By Harrison Pike
DC Comics held a virtual convention for the second year in a row this month, tripling their viewership this time. Does that boom reflect growth in the comic industry as a whole, or are physical comic books beginning to die out?
On Oct. 16, 66 million viewers tuned in for DC’s second Fandome convention, three times as many as the 22 million who watched the inaugural broadcast in 2020. This year, viewers tuned in to watch movie trailer premieres, fan-based content and comic announcements and profiles That huge growth is also reflected in growing sales for the comic industry. According to a joint study by Comichron and ICv2.com in 2020, comic sales as a whole were up to $1.28 billion a year.
Along with a fully digital convention, in 2019 DC also launched its own comic streaming service mirroring Marvel’s Marvel Unlimited service. DC Universe Infinite, as it is now called, offers more than 25,000 comics. It also adds new releases six months after they hit the shelves.
With such a wide selection available for $74.99 a year, the comic streaming service seems like a good deal. If you don’t want to wait six months for new releases, you can also purchase new comics from the Marvel or DC app and have them available on your phone.
Digital comics appear convenient and easier than finding print comics. However, Paul Stewart, owner of the local comic store Legion Comics and Games, believes digital comics are a terrible alternative to the real deal.
The Price of Digital
When asked about digital comics, Stewart listed several cons, including theft and the loss of experience. Stewart said, “The problem with digital is once it’s been digitized, people steal it.” Because the book has been reduced to digital code, it can be taken in the same way a user’s password might be lifted.
Stewart also believes comic fans prefer a “tactile” comic they can hold and feel, as opposed to a digital copy. Or, if they do want a digital book, they want it to be animated or have something to set it apart from the print books.
Despite digital comics growing as a product and the struggles of the pandemic, Stewart has been able to remain in business and has a regular clientele. He says there are plenty of collectors willing to hunt for physical comics to add to their collections. People who have been comic collectors and avid readers for some time won’t make the switch to digital unless they fall on hard times, he said.
Stewart has seen a recent growth in his customer base, gaining customers that his competitors have lost. During the time I was inside Legion, a customer came in and sold an Amazing Spider-Man comic to Stewart who immediately sold it to another customer visiting the store. Comics are still changing hands regularly.
The Strength of Paper
Many comic stores now feature various products in addition to comics. Legion has two separate rooms: one devoted to cards and games and one devoted to comics. On the comic side of the store, collectibles top the shelves of comics. Of those different products, the best seller has remained constant for a long time. Stewart is confident in his best seller’s future, saying, “Comics are still gonna be the strongest.”
The comics industry has faced its own challenges because of the pandemic, especially distribution issues. Comics and collectibles can sometimes be hard to get. It can even be difficult to get something as seemingly simple as a sleeve to put a comic in.
Despite those setbacks, local comic stores around Birmingham continue to operate. Legion has been open in the community for nearly 30 years. Bob’s Comics on Gadsden Highway has been open for more than 30 years. Sanctum Tattoos and Comics and Saturday Vintage Comics round out the Birmingham locals.
Each store is different. Legion has a mixture of old and new comics, while Bob’s has a wider selection of Golden and Silver Age comics, the two periods of comics ranging from the late 1930s to the end of the ’60s.
Those stores show how print comics still have a place in the industry. While digital issues may be easier to get and easier to take with you, the experience of holding a comic in your hand keeps comic fans coming back to stores like Legion to add more pieces to their collections.
Comic streaming services offer comics at less than a penny for an individual issue, but they can’t replicate the experience. Comics are holding on tightly to their place in culture, just as vinyl records continue to be popular even when options like Spotify exist.
As Paul Stewart said, “Comics are still gonna be the strongest.”