My comics-reading stops as quickly as it started

Nothing sophisticated here. If you’re looking for deep thoughts or heavy philosophizing, you’ll get that in my next blog post.

I purchased an iPad three weeks ago. I’ll eventually post about my overall experience with the gadget, but here I’m going to focus on one aspect: reading comics.

In an earlier post, I wrote about my love of comics. I’d stopped reading them for a number of reasons; one that I did not mention in that earlier post was the difficulty in storing boxes of old issues.

The iPad changes that. There are several comic-book reader apps, including one from Marvel. They make the process of buying and keeping comics trivial. The act of reading them has changed as well; just double-tap on a panel to expand it.

The Marvel app is particularly engaging. For every comic, they’ve established a "flow" between the panels in a page. If you expand the view to focus on one panel, then swipe, you’ll be taken to the next panel. Actually, that’s an over-simplification; depending on the design of the page or to increase dramatic emphasis, you can be taken to a close-up of part of one panel, with the next swipe taking you to an overall view.

According to a friend of mine who works at Marvel, they have teams of interns going over their old comics and designing view sequences for them. It’s certainly an inexpensive way for Marvel to make use of its vast catalog of existing comics, at relatively little cost.

I have a fondness for super-hero teams. I used Marvel’s app to buy "The New Avengers" #1-6. It was a relatively self-contained story, and nice artwork. I went on to the X-Men, which had always been one of my favorites. I picked up the five-issue cycles of "Phoenix: Endsong" and "Phoenix: Warsong"; kinda ho-hum art and stories that were only moderately engaging.

Then I started on "Astonishing X-Men", the comic series written by Joss Whedon with art by John Cassaday. Wow! Great artwork, a fine story. I purchased issues #1-6, realized I had to finish out the series, and bought issues #7-12. But that was only the first year; the story continued. So I purchased issues #13-24. The story got to a climax; it was the final issue of the sequence…

Or so I thought. Issue #24 ended in a cliffhanger. It was the last one available on the Marvel app store. I looked it up in Wikipedia: the story concluded in a special issue called "Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men #1". OK, I would get that to finish out the story. Only that issue isn’t available on the Marvel app store. I checked the other comic-book apps; not available there either. Marvel has something called "digital comics" available on their web site, but that issue isn’t available that way either.

The only way to read that issue would be to find it in some old comic-book shop.

I felt played. Someone had either goofed up, or was trying to get me hooked on paper comics again.

Whatever the reason, I feel disappointed. In a couple of weeks on the iPad, I’d run the entire experience microcosm that I’d experienced in my 20-year relationship with paper comics, from innocent joy at the story to frustration at the marketing.

I understand the notion of asking someone to pay to hear the end of a story. That’s a technique that’s as old as storytelling itself. I don’t begrudge being asked to pay for the creative and distribution efforts of others. If I can’t pay for the story, then I’ve learned not to listen in the first place.

Here, I was willing to pay. I was eager to pay. I expected the end to be accessible. And it wasn’t and I couldn’t.

So I bid adieu to comics again, even on the iPad. There are plenty of other bids for my time and attention and money. Perhaps one day the comic-book distributors will fix these glitches. Until that day, and perhaps for a long time after, I will not be there to listen to their stories.

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