It was inevitable, really. The future has arrived, and it looks like a rectangular screen, 12 inches from your face, forever. Whether you want to read comics or learn Japanese, order a Thai takeaway or have a set of batarangs hand-made for you by a demented metal worker somewhere near Dudley, all you have to do is type it in the little box, brandish a piece of plastic, and make it so.
Which is all, of course, wonderful. The world has shrunk, and as long as you’ve got the cash and a half-decent knowledge of Google-fu, you can experience it all without having to do so much as change your trousers. The internet may well be predominantly porn and pictures of cats, but the rest? It’s glorious, especially for a comics fan. An endless stream of web comics, amazing art, friendly communities and funny commentary is right there at your fingertips.
And now, with DC announcing as part of their total re-launch in September that digital comics will be available the same day as physical copies, you won’t even have to wait for Batman to be digitalised. He’ll be right there, on your phone, or splashed all over your iPad, every Wednesday. Whether you like it or not, it’s a done deal, and you can be sure that once DC has proven it’s a system that works – and it will – Marvel will follow suit. And then, my friends, you can wave goodbye to your local comic shop.
Now that might sound defeatist, but we all know it’s going to happen. It’ll be a long, drawn out death, but a death it will be. Comics look great on smart phones and iPads, and the sheer convenience of being able to download your weekly reads as they come out is hard to argue with. Just as downloading has done for the music industry, it will do for comics. We might not like it, we might argue that you’ll never replace the smell of a fresh copy of your favourite weekly, or the smudge of ink on your fingertips, but sooner or later, we’re going to have to accept it. If those pesky youths are already completely used to having whatever they want, whenever they want it, digital and easy to download, then what are their kids going to be like? I sincerely doubt they’ll be pining for printed pages.
Unless, that is, we all do something about it. Comic shops have been a meeting place for the like-minded for many a year, somewhere discoveries are made, plot-points pulled apart, and new partnerships hatched. They’re a haven, a safe place for nerds to nurture nerdlings, a temple to the transcendental delights of a sequential story well told, and so very much more than just another shop. An access point for the uninitiated and a familiar haunt for the long-hooked, without them many of us simply wouldn’t be the same people we are today.
And only you can save them. Leave the house, make some orders, visit your local comics cave and engage. For without these bastions of comic-based community, we’re all condemned to a future where the only way to browse titles is with a mouse. If human contact, knowledgeable chat and shelves stacked with possibility mean anything to you, now’s the time to act. Because once they’re gone, they won’t be coming back. Progress, remember. This is what it looks like.