Yeah, print. I know, a stretch calling it cool, right? It’s bulky, inconvenient and doesn’t scream “FUTURE”. The printed “book” aspect of comics is something that everyone seems ready to just put in the back seat and forget. We want to move on, look toward better and brighter things and find a way to save a dying industry (note that I typed “industry” and not “medium”: the medium will always be, but the industry is a machine breaking down). Not saying that people are chanting, “Die, print! DIE!” I do not think anyone wants it wiped away and buried, but I do think people tend to look down on print at times. The promise and shine of digital seems to mesmerize the populace, so print just becomes this red-headed step child who is no longer as exciting and gets a bit overlooked.
Why though? Print has so much to offer still. On textile alone, it provides a physical weight. A great example is reading The New York Times in print versus digital.
We all read news online. The internet is now the vessel for the knowledge we consume. I easily spend twenty to thirty minutes a day between classes clicking links on Twitter, zipping my way across the internet cosmos reading blogs and news sites. I do it in hopes of learning something and making myself aware of events outside of my visual range. At first, it can be exciting. All of this info instantly. It’s just waiting for you. At some point though the feeling of it all slows down and suddenly all of what you read can blend together. The New York Times can start to look a lot like any other web page you read. Why? Because they are all web pages. They all have the text section, the ads on the top banner and sidebar, and the buttons to “Like” and “Tweet.” Sure, most print newspapers also carry a similar format of want ads, editorials and front pages, but print still manages to make itself special.
Web sites, at least to me, tend to just blend together after a while, and I think it is because web sites lack that physical weight print ever so seems to provide. Back to the New York Times reference, I do not enjoy reading it daily online because at this point reading from a screen feels so faceless while print kind of makes itself an event. When I pick up the Times in print, it does not feel like clicking another link. There is an action to it, an identity. You are reading THE New York Times. The paper’s coverage may be agreeable or disagreeable to you, but it is still a world famous paper that carries a huge reputation. And you feel that weight when you read a print copy of the paper. I like reading it that way. I read it to read The New York Times rather than just to consume information. The textile nature of the newspaper makes the experience enjoyable; it makes the Times feel like more of a work of art rather than a product presented by pixels. The words written by the journalists are all collected in this wonderful array of pulpy pages which are folded in a manner that resembles a possible type of architecture or origami. There is more to it than information and all of that comes through just when you pick it up. The weight. And all newspapers have their own physical weight, just as they do layout, writing styles and ink preferences. They are art works in a sense.
Comic books are similar. When I read comics on the screen, no matter the content, they all kind of read the same. I find myself having a hard time actually gathering a feel for a comic when I read it on the screen because I do not have a physical connection with the work. It’s just a progression of panels on a screen. There is no ID for it because it’s just another file or application or whatever. When I read a print comic though, I’m closer to the work. I do not feel the distance. The work is in my hands and actually feels like it matters. That is the key feeling of print: importance. Ideas that are presented in a textile format ultimately hold a stronger sense of realism. And not realism as in “Batman is real”, but realism as in the art, the writing, the point of the story being real. Print makes it all physically exist.
Plus, with a print comic, a reader can gather an extra aesthetic value. An artist can make print work to their advantage just by being selective of the paper quality they use, or by printing in different sizes. I would not want to read Orc Stain or King City digitally. I would loose the cardstock covers and pulpy paper of Orc Stain. The Golden Age format of King City would be lost. Those books, even though with great content, would just be more panels on the screen.
The print aspect is ultimately a part of the comic book. Where do you think the “book” comes from? The print angle and the staples are a part of the identity of comic books. It may seem like just a package, but the package can say quite a lot. It defines the look of the medium. When you think of CDs or Vinyl, does your mind not think of music? No matter the abundance of MP3 usage today, music will always be correlated to the visual look of a Vinyl Record or a Jewel Case just as comic books are synonymous with the tall pamphlet and the goofy ads. Print is not just the packaging or delivery system; print is a part of the comic book, a part of the art form.
With print being this cool and offering the possibilites of such gut punches of impact, why not keep it alive? Rather than following the likes of all other media, why not keep comics in print, keep them unique, keep them with an identity as the rest of the world goes to pixels. At some point, people grow tired of the computer monitor. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a media option that didn’t require a computer or internet connection? I feel so. I kind of hate the computer at the end of the day anyway. It’s work anymore, not leisure.