Portals to Nowhere

You might have missed it (I certainly did; it took Dark Star’s manager Tad Cleveland to point it out to me) but if you still have last weeks Entertainment Weekly (from October 13th, “the photo issue”), go to the “Feedback” column on Pg. 8. There you’ll find a color page from the first issue of the Last Son storyline set to be premiere in Action Comics #844 on October 25th, featuring the combined talents of writers Geoff Johns and director Richard Donner and artist Adam Kubert. The piece lets you know that by going to the EW Website you can see more of the story.

My reactions were, in order of their appearance: “It’s a shame there wasn’t room in the actual magazine for it,” followed closely by, “DC hasn’t bothered to show this to any of us, retailers, or fans.” But ultimately I was hit by the massive loss of opportunity. What with both entities being cogs in the great Time/Warner culture engine, the pages instead could have been posted on the DC Comics Website and EW could have sent their readers to it instead.

There are lots of reasons why Image, Dark Horse and (especially) Marvel and DC should be putting more of their comics onto their Websites, and it’s not just a matter of “prestige.” A couple of decades ago during another boom the big argument for advertising comic books on television was that for a lot of Americans if something wasn’t on TV it wasn’t “real” (the big argument against; it cost money). Now there’s nothing more ubiquitous than the Internet…and comic books are conspicuous by their absence from it.

Now, you might argue print is somehow intrinsically different from either music or movies when it comes to giving people access to your product for little or no cost, but it certainly wouldn’t explain how I spent a good chunk of Sunday morning reading comic strips online for free. They were on sites ranging from those owned by newspapers to those specializing in posting comic strips (who would, for a nominal free, send those strips directly to my e-mail box).

And yet, somehow, newspapers continue to run comic strips, people continue to read them, syndicates that distribute them continue to be profitable and cartoonists continue to get paid. But when it comes to comic books, well…

Last time I definitely should have written more about Marvel’s online “Digital Comics,” a short list of mostly recent comics with a handful of Silver Age comics scattered amongst them. I was strongly advised to “Be sure to contract your retailer and buy a copy to read the complete story,” which would be quite a trick since I was trying to read Strange Tales #101 from 1962. From the phrasing I’ll assume they weren’t offering the issue in its entirety…I couldn’t say for sure; after registering and repeated attempts to sign in I could never get past the Sign-in Required! Page. After a half hour I gave up.

And while it’s certainly nice of The Marvel to be concerned about us retailers, I’d think I be willing to give up a sale on a copy of Strange Tales #101 (or even Ultimate Spider-Man #72 for that matter) if it meant it would create more comic readers…that ultimately would seek out comic book shops, of course.

And after criticizing DC’s Website’s lack of comics, I’m pleased to report they’ve made a good first step by offering Vertigo’s First Issue Classics available for free (meaning Sandman, Preacher, 100 Bullets, Fables, etc.). Though it’s hardly much of a risk, seeing as how each first issue of each series is part of a larger epic…it’s really like getting a tiny sample of ice cream at Baskin-Robbins. And I should have mentioned the Mad section of the site has a nice selection of fairly recent bits from the magazine (”Past Madness”) and even some “MADimation” shorts.

But I’ve something a little more ambitious in mind. What I’d like to see is more unfiltered access to the publishers’ substantial library of comics, which isn’t doing anyone any good unread. Old stuff (OK, a DC Showcase volume of Rex the Wonder Dog probably wouldn’t be commercially viable, but how expensive would it be to post them on the Web?) and stuff that hasn’t even been printed yet. Say you’re trying to convince people to read Superman. What better way to do it than by actually showing people just how good it product is?

And say DC used Time/Warner outlets like AOL and Entertainment Weekly to announce plans of a Web-exclusive premiere of the first issue of Action Comics: Lalst Son (as EW called it), can you imagine how many people would go to the DC Website to read it? And would the experience turn a good number of them into comic book buyers? To both questions I have no idea; and the thing is no one will ever know unless somebody actually tries it.

Next Week: Just A Little More On The Subject.