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As people discuss the future of digital comics, debating what the future holds, an important segment gets forgotten: CD- and DVD-ROM collections.
A minor market segment, these box sets offer what most fans are clamoring for: ownership of the actual file instead of an app, affordable comics (even at $50, the per-comic cost is usually below twenty-five cents), and extras which turns these collections into electronic omnibuses.
However, due to sticker shock, and the experience of reading these comics on a horizontal screen, many fans have been reluctant to purchase these collections. Which means that now, as the digital marketplace transitions to apps and browser-based readers, these older CD- and DVD-ROM collections are being sold at clearance prices.
So, dear readers, in these challenging economic times, we offer you this bargain bin listing of select titles found on Amazon.com. We make no money from directing you to these forgotten gems, and, as with anything on the web, caveat lector et emptor.
First, we present three early CD-ROMs. CD-ROM drives became standard computer hardware sometime around 1989, around the time that Matt Groening’s “Life In Hell” characters were endorsing Apple Macintosh computers. However, most computers could barely process the video and graphics required, and early CD-ROM software was rather primitive. Among early publishers, one stands out for comics fans: The Voyager Company. Just as this company pioneered laserdisc (and later DVD) media with their Criterion Collection, so too did they aggressively pursue the computer market.
The most visible title that I remember actually seeing was
Not only did this CD-ROM contain the actual book, but also: preliminary sketches (which show that Art Spiegelman used color markers), notes, archival photos and footage, audio interviews with Vladek Spiegelman, and video footage of Art Spiegelman in Poland. It is rich in material, the equivalent of a Criterion laserdisc.
An actual documentary, Comic Book Confidential remains an amazing work, interviewing an all-star cast of industry giants and underground pioneers, presenting the history of comics up to the late 1980s. Still available as a DVD, Voyager released a
as well. I suspect much of what was on the computer disc is also found on the DVD, although the comics pages might be better viewed on a computer.
The third and final title is probably the most ambitious. Originally a CD composed by the multimedia and avant-garde collective known as The Residents, Freak Show later became a play, a graphic novel (including a limited edition hardcover), and a
The CD-ROM is interactive, not linear, and the comic tells the stories featured on the soundtrack. So it’s part motion comic, part video game, part concept album, part performance art…from 1995. Which is to be expected when one experiences The Residents. They produced two other CD-ROMs, one of which is an actual game.
So, that’s the prehistory of the field, as far as ROMs are concerned. (Marvel’s Questprobe deserves a footnote, at least.) If you seek these out, be aware that you will need to do some digital trickery to get these to run on modern operating systems like OS X and Windows 7.
Now, having given an overview, here’s the meat and potatoes: Actual digital collections, all produced in the past decade. It is unlikely we’ll see more of these, as publishers realize the gold mine to be made by selling single issues online. Pick them up now… some out-of-print titles are already selling on Amazon for $200 or more! If you want to search, try this, or search the entire Amazon site by keyword. Some are categorized under Software, some under Movies & TV.
Marvel was the first to market a collection of computerized comics, in 2003, with
Marvel Comic Book Library Vol. 1. (List Price: $29.99 Price: $19.99)
This CD-ROM contains 100 issues, featuring the first ten stories of ten of Marvel’s greatest heroes. While not all of the software features were activated, I do recall being able to zoom in to almost microscopic scale and not see any pixelation. Were the graphic files restored after scanning? It’s possible… all of these comics are early Marvel titles. For you colorists out there, users are able to remove the colors, which is probably another feature from the original files, as Marvel would use the line art to produce their Essential volumes.
Marvel would later issue smaller, single title CD-ROMs for each character, containing the ten issues available in this collection.
Marvel has issued three other series:
- Complete collections, usually PDFs scanned directly from actual comics, with few features, for example.
- “100 Digital Comics” from Allegro/GIT, such as this
- various licensed computer programs.
I tested the “Avengers: The Old Order Changeth” DVD-ROM, one of the Allegro titles, which contains Avengers Volume 3, 1-84, 500-503, New Avengers 1-25, and annuals from 1998-2001. These are scans from the magazines, which means that they include the advertising, letter columns, and everything else. On my 16-inch monitor, full screen, the PDFs actually fit at 109% of the original scan. Some of the lettering was hard to read (it’s not aliased), but I had no problem reading it on my monitor, which shows two-pages horizontally. The issue is not loaded automatically when opened, instead the computer accesses each image individually, which takes some time. Since the issues are nothing more than photos, Adobe Reader’s search function is useless. The menus are easy to navigate, and each selection opens in a new window, making for easy shifting between windows. Oh, the comics? Busiek, Johns, Bendis, Perez, Cho… and some good epic storytelling (I read the Kang arc… excellent)!
There are also discs for the Fantastic Four (1998-2007) and Uncanny X-Men (1999-2006). These are all DVD-ROMs, and while the image is locked, the pages can be printed. Which means you could print to an iron-on transfer (but the image would be reversed). What’s that? You don’t like superhero comics? You say they’re too violent for young kids? Not a problem!
Archie Bronze Age Series $19.99, now $3.99
Jughead Bronze Age Series $19.99, now $2.99
Betty and Veronica Bronze Age Series $19.99, now $3.99
Ten years (1970-1979), 120 issues for the cost of a single modern issue! Every page reprinted.
Too sexy? Or you want some comics from DC?
Scooby-Doo Classic Comics $9.99, now $8.80
Twenty Gold Key classics from the early 1970s, fully printable, with all those wonderful advertisements not found in other comics, all on one CD-ROM!
Classic Looney Tunes Comics $9.99, now $2.99
Twenty Gold Key classics from the mid1970s, fully printable, with all those wonderful advertisements not found in other comics, all on one CD-ROM! (Petunia Pig! Sniffles! A talking Road Runner and his kids!)
Like the old Gold Keys, but want something more mature? Or perhaps you want a collection of comics from a variety of publishers, like Marvel, DC, Malibu, and IDW? Not a problem…
Star Trek: The Complete Comic Book Collection $29.99, now $6.99
(Best deal… over 500 issues!)
Star Trek – Movie Comic Book Collection $9.99, now $2.99
Only 26 comics.
Or perhaps you want something immature?
Absolutely MAD Magazine – 50+ Years $44.99, now $39.99 (cheap!)
Over 600 complete issues! Fold-ins which fold themselves! Full text searching! Hyperlinked table of contents! You can even enlarge the marginals to save your eyesight! All the print premiums (stickers, posters, Sunday funnies) and some video extras!
Want something immature, but smarter?
National Lampoon $44.99, now $19.74
Everything is scanned. Lots of great comics (including the photo funnies), and lots of trailblazing humor. (Trailblazing, like Sherman through Georgia.) 246 issues, every page. Who cartooned for the Lampoon? Gahan Wilson, Vaughn Bode, Bruce McCall, M.K. Brown, Shary Flenniken, Bobby London, Edward Gorey, Joe Orlando, Arnold Roth, Sam Gross, Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo, Stan Mack, and some guy named Neal Adams.
So,what would you like to see on a DVD-ROM? Myself, I want Playboy to replicate the New Yorker’s cartoon collection… a big book of the best cartoons, with a DVD-ROM containing all the cartoons! Seeing as how the 1950s DVD-ROM of the magazine sold badly, I expect we’ll never see this…