I don’t like pirating comics. I hate it, in fact. i think comics are a weirdly precarious industry where buying one too few issues of a comic will get it cancelled or dropped or etc. So when it comes to monthlies, I buy each and every one that I love. And if, as it happened recently, I miss a few and can’t find them I wait for the trades. I’m a nice, law abiding citizen, right? You can tell that, natch.
Except… except when it comes to older comics. Let’s use nowadays as an example — Okay, so I missed about six months of comics while moving up here: that means Saga, Morning Glories, Batman Inc., Batman, etc. I’m all behind on. So some of those are hard to find and others aren’t so hard to find. Batman Inc. however is one of those that’s harder to find — and even worse than that, I know there’s a huge thing that just happened in issue eight. So while that’s disappointing there’s no chance in hell I’m going to download them. Because I know for a fact that Batman Inc. Vol 2 is going to come out in a few months so even if I can’t find the floppies I can just wait for the trades.
Okay, so nowadays, here and now, waiting for trades is no problem, right? Monthlies are more or less always collected. So it’s not a big deal.
Now let’s flip to the other side — for instance, I’m reading Spider-Man, all the way through — every single issue of every single Spider-title starting with ASM. Now these I am downloading, torrenting to be specific, and I’ll get to why in a second.
About two hundred or so issues in, I hit a comic called “Fearful Symmetry” but it’s part two of the arc and the beginning takes place in another book. And I do have Spectacular Spider-Man and Web of Spider-Man so I CAN read this six issue arc but I don’t. Why? Because I recognize the first panel of this comic and know it has another name, too. It’s other name is KRAVEN’S LAST HUNT. And I can go buy that trade paperback anywhere comics are sold. So I hold off on it and buy the trade later.
Cut to about thirty issues later. A new writer and artist on on the book, a great team — David Micheline and Todd McFarlane (with Eric Larson coming in for a few filler issues, and one or two other artists dropping in and out). I have not loved this book as much since Stan Lee and Steve Ditko were on the title. These are the greatest comic books I’ve ever read. I love them, I love them, I love them.
So when I find a comic I torrent to read and find I love I go to buy it. Except there’s a problem… There is a Marvel Comics Micheline/McFarlane omnibus but it doesn’t even cover half of their run. Let alone the issues that don’t have McFarlane on them. So I go investigate more.
For Amazing Spider-Man you can buy the first few issues (up to issue 67) — all the issues that Stan Lee did with Ditko and some with Romita Sr. but that’s it. There’s no Sterns. There’s no Wein. There’s some Conaway but that’s mostly because of the Night Gwen Stacy Died. There’s a whole collection of Micheline but as I mentioned earlier it’s not all of it.
You can buy some of the classic arcs like Secret Wars, Acts of Vengeance, Kraven’s Last Hunt, The Clone Saga (which is by far the biggest, being published across seven different trade paperbacks). And then there are other, weirder collections where it looks like a fanboy went nuts cutting out their favorite panels and stapling them together to make one ungodly Frankenstein of a book. (The reference I’m making here is to the Birth of Venom collection which was one of the first ASM books I owned. It has literally seven or so panels from Secret Wars, half a comic from a random title, the last few pages of one comic, and then a handful of mismatched Amazing Spider-Man titles, making it a weird collage of the first few times Venom — and his symbiotic suit — showed up anywhere in Marvel Comics timeline.)
Now it is mostly collected by author/creator (which is how comic books should be written and read, as I’ll elaborate on more fully later in a rather lengthy post) which is good however it doesn’t collect all of them. The only series I can pick up and read all of is Bendis’ Alias series and that came out less than ten years ago now. If I wanted I could hunt down and buy every issue of that 28-issue series. What I could NOT do is collect every issue of the Amazing Spider-Man and pay for them even if I wanted to.
More than four hundred or so issues of Amazing Spider-Man out of its (as of now) seven hundred issue run are not collected anywhere. And it’s not exactly easy to buy them with issue 87 — a number I chose at random that turned out to be the “Unmasking of Spider-Man”** (Prowler co-stars) — costing 75 dollars. And of course as I mentioned Amazing Spider-Man a lot I should mention that the only way to get old issues of Spectacular Spider-Man is through the black and white reprints (which still doesn’t collect all of them).
So either half done black and white reprints or buying — those are the ways you can get old issues of comics. Which is just insane.
Right now on my computer I have the entirety of Amazing Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man, Web of Spider-Man, Spider-Man: Blue, Marvel Knights: Spider-Man, every issue of any Avengers comic ever published, every issue of Action Comics ever published, every issue of Batman up until the end of the Black Glove arc, every issue of the Spectre ever published, and every issue of any comic bearing the name Marvel Team-Up.
Just package these, print them, recolor them and go. I’ll buy them.
Marvel and DC have, it seems, recognized that people want to read all of their favorite superheroes’ comics but even now their digital comic softwares don’t let you buy ever single issue.
Why not? Despite seeming so making money is not a hard thing to do. If there’s a demand for something — supply it! Or else people will turn elsewhere, and in this case elsewhere is to the internet and delicious free torrents.
Over at theoatmeal, the titular comic creator has done a comic about this very thing as applying to the Game of Thrones. However with Game of Thrones, one day we might be able to buy all the seasons (and what a sweet day that shall be, filled with delicious watching of television and literally nothing else) I don’t have much faith that I’ll ever be able to buy the first comic that the Spider-Man fan club was in. Nor will I be able to collect the full MJ/Jonathon Ceasar arc. I won’t even be able to collect the issues (the sweet, sweet Micheline/Larson issues) with the second iteration of the Sinister Six — ’cause it’s not even fucking collected*.
So yeah, pirate comics. Not because it’s moral, free, or easy. But because at this point there’s basically nothing else you can do.
** Yeah, right. How many times has this happened? Let us count the ways.
* No, this is not the Revenge of the Sinister Six arc I here am making reference to. That comes later (and is by Erik Larson as a writer and artist). This is the Micheline comic that CBR’s Abandoned and Forsaken just made reference to: where the Sandman stands up to Doc Ock and is turned to glass. An awesome, awesome comic book with Doc Ock being for the first time a legit threat.
Note: there is actually a way to get a good amount of the Amazing Spider-Man on your computer and still pay for it. Awhile back Marvel released a few CD roms that had a bunch of comics on it. For instance this one has over 500 issues on it. It collects every ASM issue published through to the mid 2000s. As mentioned in the reviews however it is still a bit hard to read these without the other comic books being available to buy as well (for instance reading Kraven’s Last Hunt without the other four parts, reading Inferno going, “What the fuck, why did that Spidey balloon just try and eat New York?!” etc.) however that is not the main problem I have with these, nor is it the price. The main problem I have with these is that Marvel stopped creating them. It collects around five hundred but then there’s still two hundred more issues to go and there’s no other way to get them, really. And, though I used ASM as an example up there, I feel this problem applies to all older comic books.