Reading Comics on Your Computer?

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Matt Barton's picture

Did you know that you can easily download and view comic books and graphic novels on your computer? In this piece, I want to explore the "underground" that has formed around reading comics on your PC, and discuss some of the new software that's making this much easier than before. While there will never be a substitute for collecting and reading printed comic books, the digitized equivalent has gotten much better. If you've ever dreamed of being able to read ALL the comics in the Amazing Spiderman series, for instance, now you can--and without spending tens of thousands of dollars to do it! But just how fun is to read a comic on your computer? And what about those pesky copyright issues?

A few months ago I was asked to chair two theses committees concerned with comics. One was on Batman's Knight Fall series and the other on something from Marvel called Civil War. I was an avid (obsessive, even) comic collector in my youth and early teenage years, and Spidey and Batman were my favorite characters, so of course I was happy to be on these committees. However, I hadn't bought a comic in over a decade, so I was a bit of a loss about what had been going on all that time. I was also going to need to read these comics to get up-to-date enough to read the theses, so I asked around about how a cash-strapped prof could get them. The Batman Knight Fall series is available in graphic novel form, so it was pretty easy to get them from the library (and interlibrary loan). The Civil War series was an entirely different matter. Basically, the Civil War series is a huge "meta story" that affects the entire Marvel Universe (even characters like Howard the Duck!). To really know everything, you have to buy dozens and dozens of comics each month in a great variety of series. Obviously, for someone like me who can barely pay his rent and worries each year about having enough Ramen to last through the winter, this wasn't an option. So, what to do?

Finding and Downloading Comics Online
Eventually, someone let it slip that "you know, you can find almost every comic that's ever been published online." I was shocked! People had actually taken the time to scan in all those comics? Sure. I didn't believe it at first, but a quick trip to a bit torrent search engine proved me wrong. While I am definitely not endorsing violating copyright laws to get comics you can buy, I do find it amazing that comic fans have went to such great lengths to make these books (many of them extremely rare) available to so many readers. What am I talking about here? Well, for starters, the entire Marvel Civil War series was available (well, up to the present, anyway). I also found torrents for the entire Amazing Spiderman series (over 300 comics). While I doubt that it's true that you can really find any comic ever published, it is very impressive what you can find.

Okay, so the next question is, how much fun is it to read a comic online? If you're anything like me, the very idea makes you cringe. There will never be a substitute for flipping through an actual comic book, nor the thrill of discovering a rare comic at a yard sale or the like. However, when it's a choice between reading a comic in electronic form and not reading it all, I'm glad to say that the latter isn't as bad as it used to be. Long gone are the days of memory-hogging PDF files and cumbersome individual scans. Thanks to a format called CDisplay RAR Archived Comic Book File (or CBR) and a program called CDisplay, it's easier than ever before to read comics on your computer.

What's so great about CDisplay and CBR? Besides cool features like automatic "yellow" filtering for older comics and built-in tools for making easy screenshots and the like, what I appreciate is the simplicity of viewing the comics. Instead of seeing a bulky interface and only a small portion of the comic, you get a very minimal interface (or none at all in full-screen mode). You can advance pages in a variety of ways, such as using the arrow keys, page/up, or the mouse wheel. You can also "grab and move" with the mouse for pages that cover more area than the screen (i.e., "splash pages" in many modern books). Finally, CDisplay is very light on your computer's resources, so you don't have to worry about it grinding your computer to a standstill the way Adobe PDF Reader loves to do on my machine.

Where CDisplay really rocks, however, is on my "convertible" Gateway Tablet PC. When I fold the top down and go full-screen with CDisplay, the experience is very close to reading an actual comic (except with back lighting!) Furthermore, I can easily move to new pages by simply tapping on the side of the screen with my stylus. What could be easier? I showed some of my comic-fan friends this ability, and could see the envy in their eyes! It also brings a whole new dimension to the "reading under the covers with the flashlight" trick.

AbandonComics
Before I head off, let me just address the legal questions here concerning copyrights. Obviously, it's illegal to download the Spiderman collection (or, for that matter, any comic book published after the Great Depression) without the explicit permission of the copyright holder. Even in cases where the comic has long been out of print, the publisher long bankrupt, and the copyright holder unreachable or unknown, it's still illegal.

That said, there are legal alternatives. While (to my knowledge, at least) no major comic book publisher is selling CBR files, a company called GIT Corp has a large variety of DVDs available for very reasonable prices, such as this Spiderman Collection (1963-2006) for only $37! Unfortunately, I was unable to find a review of these DVD-ROMs, so I'm unsure what kind of interface they have. However, it is clear that the software allows you to print pages if you desire--a feature I wouldn't have expected to see in anything endorsed by Marvel! Of course, if you're rich you can also seek out the books on eBay or the like. For instance, here's the first Amazing Spiderman comic for only $5,000. Yeah.

Still, even if you are a "legal eagle" type, you may find that your favorite comics just aren't available via GIT Corp, and that you can't afford to pay collector's prices. If you're willing to compromise (both in terms of owning the comic and breaking the law), you can find just about any comic you desire available on the net. In cases where the comic isn't available commercially anywhere, I consider this kind of activity the same way I do "abandonware." In other words, if the product is "commercially worthless" and you can't get it legally even if you wanted to, then I don't have a problem with it. To my mind, modern copyright law is really stupid when it comes to situations like this, but thanks to our institutionalized bribery system called "lobbying" and "strings-attached campaign contributions" and the like, it's not going to change anytime soon (for more info, definitely read Free Culture by Larry Lessig). In short, while it's breaking the law, the fault lies more with a bad law than with a "bad person" who just wants to read some comics!

The technology of reading comics online has gotten to the point where I just can't see how it could be improved. CDisplay lets you get as "close to the comic" as possible given the built-in limitations of the digital format. With a tablet PC, you can even bypass most of these and get even closer to the print experience. If you're a comic fan, I'd encourage you to check out this program (or a CBR compatible reader) and let us know what you think.

Comments

Seb
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You might want to check out

You might want to check out Marvel's Essentials series, which reprints all the old issues in an affordable softcover format. "Essential Spider-Man Vol. 1", for instance, features the first 20 issues, including Amazing Fantasy 15 (first appearance of the Spider-Man character). Several other volumes are available. At about $10 each (for 500 pages+), it easy to own a complete collection, and unlike .cbr files, you can read them in the bathroom...

http://www.marvelmasterworks.com/library_essentials.html

Matt Barton
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Whoa! Thanks for the tip,

Whoa! Thanks for the tip, Seb. I see a Christmas wish list forming!!! ;-)

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dragon57
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Joined: 05/18/2006
Matt, I have the Spiderman

Matt, I have the Spiderman collection on the DVD-ROM you mentioned. The files on my DVD are in pdf format. I also bought the Fantastic Four collection on DVD-ROM. You can't beat them for the price.

Mark Vergeer
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Joined: 01/16/2006
As a kid I used to read tons

As a kid I used to read tons of comic books, my mom's brother was (still is) a big fan of comics and bought loads and loads of comics that we could actually borrow from him and we always returned them in absolute imaculate condition so he let us borrow his entire collection when we were kids.
Gosh I've read tons of spiderman, the hulk, the fantastic four amongst others. My uncle Hans (yes, almost like German) also bought (and of course let us borrow) quite a lot of the European comic books, a lot of them by French- en Flemish/Belgian artists. Those two countries are really huge when it comes to 'the European comicbooks'.

Probably won't work on a Mac eh Matt?
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Matt Barton
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Mark Vergeer wrote:Probably
Mark Vergeer wrote:

Probably won't work on a Mac eh Matt?

Actually, there are Mac versions available. See the bottom of this page for many options.

I tried one of them for the Mac, but it was crippleware. I should probably consider experimenting, since I have a better screen on my Mac than on my PC. I just couldn't see bucking up $30 or whatever when a much better program was available for free on the PC!

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Spin
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Joined: 05/23/2006
Comics on the PC. This has

Comics on the PC.
This has been a dream come true for myself.
The experience of finding comics online was not unlike finding Mame and VpinMame.
These 3 programs lead me to experience things that I loved.
The main thing that I personally get from this type of program is the ability to get to the comic (Game or Pinball machine) that I could never find.
Certainly the issue of legality is often thought of but it is rather implausible to think that anyone is truly being hurt!
I like many others in the world am a collector. I have thousands of comics and would never part with the original product to just have a computer file.
The experience is certainly not the same!
Every comic reader has experience this scenario. Great story waiting for the next issue and for some reason you missed that issue, all you’re life you never knew or just did not find that missing hole. Now that it’s online you get to patch that missing moment in your history.

Certainly I can not say that this replaces the true physical product but for archival historical and just plain fun it is really the next best thing!
Plus it doesn’t take up 1/4tth of my basement and won’t get ruined by water damage or time!
Go out and experience your past with the comic reader.

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comics

You might want to check out Marvel's Essentials series, which reprints all the old issues in an affordable softcover format. "Essential Spider-Man Vol. 1", for instance, features the first 20 issues, including Amazing Fantasy 15 (first appearance of the Spider-Man character). Several other volumes are available. At about $10 each (for 500 pages+), it easy to own a complete collection, and unlike .cbr files, you can read them in the bathroom...

Anonymous (not verified)
to hell with CDisplay!

to hell with CDisplay! ComicRack is where it's at!

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