How comics downloading was born, a Streisand effect tale with a twist

In a 2007 ComicMix article, Glenn Hauman recounts the bizarre story of "Letitia Lerner, Superman's Babysitter," a comic story by Kyle Baker with Liz Glass that was spiked by DC Comics publisher and president Paul Levitz, who ordered the whole run of Elseworlds 80 Page Giant #1 spiked. The early shipments to Europe survived, though, and went viral on the Internet. When comics fans heard there was kick-ass Kyle Baker stuff to be had online, they learned, in great hordes, to use torrent sites and to decode CBR files — and a generation of new Internet comics downloaders was born. And even though the comic was never legally published, Baker won two Eisner awards for it and it was subsequently reprinted.

The point is that when the distribution system– and I mean the entire chain, from publishers to distributors to retailers — fails, a black market will pop up. It happened with this story. It happened when people couldn't get copies of Captain America #25. It's happening now with Miracleman, one of the more popular torrents out there, because it can't be brought back into print. It's happening in countries where legitimate versions aren't available yet, if ever — witness fan-subbed manga and anime, or Doctor Who episodes. It's happening more and more as publishers try to extract every last dime they can out of the existing fan base, placing themselves on the upper half of a Laffer curve.

And it's not going to get any better. But then, it never does, once you've shown them that sometimes, getting a copy online is the only way you're ever going to get to read it. Even if it's not strictly legal.

GLENN HAUMAN: Who made comics piracy big?