Your Best Entertainment Value
Excerpt from ¡Journalista! for June 22, 2007
For the past couple of months now, I've made it a point of scouring various BitTorrent tracking sites devoted to pirated media, my aim being to get the pulse of the comics-downloading scene and see if I couldn't track a few of its current trends. While I haven't had the time to make a really thorough survey, I've now seen enough that I feel comfortable in offering a few notes:
- Most major "mainstream" BitTorrent tracking sites have a section or category devoted exclusively to comics torrents.
- Virtually every genre-oriented comics pamphlet is scanned and posted online within a day or two of its release in stores. This includes everything released by Marvel and DC, of course, bur also most of the material released by smaller publishers as well.
- There are piracy groups dedicated to hoovering up all of this stuff and releasing it all in packaged form, usually three to four days after New Comics Wednesday in comics shops. Put simply, this means that not only is virtually every genre comic available online, but that you can even download an entire week's Direct-Market offerings in a single torrent, if you so desire, sometimes measuring as much as 1.5GB in size
- The number of available torrents containing genre graphic novels and collections is growing, though not at the same rate as comics pamphlets. Collections in particular are rarely pirated unless they contain previously rare material, since it's otherwise far easier to simply batch the individual comics issues together and post them online instead. (In other words, you can easily find torrents containing every issue of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson's The Boys published to date, but if anyone's bothered to scan and post the first collected trade paperback, I've yet to see it.) Torrents of original genre-oriented graphic novels, however, are often released as quickly as are the pamphlets.
- The number of traders on the more popular torrents can number in the four figures. I don't recall seeing a comics torrent with as many as 10,000 leechers, but that may simply mean that I'm not looking in the right places. Even so: The sites I'm visiting only list how many people are on a given torrent at the moment; cumulatively, the total numbers for some files may well hit five figures.
- Given that hardcore fanboys are clearly the driving force for online comics piracy, non-genre comics are still relatively uncommon on torrent sites -- but not completely unheard of. I've found torrents for Daniel Clowes' Ghost World, the most recent issue of Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve, and Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg's The Plain Janes offered online in the past month. While these are the exceptions to the rule, the number of lit-comics being pirated would seem to be growing slowly.
- Porn comics are ubiquitous on torrent sites. You'll frequently see not only American English-language releases, but also untranslated Europorn and even collected amateur work that had originally been posted online.
- Wizard Magazine is routinely scanned and pirated, but appears to be the only magazine about comics currently getting the treatment. I have yet to find a copy of The Comics Journal via torrent, although I have a friend who swore that he'd seen it done a couple of years back.
- I've found exactly one webcomic collected into a torrent and pirated: Brooke McEldowney's Pibgorn, a strip that traditionally has only offered a month's archives online for free, with the rest of its archives available only for subscribers. That may or may not have something to do with it.
- The only manga scanlation that I've found nestled in with the big "everything recent" collected torrents is Hiroaki Samura's Blade of the Immortal, which is commonly inserted into one of the bigger weekly collections.
- Most comics offered as torrents are batched together in .cbr or (less commonly) .cbz files, which are basically .rar and .zip files that have been renamed to make them seem like dedicated formats. This stands in contrast to packages offered by manga scanlators, who overwhelmingly never bother to rename the files.
As implied earlier, I really haven't done enough searching to offer anything resembling authoritative insights or conclusions; the above is little more than a subjective snapshot based upon a limited sampling of BitTorrent sites. Still, I thought I'd throw this out there as food for thought.
Above, right: Graphic N©! 1991-1995 Negativland, from their book Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2.