Commentary by Mark Allen
Recently, Marvel Comics decided to begin making their comics available online. Dubbed Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited, the program will boast 2,500 comic books available for viewing, with 20 additions every week, for about five dollars a month. The “classics” will be included, of course, to help (hopefully) new readers become familiar with the company’s flagship characters, such as Spider-Man, The Hulk and Captain America. So, is this a good thing? The short answer is “yes.” The long answer is more involved.
For years, many comics fans have feared the encroachment of the digital age into their beloved hobby. Their trepidation has centered mainly around the belief that, once comics are put on the Net, or on CD-rom for home viewing (which already has been done), they will one day no longer be able to purchase the single-issues and paperback collections that bring so much enjoyment.
As a fan, I’ll admit the thought is disturbing. After all, the comics experience is not just visual, it’s tactile. There is no substitute for holding that colorful pamphlet in your hands, enjoying the brightly-colored artwork on slick paper, then tucking your newest addition into the rest of your carefully managed collection of four-color fiction.
It’s that very experience, however, that leads me to believe that there will always be some individual or entity that will be publishing comics on paper. Human beings like to “show off” what they have accumulated, and they just can’t do that effectively on a screen.
The upshot of Marvel’s venture is that it will help introduce new and younger readers to the work of individuals who broke fresh and exciting ground, not just in comics, but in entertainment itself. The likes of Lee, Kirby, Ditko, Romita, Sr. and many others will come alive for yet another generation. Ultimately, it will drive most of them to seek out that material in a more tangible form.
Fans shouldn’t fear Marvel’s foray into the digital universe. They should embrace it as an investment in comics’ survival.