Digital Comics Database: A Comics Prof’s Best Friend!

At the Comics Arts Conference this year, Greg Urqhart introduced Alexander Street Press’s Underground and Independent Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels database.  This is huge news for teaching comix.  It is an fully indexed and searchable collection of 75,000 pages of underground comix and independent comics, the complete full-text of the Comics Journal (more than 25,000 pages), as well as the complete transcripts of the senate subcommittee hearings that led to the Comics Code Authority and Mad Magazine.

This means that underground comix classes just became feasible in a way that they hadn’t previously.  Now, if other databases could follow up, we’d be all set.

Marvel’s Digital Comics Unlimited is already in place and could be used in this fashion.  A year’s subscription is $60, but a one-month subscription is $10.  If the Marvel comics you’re teaching are in this database, it would be possible to have students subscribe for one or two months; it would just take some creative syllabus construction.  But if you’re going to teach the Captain America story The Truth: Red, White, and Black, Marvel’s Digital Comics Unlimited is the best way to go since The Truth is not available in a trade paperback, but only in an expensive hardback edition.  If Marvel offered a library site license and expanded its offerings (or set up a request line for teachers so that you could submit suggestions to be added for the next semester), this would be a very workable solution to getting out of print books for class or for mitigating the cost of using a lot of trade paperbacks.

If DC did the same, and the independents followed suit–perhaps by combining their backlists into a big indy database, comics teaching would explode. Everyone would benefit.  The companies could monetize their backlist. With a site licenses, they’d have a steady institutional subscriber base.   The best selling paper titles (like Watchmen) could be kept out of the database. And this might cut down on scan piracy.
The benefits for comics scholars are obvious, both from a research perspective and from a teaching perspective–being able to assign exactly what we want to assign is fantastic, and the lower cost of the subscription makes it very doable in today’s financial climate (we have limits at my school regarding the total cost of the texts for each course, and this shapes our choices of material).  For universities, the benefit is that comics classes fill, so they can make up the subscription costs in tuition payments.
And all this circles back to the companies because students who read comics in class often turn into paying customers.
And we’ll just go out on the Beach Boy’s “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?”


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