DISCLAIMER: Trouble City does not condone the illegal download of digital comic books. Always purchase your comics from legitimate means.
The Digital Revolution is Here!
Digital comics books have exploded on the scene in recent years. With advances in mobile devices, purchasing and reading your favorite and long-sought-after comics is easy as the push of a button. Fans have been able to get access to thousands of back issues going back as far as 70 years. Comics that have never been reprinted, or are nearly impossible to get a hold of unless you are willing to spend big money. Another benefit of digital comics is that these stories are in high definition and in pristine quality.
Also, it's a means of combatting the illegal download of comics.
The Dark Web of Digital Comics
Comic books suffer from the same forms of piracy as music, movies, and television shows. For almost 20 years there has been an underground movement of pirated comic books. For the most part, these are scans of print editions that are put online. They are quite inferior quality due to the age and condition of some of the material that has been scanned.
Part of the reason for legal digital editions is to provide affordable, high quality, versions of these old and hard-to-find comics. This is done through individual purchases through ComiXology or a subscription service like Marvel Unlimited . The industry is providing a service so that avid readers do not have to resort to illegal means to obtain the material they are looking for.
Part of the whole selling point is that the legitimate sources are supposed to be selling a superior version of the product at an affordable price. Why shell $500 for a rare VHS tape when you can download a high-definition version for $5.99 when all you want to do is watch the movie?
The whole point is that the legitimate source should have a higher standard of quality that outweighs the enticement to download the content illegally.
DC Comics releases their digital comics through ComicXology. Every Wednesday they release the new comics, followed by digitized back issues on Thursday. As I do a lot of articles about comics, I often use these sources to download material for my research.
As one would expect, DC Comics put out a lot of digital releases on throughout the month of June to coincide with the release of the Wonder Woman film . These releases included back issues of Sensation Comics, Comics Cavalcade, and Wonder Woman. Usually, these digital editions are available for a few bucks each. A great alternative to spending a ton of money on the original comics, or DC's expensive Archive Editions. 99% of the time, these digital editions are also remastered so they are pristine and legible, and with all the printing flaws of the era and ravages of time removed that plague their printed counterparts.
This week I was working on a writing assignment for Trouble City about Wonder Woman, and this digital release was just what I was looking for to find images. However, when I looked at the offerings, something looked a little... off...
If you look at the top right, they have a digitally reproduced copy of the cover of Comic Cavalcade #1 . It looks like the level of quality you'd expect from a digital reprint. However, down in the release section, the cover looks like garbage.
It certainly doesn't seem worth the $0.99 price tag.
Something didn't look right, and the quality of the Comics Cavalcade thumbnails looked pretty familiar.
Pirated Comics 101
I've been part of the comic book community on the internet for two decades. For anyone who is a long time fan, you know a bootleg scan of a comic book when you see one. Particularly ones from the 1940s. In a lot of those cases, the bootleggers were able to scan microfiche copies of these comics.
For those of you that are too young to remember microfiche, it was a means of photographing publications and putting the pages on small pieces of film that you could then magnify with a viewer. Think of it as the great-grandfather to the tablet you're probably reading this article on.
These were especially useful in libraries that would create microfiche of publications in order to increase their selection while also protecting publications that were rare or valuable, yet still make them available to the general public. Some libraries that used these systems, microfiche a lot of old comic books from the 1940s and 50s.
In the early days of comic book piracy, microfiche was one of the ways that bootleggers were able to get access to older comics. Scans of microfiche were easily noticeable due to the fact that they had a blue tinge to them due to the scanner light reflecting off the microfiche. They were often muddy, or illegible. To put it nicely: They looked like crap. You had to want to read a comic book pretty badly if you were going to strain your eyes with a scan of a microfiche.
Remember the blue tinge I mentioned? Well if you look at the thumbnails of the comics for sale, you'll notice that some of them have that weird tinge to them. That was my eureka moment when I realized that these "digital releases" looked off.
So, I paid for a copy of Comic Cavalcade #1 and then I hunted down an illegally scanned one. (Note: I will not divulge my source, as I do not want to encourage or readers an avenue of downloading illegal content) Then I compared the covers. See for yourself:
On the left is the "digital edition" being sold on ComiXology right now for $0.99. On the right is an illegal scan that has been in circulation since August of 2005! These covers are nearly identical. The only difference being that the "official" DC release scrubbed the cover price (which is the standard practice for digital editions).
But the similarities don't even stop there, comparing both reveal similar identical images
I checked random issues from this digital release from Sensation Comics and Wonder Woman to see if this was the same across the board. It was.
Once again, on the left, the copy you can purchase right now from ComiXology and on the right, an illegal scan.
What's the Big Deal?
I know what some of you are thinking, what's the big deal if people are only spending less than a dollar for these through ComiXology?
Well, DC Comics has had a history of going after comic book piracy for years. It strikes me as kind of odd that they, in turn, would download something that was illegally duplicated, especially something of inferior quality, make some minor alterations and sell it to the public. What's more of a big deal is the fact that they are charging the same price for other comics from that era that they have digitally re-mastered. It's like Levis taking a Chinese knock-off and selling it as an official product.
Looking at the first page on each of these comics DC Comics has added "This DC comic book reflects the sensibilities and language of the time in which it was first published. This content is reprinted without alteration for historical reference" Is this their justification for doing nothing to digitally reproduce these comics? That doesn't really explain why they would just pull illegal copies off the internet. Don't they have their own copies of these comics that they can scan and put online?
What's clear to me, is that DC Comics realizes that there is money to be made off these old Wonder Woman stories, but didn't want to put the time and effort into giving the customer a better alternative to an illegal download.
The Other Side of the Story
In fairness, I decided to reach out to both ComiXology and DC Comics directly and ask them to provide their side of the story regarding these matters. So I decided to reach out to them.
Here's my message (edited for brevity):
I had just recently purchased some of the Wonder Woman reprints that were released through ComiXology and I noticed that they are of pretty poor quality.... Upon closer inspection, I saw that these "digital editions" are actually nothing more than scans of original comic books or microfiche.... I have seen many blogs and fansites that crop images from illegal scans found on torrent sites and the like. Out of curiosity, I decided to hunt down and compare a copy of Comics Cavalcade #1 that I had purchased and compared it to an illegal copy that can be found on the internet.... both the official and bootlegged copies are identical. Both copies are microfiche scans and they both have identical imperfections. The bootleg I was able to find was created in 2005 (based on the file creation date) My question is this: Why would DC Comic.... take a comic that was illegally scanned and repackage it for legitimate consumers for the same price as a comic book that has been digitally remastered?
Comixology was the first to respond to my inquery as follows:
Okay, so Comixology only distributes what DC Comics sends them. Fair enough. At the time of this writing, we have yet to receive a response from DC Comics. Each week they continue to release old Wonder Woman comics that are repackaged illegal scans.