Goodbye, paper

January 28th, 2008

Goodbye, paper

As a member of the Writer’s Guild of America, Brian Michael Bendis receives packages full of DVD screeners, scripts and various movie-related paraphernalia. He gets to watch flicks such as “Juno” and “There Will Be Blood” from the comfort of his Portland, Ore. home while the rest of America contends with sticky theater floors, over-priced popcorn and text messaging teenagers.

Bendis, best known for his work on Marvel Comics such as “Ultimate Spider-Man” and “The New Avengers,” got something different this year: a flash drive full of all the year’s screenplays. 

“Warner Brothers sent you a little tiny drive, to put right into my computer, that had 85 screenplays on it,” said Bendis, to Wordballoon.com host John Siuntres in a podcast a couple weeks ago. “Literally I showed it to my wife (and said), ‘hey, look, it’s a book’. Plug this into something and now I’m reading. The end. It’s over.”

Let me be clear—Bendis is talking about the printed page.

It’s been a good run—from the Guttenberg Press to Kinkos, democratizing the printed word for the people. With the advent of the Internet, in the last 10 years or so, anyone with access to a computer can publish their words for the world to read. 

Goodbye novels, goodbye newspapers. Goodbye magazines, goodbye comic books.

So… how much longer do we have?

“It could be very well, before my Marvel contract is up, I’m serious, that digital comics are the concern. No one wants to hear it, but it’s true. Most of the people I know in the (print industry) say seven years and its over, for print,” said Bendis in the podcast. “That’s a sincere thing that’s been put out there.”

Don’t roll your eyes.

Bendis is the A-List of the A-List of comic book guys. “New Avengers,” published by Marvel, is among the best-selling monthly comics in America. How popular is this guy? An issue of his creator owned cop/superhero series “Powers,” devoted almost entirely to monkeys having sex, sold 26,700 copies according to cbxtra.com—outselling marquee titles like “Wonder Woman” and “Star Wars Empire.”

While Marvel just launched a digital comics initiative, Bendis is seriously considering putting his next creator-owned project out on the Web.

“As far as the digital comic versus the print comic, I don’t think the print medium is going to go away right now, but it’s pretty soon and I don’t mean to startle people, but even the creator-owned stuff we’re working on right now, whether it will be released digitally first or digitally at the same time or as a digital product is a genuine conversation that’s happening,” said Bendis in the podcast. “It’s coming fast.”

I, however, am not sure. I think books will coexist with digital books for some time. Here’s what needs to happen before print goes the way of the Betamax.

(For argument’s sake, let’s just stick to comics.)

First, entire generations need to adapt or die off. People have boxes and boxes full of comic collections. It’s part of the hobby, obsessively accumulating complete runs of “Howard the Duck” or “Barry Ween: Boy Genius.” Sure, it might be nice to condense all of that into a DVD, but unlike transitioning a record collection to the iPod, comics are a visual art. Going with the Comic Book Guy stereotype, I’d wager that many comic book fans are tech-savy and adept with computers. But, digital comics pretty much destroys the collectibility aspect of the hobby.

Second, technology needs to catch up. This is going to happen. This past Christmas, amazon.com sold out of the Kindle, a $399 digital reader. I haven’t used one, but I’ll wager that the price is still too high for most people—and the technology too primitive. Who wants to read an entire novel on a screen? Watching movies is one thing, but text, with a backlit glow, is different. These devices need to become affordable first—and replicate the sensation of reading from a page before people jump on the bandwagon. I suspect this will be soon.

Third, comics culture needs to change. A large part of the culture is the conventions. Yesterday I was at the third annual Counter Culture Festival in Arlington, hawking my self-published comics alongside area creators with their books. Computers are a big part of how I produce my books, but what happens to a comic convention when the physi-cal comics cease to exist? Will fans walk around with flash drives, paying money for uploading digital comics? Will I, a small-press creator, have to bring my computer to shows so people interested in my work can see it? What happens when fans want an autographed comic?

I don’t know—and I suspect Bendis isn’t sure either.

“It’ll be interesting to see if someone can create the great graphic novel online,” said Bendis, in the podcast. “If that could be produced, I don’t know.”

Staff writer Josh Eiserike can be reached at 703-878-8072

One comment to “Goodbye, paper”

  1. I’d think it’ll be sad to see computer only comics
    at conventions. text on paper is a good thing and most
    people like, myself and my friends, read both computer and
    traditonal comics. So i hope and encouage you to continued
    printed comics, but computers aren’t everything