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Pow! Digital comics come into their own on tablets, laptops

Devouring your next favorite comic book or graphic novel used to mean settling in on your (pick age-appropriate furniture) rocking chair/bed/recliner with a (pick age-appropriate beverage) glass of milk/soda/cocktail and turning crinkly paper pages to make the story unfold.

While all of that remains true for most comics fans, others comics readers increasingly are augmenting their print routine with digital comics read on a tablet device or laptop.

But even as digital comics continue to become an increasingly popular option among readers, Southern Nevada comics fans, retailers and creators say that print comics remain the biggest sellers here and that digital and print comics are coexisting just fine.

Ralph Mathieu, who this year is celebrating his 20th anniversary as owner of Alternate Reality Comics, 4110 S. Maryland Parkway, says he began to notice customers becoming more involved in reading digital comics about three years ago.

Yet, he continues, comics stores here are “really healthy right now. In Las Vegas we have 15 comic stores and a pretty big comics community.”

Mathieu says that even as readers continue to embrace digital comics, comics in their more “tangible version are not going away.”

“I think people like to handle” printed books, says Mathieu, who knows many customers who sample digital editions of comics and then like the comics so much that they “want the print version.”

Also boding well for comics shops, Mathieu says, is that the shops function not just as retail stores but as gathering places and centers of community for comics fans.

Southern Nevada comics creator and publisher Pj Perez estimates that nine out of 10 of his readers “still prefer to get their stuff in print in a comics store.”

“I can tell you our digital sales have been pretty strong but, compared to print, it’s still one-tenth of print sales,” Perez adds. “But, that said, (digital is) growing.”

Perez expects more print-only readers to give digital comics a try as comics apps for tablets and electronic devices improve. He also foresees digital comics becoming, if not comics readers’ primary form of media, at least an adjunct to print.

“Lately, I, personally, have been reading a lot more digital comics, and, really, it’s just a matter of convenience,” he says. “I can go to the comiXology app on my phone and buy something for 99 cents and have it instantly on my device.”

Southern Nevadan Deborah Daughetee owns Kymera Press (www.kymerapress.com), which publishes two titles, including her own comic, “Gates of Midnight,” about a female combat veteran who “fights monsters on the streets of New York.”

“Gates of Midnight” is available in both print and digital versions, and Daughetee — who writes the comic under the name Debbie Lynn Smith — says she regularly meets fans at conventions who “saw the comic online and now want to buy a print version.”

“As a creator, I’m really happy to have both outlets,” she says. “They remain complementary forms. It’s not like a newspaper, where you don’t collect them, you throw them away when you’re done reading it. People like to collect comics.”

As a result, Daughetee says, “I think there will always be (print) comic books.”

The digital format also makes it easier for readers to discover new or unfamiliar comics, sometimes for free or at minimal cost. Katherine Keller, who writes about pop culture for the comics industry website Sequential Tart (www.sequentialtart.com), says that through such apps as comiXology — often described as the comics equivalent of iTunes — she can easily purchase and “try out something I normally wouldn’t.”

Keller — she and Mathieu are married — says that, for new comics readers, digital comics can serve as “a gateway” into comics.

For newcomers to comics or to a particular title, digital publishing also “allows a publisher to put their older back catalog out without committing to the amount of money it takes to print a new run, and that drives more interest in current comics,” Keller says.

Keller adds that she reads both print and digital comics, “but the digital comics are basically read on my computer.” And while some digital comics are created with the intention of being read online or on a device, others are, for good or bad, simply print comics that have been converted into a digital format.

“There are comics creators who have figured out what to do with putting comics on tablets,” Keller says, as well as “a lot of people who take that typical (print) comic page and size it down. But that doesn’t always work well.”

Perez says creating a comic for a digital medium requires creators to rethink the traditional page-and-panel convention that has become characteristic of print comics.

“From the creation-slash-publishing side, it’s hard because there are a lot of people who are still tied into the notion of ’€˜the page,’ and the page being this sort of overarching thing you design,” he says.

On a tablet, the ability to tap-and-enlarge individual panels can alter the reading experience itself, Perez adds, changing the way in which the reader encounters panels and advances through the story.

“It’s why, I think, a lot of creators are realizing that they have to shift their way of laying out a page to focus more on the panel content and less on the sort of overall page,” he says.

For artists and writers, creating digital or online comics can be a way of getting work directly to readers and prospective readers, negating the need to navigate the traditional print publishing hierarchy of publishers, distributors and retailers.

“I see younger people producing comics, sometimes even daily and posting it online for free,” says artist Deryl Skelton, who has been in the comics business for 42 years and whose work includes comic books, political cartoons and a syndicated newspaper strip.

Skelton says readers’ attitudes toward print versus digital comics may be, at least in part, “generational.”

Many younger readers are more accustomed to reading digitally, while older readers are more familiar with reading print. Print fans may be “collectors looking for sets,” Skelton says, or fans who simply enjoy such intangibles as “the smell of comics. It’s a visceral experience in addition to reading, and it’s actually holding it in your hand.”

“But as far as reading enjoyment,” Skelton says, “I don’t think there’s, probably, a whole lot of difference.”

Ultimately, readers may choose to use both print and digital comics in the ways that serve them best. That might mean catching up on digital back issues while collecting current copies in print, or sampling an unfamiliar title in digital form and buying established favorites in print, or simply enjoying the tactile experience of reading a print comic while also keeping a few digital favorites handy on a tablet in pocket or purse.

“I read both,” says Suzanne Scott, an organizer of the Vegas Valley Comic Book Festival, who says she likes the space-saving convenience digital titles offer and “the ability to carry (digital comics) with me.”

“I know a lot of people who just read (print), and I know people who do both,” says Scott, who expects print and digital comics to continue their beneficial coexistence for some time to come.

“I try to liken comics, in a way, to albums and music,” she says. “There’s always an audience for LPs. They never completely went away.

“I think there are always going to be readers who are going to want a physical comic book in their hand. But, then, it’s really nice to have that electronic version.”

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280. Find him on Twitter: @JJPrzybys

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