What medium do you prefer for experiencing comic books?

This is a topic I have given a lot of thought to.  And quite frankly my attitude continues to change.  I use the word experience because not everyone reads their comic books.  Small children who can’t read still love to flip through comics and look at the pictures.  (Almost half of the folks at the Free Comic Book Day I attended this year were children).  Some comics have no dialogue (or almost no dialogue) and rely almost entirely on sequential art, letting the pictures be the narrative. (A quick aside: Fantastic Four #588 is one of my favorite examples of this).  Motion Comics exist in a space between animation and comic book but have their own distinct experience.  More broadly, almost everyone you know has seen some movie or TV show based on a comic book, maybe without even realizing it!

There are countless other mediums with which to experience comic books, such as trade paperbacks, hardcover editions, webpages, and tablet devices just to name a few more.

I used to reside firmly in the print-based camp.  Comic books were comic books and were meant to be read as such.  In some cases collected editions were acceptable (if not necessary — I wasn’t going to shell out for Amazing Fantasy #15).  Graphic novels were meant to be bought in book form, devoured, and set on a bookshelf.  Comic book movies were rarely bearable (back then, the only decent ones were Spider-Man and X-Men 1 and 2).  I remember going to see V for Vendetta in the theater and walking out on the other end feeling like I had just watched someone throw red paint on the Mona Lisa.  I truly understood why Alan Moore wanted nothing to do with the project.  Film wasn’t the medium in which V for Vendetta was meant to be presented.  But looking back now I can see how limiting this attitude was.

My first major shift in attitude was more financially driven than anything else (as is often the case with people).  I was at the comic book shop I frequented in the mall when I saw The Amazing Spider-Man: The Complete Collection DVD by GIT.  (Sadly, they don’t make these anymore).  Intrigued, I picked it up.  One disc contained PDF copies of Amazing Fantasy #15; The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #1-441; The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 2 #1-58; The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 #500-531; Annual #1-34.  Literally every issue of ASM up to several months prior all for the low low price of $40.  I was flabbergasted.  I had been collecting Spider-Man since I was 11 or so, and I had bought up a number of TPB collections and odd issues here and there.  But I had never had the means to “complete” my collection.  There were large gaps I had never had an opportunity to read…until now.  So I bought it and read every single ASM up to that point…on my computer.  And I softened a little on the exclusivity of print.  Over the years I have gone back and filled in large swaths of my collection with the actual comics, but if I had been too close-minded to try a new medium, to this day I would have no clue what happened in almost 300 issues of Spider-Man.

Another shift came in the spring and summer of 2008 when Iron Man came to theaters followed by the Dark Knight.  True, Batman Begins had come out a few years prior and was better than other comic book films at the time but 2008 marked a why so serious shift in these movies.  They were bolder and better and they seemed somehow more authentic.  If you had told me then that Iron Man would one day be Marvel’s most popular hero and the cornerstone of their film franchise I would have said you were crazy.  And I would have been so wrong.  Because for the first time a film was able to provide, if not an exact replication of the comic books, an analogous experience in a different medium.  Watching Iron Man the movie felt like reading a Marvel comic book.  And they’ve kept that train rolling which in turn has altered the comic books in such a way that there is now more synergy than ever between the experiences.  Similarly, the Dark Knight really captured Batman in a way that the older films never had.  Gone was the campiness that had defined Batman for so long (despite this being mostly absent from the comics for decades).  This grittier tone really resonated with viewers and helped to redefine people’s experience of Batman.  (Personally, outside of Snyder and Capullo’s monthly, my favorite Batman experience — the one that feels most authentic to me — is Rocksteady’s Arkham games.)  Post 2008 comic books movies (on the whole) were no longer anathema to me and are something I get really excited for.  Instead of feeling like terrible misshapen representations of something I love, they now feel like genuine comic book experiences.

There is still one major hurdle I am overcoming with regard to the question of medium, and that is digital print.  I love comic books.  I love the physical medium.  I like to flip through them.  I like to bag them and sort them.  I like to fuss over my boxes.  I feel genuinely bad if a comic gets ripped or creased or crumpled.  One of the highlights of my week (for years now) is going to pick up my comics on New Comic Night.  I love the newsprint smell and soft feel of old comics.  So when the discussion of same-day digital comics began, I retreated to my old ways.  Comic books are meant to be physical, you need to be able to hold it, feel it, smell it.  Digital is no good for new comics.  And then Marvel started including a “free” (read: $1 more) digital copy of the books I was buying.  Then Comixology (the digital comics service) gave away around 700 free digital Marvel comics.  And y’know what?  I started to read them.  Before a long trip I’d load up the last few issues of Spider-Man just case.  I read a few issues here and there at my desk during lunch.  The Humble Bundle had a ridiculous deal for Image comics so I picked that up too.  I bought ComicZeal reader for the iPad so I could lay in bed and read comics in the dark.  And all of a sudden I have a collection of digital comics too!  And it’s really nice.

So, what medium do you prefer for experiencing comic books?

Not to give a spineless answer, but it depends on the experience I want to have!  I still primarily read physical comics, and that still feels the most…comic booky (?) to me.  But I also love to sit down and devour a fat TPB, and I like to punch up bad guys as Batman on the XBox, and I will most certainly be seeing X-Men: Days of Future Past this weekend!  So, don’t allow yourself to be limited by your biases about medium.  It’s true, some things are better in one medium or another, and some things are worse, but often times they are are just different.  And different experiences are almost always worth your time.