This Ain’t A Library

Expensive comics are killing the comics biz. Well, duh, no great analysis there. But the spiralling prices – as well as putting kids and casual readers out of the market – have an effect on my perceptions of stories, too. I like a lot of highbrow comix but it’s no secret that my comics weaning was on fast, cheap, naff superhero mags. Pulp dialogue, big ideas, and tartrazine at 40 pence a pop. I still like those things. It helps if the comics are good, but ‘good’ isn’t necessarily all I’m looking for from a comics experience. Problem is, at two quid each I feel it should be.

That’s why I gave up comics, because they priced me out of the market for gaudy crap and it turned out I needed the crap to sustain much of an interest in the good stuff. The last time I read them with any regularity was when I worked in a comic shop and could read a bunch of the new issues over a few beers at lunchtime. That was ’96-’98 – the Bob Harras era at Marvel, the post-Image implosion, electric Superman, Heroes Reborn… I don’t think anyone would claim those were great times for mainstream comics but I remember them with some fondness because I was reading all this stuff for free. Since then I’ve only bought the odd trade paperback, often Marvel’s black and white cheapo Essentials collections, but there’s a limit to the amount of Silver Age romps I can take (bloody Roy Thomas).

Now comes a lifeline, though it comes at an ethical price. It turns out you can file-share comics which some mentalist fan has painstakingly scanned in and then encoded in .cbr format, to be read with a bit of software called CDisplay. Soulseek is full-ish of these things. Yesterday morning I finally bit the bullet and downloaded it. By yesterday evening I was swimming in trash again.

Of course reading a comic on a screen isn’t ideal, but fuck it. They’re disposable anyway. At last I can once more treat comics like the junk they are! And by doing so enjoy them a whole lot more. The only problem is that I’m blatantly freeloading. Now comics have always been a shared medium, before the collector mentality set in they would be passed around many a pair of grubby paws, but this is a bit different – nobody has ever seen a penny from a .cbr file. You could argue that with its short-termism, gimmickry and history of apalling creator treatment the comics biz deserves to get shafted. Not to mention that during the good times it’s been happy to milk the consumer until the teat bleeds. But the comics industry has already got the shaft and is on the brink of doom anyway.

I’ve never felt too guilty about music file-sharing and downloading because I know I spend a lot of money on CDs and it’s increased since MP3s. So file-shared comics will be an interesting test: this is a medium I currently spend next to nothing on. If I start buying comics again on even a semi-regular basis then it will suggest (to me at least) that .cbr works as a promotional tool. If not, then when the first .cbr series I read gets axed I will feel like a low, crawling thing.