Justifying My iPad Purchase: The Future Of Comic Books Is Now

While the iPad presents a functional but far from optimal gaming experience, gaming isn't why I wanted Apple's latest big thing. For comic book fans, the iPad is the new frontier.

Digital comics have been picking up steam over the past few years, but several obstacles have been in the way of full-fledged acceptance of electronics as a plausible comic book delivery medium. Sitting at a PC isn't exactly the idea way to read comics. Laptops solve the problem somewhat, but the orientation is still all wrong.

When the iPhone App Store was introduced, many companies began releasing applications that allowed digital comics to be purchased and downloaded via the iPhone. The iPhone readers had the portability and page orientation problems licked, but the small size of the screen made the iPhone apps a less-than-ideal solution.

Enter the iPad. Over the weekend I shot a short video, singing the praises for the device as a comic book reader, and chastising comic book publishers for their reluctance to enter the digital age.

At this point I've downloaded three iPad-specific free comic book readers, including one from Marvel, one called iVerse, which contains comics from various publishers, and an IDW Comics app, which uses the iVerse engine.

The Marvel app, powered by Comixology, is so far the most impressive, though also the most disappointing. The app is an excellent way to read comics, but Marvel still shies away from releasing current issues on their digital comic book service. Featured books are generally one to two years old, with a substantial catalog of classic titles available, but nothing truly new.

IDW, on the other hand, is relatively recent. The app doesn't have all of the bells and whistles of the Marvel one, but most of IDW's biggest series are only one issue removed from the comic stands. For example, Transformers number 5 hit comic shops last week, and the application already has the first four issues available.

Dragon Age number one, released last week, is already available for purchase.

Since I've already committed myself to IDW's Transformers and G.I. Joe comic books in paper form, odds of me switching to strictly digital for those are slim, but when a new series comes out, I will seriously consider going download only.

I realize comic book publishers, especially one as old as Marvel, are reluctant to commit to digital comics. Concerns of piracy, the loss of revenue from paper books, losing advertisers - these are all valid concerns. But consider this: every week, comic book pirates scan every comic book produced into digital format, strip the ads, and make them available for free download.

I'd say $1.99 is better revenue than nothing at all.

So come on, Marvel and DC. Charge me $20 for a year's subscription to X-Men or Green Lantern. Lace the digital copies with links to other comics I can purchase online. Did Superman just reference events from last week's Justice League book? Put in a footnote, let me touch it, and bring me to a page where I can buy that title.

It's a completely new business model, and I know that's frightening, but I also know this: when I am laying on the couch reading comics, I'm much more likely to spend $1.99 on a digital issue than I am to get up off my ass and run to the comic store to spend $4.

As for the iPad, right now it's the perfect way to enjoy digital comic books. And when the other tablets begin to hit, they'll work just as well - or even better.