Some Thoughts on the Future of Reading… Comics

Do your teens read comics online?’  Do they read independently published webcomics? Do they read digitized manga?’  How do they read them? Where do they read them?’  I might be about to start sounding like Dr. Seuss- do they read them in a box? do they read them with a fox?- but these are questions (minus the fox and box parts) we should be asking.
With the advent of technology like the iPad, with current troubles in publishing, with more and more types of content becoming available and being consumed online, the ways our patrons are accessing or might be interested in accessing digital comics is something we need to be thinking about.

To my mind the reading of digital comics can be broken down into two categories: 1. Comics that are published in some other way that are being read online.’  This might be mainstream comics that are typically published on paper that are being read on a mobile device like an iPhone or iPad; and’  2. Independent webcomics, comics that are being created especially to be posted online, often by one person who writes, draws, and publishes the work him or herself.

If you will permit me, I will share some thoughts about both of these.

1. Mainstream comics meet the iPad:

In the last couple weeks, I’ve come across a some interesting thoughts about reading mainstream comics digitally on the iPad.’  This article from the SciFi news and editorial site io9.com (where sometimes news looks a bit more like opinions, but still offers a good perspective on what SciFi fans might be thinking about) makes an interesting point, that while there are lots of different digital comics readers out there, serious fans are going to want a one stop shop for their comics, something like iTunes. And if Apple corners that market, it’s likely that other digital comics reading apps might disappear.’  While it’s fair to be concerned about Apple’s seeming monopoly on cool stuff, sometimes cool stuff is just cool and we should check it out.’  In this YouTube video, IDW publishing shows off their comic reading apps on the iPad.’  It sure is pretty.’  And if it doesn’t have teen appeal yet, I’ll bet it will soon.

This discussion reminds me of how libraries are considering the Kindle, or other ebook readers.’  Some have it, some want it, and lots still seem uncertain of what to do with it. Digital books are still in their infancy, so at this point it’s perhaps more something to watch and experiment with, rather than something with necessary guidelines for libraries.

2. Reading comics on the web:

In the middle school here, some students are reading manga on sites like One Manga, which as I understand it, has manga scans, or scanlations, which are fan translations of manga that may or may not have been published in this country, as well as manga that is currently out in book form. This constitutes a gray area, both legally, and in terms of reading- these are comics that have been published elsewhere, but the format for reading them looks more like a website or webcomic.

Within the small group of 9th graders I asked about their online comics reading habits, only one mentioned an independent webcomic (EarthSong Saga). That this small group didn’t express much of an interest in webcomics doesn’t tell me a whole lot. It was an extremely small sample. There are other students I could ask and students might react differently depending on how they have encountered online comics: if a friend recommended them, or a librarian promoted them perhaps.

I have been reading and discovering a lot of great webcomics and whenever I find really great stories in any format, I want to share them. Here’s a link to my list of webcomics with teen appeal.

Another neat thing about webcomics is that most of them are written, drawn, and produced by single creators.’  This is the opposite of a monopoly.’  This is by the people for the people. These creators are selling merchandise, asking for donations directly from their readers, and occasionally publishing collections of their comics in book form, all to keep access to their stories free.’  Which reminds me more of the publishing model of, say, Cory Doctorow, who sells his books directly to his readers and has been known to give things away for free.

The format for reading webcomics is mostly the same as reading any web page, but occasionally they get creative. For example, have a look at Bayou (which is beautiful, but not for the faint of heart, or students younger than high school) at Zuda Comics.’  This reader goes full screen, is easy to navigate, one click from page to page, and looks really nice.

While webcomics occasionally get published as books, which we know how to promote, most of the promoting a library could do for them would be to point teens to webcomics at their URLs online. Reader’s Advisory lists of webcomics are something that can be shared across the web, referring to content that anyone can access, rather than referring to just one library’s collection.

Having written all of this, I feel that I have meandered.’  So, to sum up: Digital readers are something to watch.’  There is great content in comics online to be shared with teen audiences.’  Ask your teens if they read comics online and whether they do or not offer them some new titles to check out and start a conversation.

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2 Comments

  1. Nice overview—I’m very excited about things as big publishers start the move towards more digital publications. It could, at least in the long run, make things a lot more affordable. I am concerned about libraries not being involved in the process, though—the first sign I’ve seen is that Overdrive is looking towards add some older Manga and Manhwa to their e-book catalog.

    • I’m concerned about lack of library involvement as well. While we do have a bit of extra weight behind our recommendations of excellent media, we’re being left out of the loop in terms of distribution of said media- in this case comics. It’s good to hear it if Overdrive is looking to add manga and manwha. I wish they’d add some mainstream western comics and indie comics too!

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