I read about a little girl finding her first Teen Titans comic in a shop a few days ago, and her excitement at holding that comic in her hands. Owning it. And it was a genuinely touching story – the next generation meets paper, print, and the characters they love from the TV. The story went on to talk about digital, and it being no substitute for the real thing. You can’t own the object in the digital world; You can’t treasure it – so the argument went. The response – and there’s always a response these days – was almost unanimously pro-print, though the author conceded room for both.
I spent the last couple of days mulling this over, because this is a mental barrier we are up against – a false meme. And I don’t believe it. It’s not what I’m seeing in practice.
The first point is that the girl found a comic of her favourite TV characters. She didn’t know, most likely, that they were characters in a comic first. She came into contact with the Teen Titans through another medium, and that led her to comics. I’ve said, repeatedly, that many of the people finding digital comics on apps or online are a new audience, and that this could lead them to print. It’s possible that a young girl could discover Teen Titans in a digital comic format first, and that could lead her to discovering print. Comics are not ubiquitous in the way they once were, and the internet is the new corner shop, the spinning rack of old, where I first discovered comics. I was 19 before I stepped into a comic shop in London – I had no idea they existed! I could have so easily missed them all together. Digital helps make sure another generation doesn’t miss them.
My second point is that kids don’t need to own physical things the way we did. My youngest son has a world he’s created in Minecraft. He logs in, and goes to a virtual space which he has full ownership of. Young people feel they collectively own the internet, and everything they put on there or build in their virtual spaces. Similarly, my music collection is vastly more progressed and varied since the advent of iTunes. I know more about music, I have broader tastes, and I am prepared to take more of a chance with a new artist. I also don’t have boxes of vinyl cluttering up a house already too small for five of us, and destined to keep growing, along with my comics and books collection. I long ago had to stop buying books and comics, and indeed had to cull them – which was pretty heartbreaking! But I now have a solution to that. And if I really want the print book – and sometimes I do, because I will ALWAYS and FOREVER love print – then I can splash out, buy it, and that makes it extra special.
We must remember – the means of transmission does not the story make! We loved the films we saw at the cinema long before we could own them on tape then DVD!
Finally – comics were a by-product of newspapers. They are themselves a young medium. They are words and they are pictures, but most importantly, they are stories. And great stories can be told in ANY medium.
These are exciting times. We should embrace them, and be open to them. Everything needs to change and evolve. It’s part of what makes life so very exciting!
– Liam Sharp