Comic books have always been a passion for Stephen Schleicher, interim chair of the Department of Informatics at Fort Hays State University. With a room of his home dedicated to them, he can be considered a guru of the genre. It is for this reason BBC radio contacted him for an interview on their podcast called "Pods and Blogs," which examines the evolving market of comic books and their conversion to a purely digital form.
Schleicher was interviewed as the executive producer of his Web site, www.majorspoilers.com, which examines pop culture and comic books. During the interview, he discussed the migration of comics from a primarily print medium to an all-digital format in the near future.
"Most comic companies are increasing their digital presence," said Schleicher. "The ease of use and greater accessibility of the digital medium will push the entire industry to the format within the next couple of years."
Online comic books have a profound impact on the industry. The cost of paper and ink have increased dramatically, causing the price to skyrocket. The digital format provides comics online at a cheaper price.
"i-Tunes has already started to carry quite a few comic books for only 99 cents," said Schleicher. "The lower cost will make comics more affordable and give readers more value per page."
"I used to be able to drive to Topeka, buy 10 or 15 comic books, fill up my gas tank and grab some McDonald's on the way home for around 20 bucks," said Schleicher. "Now comics cost $5 or $6 apiece, and that’s just not possible."
The online format helps newer comics get a foot in the door by providing easier access to readers and cutting production costs. It also reduces storage space necessary for larger collections and makes them easier to search through.
For all its advantages, online comic books also have downfalls.
"The biggest problem with online comics now is the lack of consolidated format," said Schleicher. "It's hard to get a good combination of screen size and readability in a format that is portable and convenient."
Some fans of the genre also point out that online comics remove the tactile appeal of browsing through comics and could mean the demise of mom-and-pop comic shops that were the proverbial candy store for youths like Schleicher.
"There are endless other possibilities for retail stores if the owners are willing to shift their focus," said Schleicher. "Action figures, T-shirts, novels and other merchandising items will still be available for retail sales."
Not considering the ups and downs of the format, the move to digital comics is one that FHSU has predicted.
"We have always stressed the concept of convergence here at FHSU," said Schleicher. "Whether in radio, print or television, we will see more online media in the future."
For more information about the BBC interview, look for the Aug. 25 episode of "Pods and Blogs" at http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/pods. For more information about Schleicher's Web site, visit http://www.majorspoilers.com.