After a few glitches, like a site crash, Marvel’s comics online program — Digital Comics Unlimited or DCU– rolled out yesterday. While that name DCU keeps reminding us of something else, although we can’t remember just what, generally speaking, we’re thrilled, because it means more books we were keeping around for reference can now be cleared away. Of course, we found the interface just as clunky as most online comics reading interfaces, but it isn’t really aimed at us. We only read comics online in a pinch; others may find it more satisfying. We could sorta read a whole page on the roomy 17″ monitor of out iMac, but on the 12″…forget it! (We did like the “page turning” effect, though.) Over at MySpace, of all places, Douglas Wolk interviews Marvel’s John Dokes and EIC Joe Quesada on the larger iTunes-for-comics ramifications:

Was there any talk of going through a central retailer like iTunes–making issues available through other means, rather than directly through Marvel?

JD: We explored a lot of different options, including partnering with other people. But at the end of the day, we felt like it was just easier for us to do internally–we have access to the files, we have access to the editorial team, and they can pick the best content to put up online.

Marvel’s comics are already circulating on the Internet–what’s your take on the online file-sharing of comics?

JD: I think the other thing that we’re offering here is really a legal way to read our comics. I think there are going to be people out there who are going to go to those sites; I think most of our loyal fans, once they know that we have somewhere they can go to purchase comics online, and make sure that we’re able to reward our fans with a large library, and our creators with a way to protect their investment, I think they’re going to come and purchase comics through Marvel.

JQ: Let me also say that as a creator, the whole bootlegging thing just doesn’t hit me the right way. In the comics industry for the last 60 to 80 years, there have always been people who have been clamoring about creators’ rights and making sure that creators get their due, and I can’t help but think that every time someone downloads a comic for free and illegally, they’re really going against that particular wish. As a creator, even outside of Marvel, that’s always been troublesome to me. I think this is a much better system, where you can do this, do it legally, and the right way.

He also asks the key question:

Is Marvel paying royalties to creators when people read comics online with Digital Comics Unlimited?

JD: That’s part of our plan.

Hm, wonder if this was part of Marvel’s recent move to get people to sign “Special characters” contracts?

Lisa at Neptune Comics has a wide ranging round-up of reactions, most of which we haven’t had time to read. We did scan a few, and the reaction seems to be mostly along the lines of Brian Heater’s

When works that were created to be consumed in book form go online, things get rougher. It’s the literary equivalent of trying to surf the Web on your phone. The layouts just don’t look right, and there’s a lot of scrolling involved. I was discussing the matter a few weeks ago with a fellow comics reviewer; she said that after taking an informal survey of our peers, she discovered nearly everyone would rather receive a comic in book form or even as a galley (a paper-clipped preview of the book) than as a PDF.

That said, it’s tough to argue with free. Marvel Comics, the home of Spider-Man and the X-men–and arguable the most popular publisher in the medium–has announced plans to republish original issues online.

Motley Fool didn’t think it would be an immediate stock boost:

But let’s be fair about what that means. Having DCU probably won’t do much for revenue. Operating income and cash flow could enjoy a modest boost, however. Think about it; Marvel’s sole cost for previously published editions would be royalties, hypothetically.

This fellow objected to the fact that you are really only renting the comics:

If I’m gonna pay for a comic I want to be able to retain a copy; be that in paper or digital format.


  1. I’m just trying to figure out how what they’re offering is really so different from their last webcomics attempt several years ago. Somewhere, around 2000 or so, they had comics available for reading on their site. The interface was rather clunky, and they mainly only had the Ultimates line available, but this isn’t their first attempt at all. It just seems like the news really is “Marvel has online delivery — which you have to pay for!”.

  2. I think the difference is in the sheer volume of their offerings (not to mention the possibilty of a regular release schedule for newer comics), and given the fact that folks will be paying for this, I’m guessing most reders are expecting the number of comics they make available online through this service to increase. Like The Beat, I’ve got more than a few comics I’d be willing to let go of in favor of thois option.

  3. Oh, scratch that. The folks at ComicMix just highlighted a portion of an interview with Dan Buckley at ICv2 that has killed my enthusiasm for this initiative.

    Do you plan to put up all new issues of the titles that are on the “Current Favorites” or “Young Reader Series” lists?

    No, we do not plan on putting up the new issues of “Current Favorites” nor do we plan on keeping complete runs of top selling trades like Astonishing X-Men up on the site for prolonged periods of time.

    If they’re going to be shifting stuff in and out all the time, then there’s no reason for me to subscribe to this.

  4. Unless the format changes (and I’d rather not see that happen) the stumbling block for online delivery of traditional comics is always going to be the portrait-oriented page versus the landscape-oriented monitor.

    E-books never really took off, but somebody should be jumping on the technology and producing an e-comic that will display pages at actual size. I never had an interest in e-books, but I could see myself carrying around an e-comic. I’d still buy the trades, but it would be swell to pay a dollar to download a back-issue of some obscure independent series from, say, iComics™ and be able to read it in that remote village that has nothing but an internet café, never mind a well-stocked comic shop.

    Of course, the two-page spread would suffer. Maybe you could turn it sideways for those and then click to see individual pages.

  5. the more I read people’s arguments for why you ought to just be able to buy comics digitally and keep them, it makes sense. They should just start selling high quality scans of their comics for like $0.75 each and let folks take them. Put up as much as they can and leave them there.

    Considering the fact that scanning comics is a lot more labor intensive than ripping a CD ever was, a low but reasonable price for e-delivery of a comic would probably all but kill the pirate trade. Would you really be able to stand to take the time to scan if you could just buy it for around $1?

    This does sort of smack of the music industries earlier and more inept attempts to keep CDs from becoming mp3s. They had to give in and go with Itunes.

    and if they want to get into kids’s space, Itunes is more likely to do it for them, as a delivery mechanism, than their own subscription site.

  6. I’m not a fan of reading comics on a screen, so I won’t be checking it out. But you would think that Marvel would have tried to avoid that “DCU” acronym, just from a marketing perspective. Why create potential confusion?

    And BradyDale: I think I see your point about keeping them cheap to avoid illegal copies, but your argument doesn’t work for me. Would I pay a dollar instead of taking the time to scan? If I have the book in my hands to scan, why would I pay a dollar? Or am I misunderstanding?

  7. Yes, I guess people already have the books when they scan them… I guess I’m just thinking that the motivation to do it (if I scan others will scan) is broken down a lot when comics cost so little to buy digitally.

    I hear you about comics sucking on a screen, but more and more people are getting used to it.

  8. i’m with that last guy. i don’t want to rent comics. just like i wouldn’t want to rent music.

    these days i’m picky enough to know that the comic i’m buying, i’m keeping.

    the Marvel DCU thing sounds like a good idea but…well maybe it wasn’t meant for folks like me.

  9. I envision a Marvel Online Universe where I can read a comic, click on an editorial link, and then read the Handbook entry on an obscure villain, or read the backissues of that characters appearances. Then I could enter different chatroom and discuss the issue, or the villain, or the writer, or NoPrize entries, or the locale where the story took place. I could even place a tag in my post which directs the reader to the issue, and even the panel, that I mention.
    I hope that the editorial and licensed advertising pages are reproduced as well, if only as a miscellany. Or maybe Hostess could advertise by reprinting their superhero ads from the Seventies!