Comic book characters dominate America’s pop culture scene, with movies such as Avengers: Endgame and Captain Marvel grossing more than a billion dollars each at the box office. Naturally, this will inspire people who have never read a comic book to check one out—but where to begin? Comic shops aren’t nearly as commonplace as they were in the 1990s, so we at PCMag suggest firing up a PC, smartphone, or tablet and diving into the thrilling, convenient world of digital comics.
What Are Digital Comics?
Digital comics are, well, electronic comic books. The term digital comics is a surprisingly broad umbrella that covers digital versions of print titles and original digital titles, such as Immortal Hulk and Batman ’66, respectively. If you’re looking for webcomics—comics published to websites, often for free—check out our Best Webcomics feature. Though those, too, are digital comics!
New digital comics go on sale on the same date as their paper counterparts. The digital move means never having to endure walking into a shop to discover that a highly anticipated book has sold out. In that sense, digital comics are more reliable than print books. In addition, a digital title like Dynamite’s Shaft even includes bonus material not found in the print version.
Still, that doesn’t mean that digital is the perfect way to shop. For example, you won’t find highly desired variant covers that are exclusive to comic book shops. Plus, you can’t have a favorite creator sign your digital comic at San Diego Comic-Con or New York Comic Con.
Which Publishers Offer Digital Comics?
DC, Dark Horse, Dynamite, IDW, Image, Lion Forge, Marvel, Valiant, and numerous other large and small publishers offer digital comics, either via their own services or an all-encompassing platform like Comixology.
How’s the Digital Comic Book Selection?
If you’re looking to get into a one-shot comic book, graphic novel, trade paperback, or series published in the last decade or so, there’s an excellent chance that you’ll find what you seek in the digital space. In fact, publishers have taken greats strides to fill catalog gaps. Marvel, for example, now has the famous (or is it infamous?) Secret Wars II limited series, a title that represented a notable catalog hole for some time. If superheroes aren’t your thing, or your comic book love extends beyond capes and tights, you can find science fiction, relationship, horror, and comedy comics, too.
One of the most underrated aspects of a digital comic book store like Comixology is the opportunity that it gives readers to explore the medium’s history. You can find Action Comics #1 (Superman’s debut), Amazing Fantasy #15 (Spider-Man’s first apperance), and other landmark superhero titles for less than a cup of Starbucks joe. That said, Comixology and other digital comic book stores have just a splattering of comics from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, such as Two-Gun Kid, USA Comics, and Young Romance. That, however, may be due to the challenge of obtaining the source files.
How Do I Read Digital Comics?
Tablets are the best way to read your favorite titles due to their comc book-like dimensions, but smartphones and web browsers can do the job, too. Fortunately, there are many free and paid desktop, Android and iPad digital comic book readers. Most are standalone apps that let you flip through the pages of your favorite DRM-free titles (oftentime with panel-by-panel reading modes designed for mobile devices), but a few like Comixology, Dark Horse, DC, and Marvel feature integrated stores that let you buy digital comics from anywhere your device can grab a wireless signal. Just don’t do it in a comic book store while a manager is nearby. Trust me on that one. Trust me.
Please note that Comixology’s iOS app, simply known as Comics, no longer lets you make in-app digital comic book purchases in order to avoid giving Apple a cut of profits. If you’re on an iPhone or iPad, you must make purchase via Comixology’s web-based store. There is no such issue with the Comixology Android app.
In 2014, many high-profile comic book publishers made the move to DRM-free digital comics—DC and Marvel are the two big exceptions. As a result, you can read Back to Brooklyn or almost any other digital comic in your reader of choice; you aren’t locked into any particular app.
You can even find digital comics in unlikely places, one of the most headscratching being Spotify. Yes, that Spotify. The popular streaming music service struck a deal with Madefire to offer Archie motion comics. The fully voiced comics are available to free and paid Spotify members.
How Much Do Digital Comics Cost?
Digital comics, for the most part, are priced the same as physical issues—at least for new issues. Most books from the larger houses fall within the $1.99 to $3.99 price range, which is on par with print comics’ prices. For example, Comixology sells the ongoing Deathstroke series for $3.99, which is the same price as the paper version. Graphic novels and digitized trade paperbacks will, naturally, command more loot.
That said, digital collections sometimes cost less than their paper counterparts. Publisher Top Shelf sells the digital versions of its graphic novels for a few dollars less than their print counterparts. For example, Chester 5000 costs $7.99 as a digital file, but $14.95 as a physical book.
Marvel also offers an all-you can read model: Marvel Unlimited. The $9.99 per month service lets you read as much Marvel as your eyeballs can take. The only catch is that Marvel Unlimited’s library is months behind what you’ll find in Comixology or a comic book store. So, if you want the newest Captain America issue, you’ll need to buy it elsewhere. Still, Marvel Unlimited’s a great way to get caught up on more than half-century’s worth of back issues!
Likewise, Comixology offers a subscription-based digital comic book service. Comixology Unlimited lets you read more than 10,000 comics from a variety of publishers, including DC and Marvel. Comixology Unlimited is a tremendous value to US readers (it’s set to roll out to other regions in the future), as the service lets you explore new titles at little financial risk. Unfortunately, Comixology Unlimited mainly lets you dive into select titles, typically those that are good jumping-in points for new readers.
Why Do Digital Comics Cost the Same as Print Comics?
You’re probably wondering why (Marvel Unlimited and freebies aside) digital comics cost the same as print comics, considering the lack of paper and ink. That’s an excellent question.
Publishers often have dedicated staff just for converting comics from print to digital. In the case of Image Comics specifically, the books need to support various formats, including PDF, ePub, CBR/CBZ, and Comixology’s format, which requires file maintenance, tracking, and uploading to various digital comics marketplaces.
There’s another reason digital comics cost the same as print: Publishers don’t want to undercut themselves or the comic book shops they rely on for real-world distribution. On the upside, digital comics lack advertisements.