all-inclusive, but should give you a good starting point to finding the right one for you.
As far as Android goes, Perfect Viewer is probably the best around. It has a great bookshelf function that helps you see the comics on your phone, the ability to bookmark pages, cache the next and previous pages for faster performance, and a few other cool features. Everything else on Android is a little quirky, so I wouldn’t recommend much else out there right now.
Hopefully this guide has given you some inspiration on where to get started, as the scene isn’t quite as huge as, say, digital movies or music—but it’s getting there. Of course, many of you have probably been reading digital comics for awhile, so if you have, feel free to share your advice in the comments.