Technology has changed the way comic books are created and read; but can digital comics ever replace the joys of reading comics in print?

There is something special in holding a comic book in hand, looking at every detail of an illustration and journeying with the larger-than-life characters, through their adventures. For comic book enthusiasts, comics offer a whole new, colourful fantasy world. But with times changing, and technology becoming important, for a while now we’ve seen how the world of comics has also been attracted by digital techniques and imagination. There is an increase in the number of new comics being created digitally, with print comics too being made available in their digital edition. Last weekend, Comic Con India, partnered with Readwhere.com, an online digital content marketplace, to organise the second edition of the free comic book weekend. Manish Dhingra, director and co-founder of readwhere.com says that the number of downloads increased from approximately 15,000, last year, to 30,000 this year. “Digital comics are easily accessible and cost effective. There is more variety in digital comics and more scope for adding animation and sound effects. From a sales and distribution point of view, digital comics are sometimes more cost effective than comic books in print,” says Manish. But can the experience of a digital comic book ever replace the joys of reading comics in print? Gokul Gopalakrishnan, a comics artist and a comic art researcher, agrees that the digital space offer a good platform for lesser-known artists to showcase their work. “But there’s one disadvantage. The digital version of original print comics is very different. The creation of a print comic — from the how the story is laid out to how drawings are cut and pasted, involves an entirely different process. I had created a comic on paper and on a tablet. And I found that despite it being the same work, the version on paper was very different from the one on the tablet. My imagination worked better on paper. I like the feel of the pressure of pen on paper.”

He adds that turning the pages of a comic book and scrolling up-and-down on a computer screen result in different cognitive experiences. “When a reader turns the page, they take a pause to take stock of what has happened and understand the story. You read a comic book back-and-forth and your eyes move to-and-fro across a page. You don’t see a full page on a tablet screen. The digital format, though, works for comic strips such as Peanut and Calvin and Hobbes.”

Jatin Varma, founder Comic Con India, says, “Unlike the United States, there are hardly any comic book stores in India, which affects distribution. We decided to go fully digital with free comic book weekend, all you need is a smart phone and a 3 G connection. This platform is beneficial for smaller publishers such as Chariot, Pop Culture publishing, Vimanika and Orange Radius,” says Jatin. But being a traditional comic book lover, Jatin says it’s a different experience all together of holding a comic book in hand and reading it. “I own a Kindle and an I-pad, but reading a comic on these devices diminishes the experience.”

Saumin Patel, an illustrator from Mumbai, says the difference between digital and print comics is as different as playing cricket on an app and playing cricket on the field. “Personally, I prefer reading comics in print. I like bound books that I can carry with me and keep with me. But I agree that readers are getting much more choice because of digital comics.”

Reema Roy, a copywriter, says she doesn’t quite mind the medium on which she reads comics. “I enjoy reading comic books and graphic novels. It’s true that nothing can replace the experience of reading comics in print, but digital comics have its advantages. They have special effects and are easily accessible.”