While perusing the ComicBin Twitter feed I found this article by Russ Burlingame over at ComicBook.com. He brings up an interesting drawback to comics hosted in the cloud like the service we offer here at ComicBin, which is the ability of the publisher to retroactively make changes to the comics. In this particular case it appears the DC has tried to remove the Stephanie Brown version of Batgirl from a fun Halloween comic (though Bleeding Cool seems to question exactly what the timeline of events was and if there was as significant a change). It sounds to me like Russ is saying that making changes to comics you’ve already purchased is an entirely bad thing. I think in a case like this, perhaps he is right. However, I think that the ability to update and changes comics in the cloud makes the medium better overall.
Have you ever read a comic that has a spelling mistake? Or perhaps the letterer got mixed up and the dialog becomes confusing? Maybe someone’s hair color changes between pages? A wound magically heals between panels?
All of these minor mistakes can and do happen in publishing and they aren’t just limited to comics. It can greatly diminish the enjoyment of the story. These are problems that digital comics in the cloud don’t have to live with forever. Corrections and revisions can be made whenever they are found, even if it is days, months, weeks or years later. Book publishers release updated and corrected versions of books all the time, it seems odd that comic books should be exempt from the same treatment.
Now, this isn’t to say that wholesale rewriting of a book would always be a good thing. However, if you think about a ret-con, that’s exactly what they are doing. A scene from a previous issue is replayed in a new issue with minor, or perhaps major, changes to what the reader believed was happening in the earlier issue. Cloud based digital comics could take this one step further and rather than having the ret-con happen in the current issue, the old book could be altered to remain cohesive with the current storyline. Purists might cringe at altering a Lee/Kirby story in this way, but new readers who are just picking up these stories for the first time can have enjoy a streamlined, sensical version of events without having to consult the internet to figure out what happened.
Cloud comics have the ability to provide a much richer, deeper experience by integrating additional information that can’t easily be done in print and that is hard to keep up to date in content that is downloaded one time to the user’s device. This is where digital cloud based comics can really shine.
Instead of replacing the old panels and printing new editions and pretending it was always this way, cloud comics can give the interested viewer all of the different versions. You can see the original version of the story. You can see the ret-con done to support some major new direction for a character. You can see the ret-con of the ret-con (yes, these have happened). The publisher and the editors can include notes about why the change was made so that the fans can see some of the workings of the industry.
As Uncle Ben was fond of saying, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The problem isn’t the ability of publishers and editors to go back and make changes to their universe, the problem lies in whether or not they use this power responsibly.