Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #3 by Drew Barth

JUMP for Me

My first major foray into print comics was with Shonen Jumpwhen I was about twelve years old. It wasn’t hard to tempt me with the first issue of it I saw at a CVS—the Yu-Gi-Ohcover and free card on the inside was enough. But, mainly just wanting to get that free Yu-Gi-Oh card because I wasn’t a great child, I flipped through multiple chapters of manga I’d never seen before out of curiosity. Shonen Jumpis where most teens and twenty-somethings were first exposed to manga due to its ubiquity in our lives. This is Dragon Ball, Naruto, One Piece, etc. Nearly everything we’d watch on Toonami after school came from this magazine.

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But times change. Shonen Jump in America stop publishing physical volumes, moved to all digital, came back to physical for a brief period, and is now utilizing a new kind of distribution platform. It’s all digital again, but works on subscriptions along with buying individual volumes. Everything that Shonen Jump ever put out in English is now available on their online portaland app to read for a fee of $2 a month. Not only that, but new chapters are being released every week, day and date of the Japanese release, for free without paying the monthly fee. And that’s massive for two important reasons.

  1. There’s an old quote that essentially says that to end piracy of media, it must be easier for the consumer to get things legally than illegally. It’s the main reason why Game of Thrones is consistently one of the most pirated TV show every year. And this goes double for print material like comics and manga. Most western publishers have found ways to make things easier through the use of Comixology as a digital service for comics, but manga never really had this same kind of platform. A volume or chapter of a series would come out and it could take actual decades for it to get translated into English and put on sale. That barrier essentially disappears now.
  2. This is a new avenue for receiving comic content that directly competes with DC Universe, Marvel Unlimited, and ComiXology Unlimited. But what makes this one different from most of the others is that this is just the comics. No live-action shows, no movies, no merchandise discounts. The new Shonen Jump is simple, cheap, and precisely what it advertises: everything they’ve ever put out in America for reading right now.

When looking at DC and Marvel’s own digital platforms, it’s odd to me that they don’t do something similar. Marvel and ComiXology are the closest with curated lists of popular characters and story lines with all of the current issues available and older ones being added, but then they don’t have everything. DC Universe has a glut of content, from old Batman TV shows to Batman animated movies to the new Teen Titans show that has Robin. They’re banking on Bats. But still, in terms of raw comic content, there’s still a lot (of Batman) missing.

If I had these services and wanted to read every issue of Spiderman or Batman or Captain America or Wonder Woman, I wouldn’t be able to. And the different services try to work around that by showing curated content or specific runs they feel are the most relevant. Or, in DC’s case, shows and movies to supplement what’s missing. But if I wanted to read the entirety of Dragonball right now, I could. Admittedly, these manga aren’t as old as Batman or Spiderman, but still, if I went crazy and wanted to read all seven hundred chapter of Naruto, there’s nothing stopping me now.

Shonen Jump does have a smaller base of printed material to put out there compared to DC and Marvel, I know this, but them putting everything out for incredibly cheap is astounding. No publisher of comics has made their material available in this way before and I can only hope that this helps to set more of a precedent for others to at least attempt getting more of the comic material out that their readers want.

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drew barth

Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.