EP0019: How to Legally Read Comics for Free

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Adam Graham discusses how to legally read comics for free. Legal sources for free comics include the library, library services such as Hoopla, Overdrive, and Comics Plus. Also, there is NetGalley and Comixology has a free comics selection.


Do you want to read comic books and graphic novels for free? We’ll tell you how, straight ahead.

Welcome to the Classy Comics Podcast where we search for the best comics in the universe. From Boise, Idaho here is your host, Adam Graham.

Today is one of those non-review shows where we take a look at a topic that’s really worth pursuing. There are a lot of people who like comics and superheroes and sci-fi franchises, but they can’t afford to read as many books as they might like. And this episode is going to show you legal ways, and I want to underline that, legal ways to read comics for free. Now, of course, there are people out there who will pirate anything, but I strictly discourage that. As somebody who writes things and does podcast, it is just not appropriate to violate copyright law and I completely and utterly discourage that. It also can hurt the production of new works, particularly with lesser known comics. Though it should be said that many methods of reading comics for free don’t necessarily put money into the pockets of companies and creators either. But some of them do and we’ll discuss that as we go.

The first and most obvious way to read comics for free, and we’re talking about physical books, is through your local library. Most libraries with any size have a good collection of comic books and graphic novels that are onsite and that you can go and check out. Personally, I rarely go through the stacks – I use the online catalog and place the books on hold that I’d like to read. If I’m in a medium-size city like Boise, this helps because I can have everything shipped to my particular branch library. Now, if you want to read a book your library doesn’t have there are a couple ways to go about it. The first is you can request that your library order the book. This way not only do you get to enjoy it, but so do other people; plus it also can help the publishers of the comic books get some revenue from the book being purchased by the library.

Another option – and often this only applies to older books, usually at least a year old perhaps, even more so depending on your branch – is to place an interlibrary loan request where the library will try to borrow the book you’re requesting from somewhere else in the country. I had a lot of success at giving some pretty rare graphic novels that I couldn’t find anywhere else online or I could only find online at a big premium – though it’s not always successful. I would suggest if there is a space for it to include the ISBN number, because there are some comic book titles that are very similar to other ones. In addition, do keep in mind when it comes to borrowing from other libraries that you may have less time to read it than a book that you get from your own library. So, if you’re putting in a request for a thousand page novel, be sure that you’re actually going to have time to read it, because you may only have a couple weeks unless they’re able to get it renewed.

Of course the big downside with library books is that they have been handled a lot, and particularly if you read an all-ages title, some of the younger of those all-ages readers may have done some things to the book. It’s particularly popular for kids to decide, ‘Hey, we’ll cut the cover for the comic out of the book’ – even it has a page of story on the other side. That doesn’t happen all the time but just be aware that’s a possibility, and remember at the same time if it happens, at least you got the book for free. And parents don’t raise kids to cut the pages out of graphic novels they get from the library. That caution said, we’re going to turn from physical books to electronic comic books and graphic novels.

I can understand how some traditionalists may rebel at that, reading on a digital reader. I think there are some benefits: the first is space – it takes up less space in your home or apartment; it’s portable, more so than an actual book; and there’s also a little bit of discretion. If you’re an adult and you’re reading a graphic novel somewhere and you’re self-conscious about it, it’s much easier to be reading it on a tablet where, unless somebody is rudely staring over your shoulder you can’t tell what’s being read. Now there are various readers out there, probably the prime one in terms of popularity is the iPad which is a bit expensive. If you’re on a budget I highly recommend the Kindle Fire; and if you’re going to be using any library apps I personally would recommend looking at the Kindle Fire 8 at least, or if you’re listening to this at another point in history, something that’s got at least 16GB on it. My wife has Kindle Fire with 8GB, and she…when she downloaded these reader apps she kept having to delete them just because there wasn’t room for it on the Fire. So if you’re going to download a reader app and to use them to view comics, I recommend getting at least the Kindle Fire 8, something with 16GB of storage on it.

So what are some of these library-based apps – and remember, not every library has them. The best one is Hoopla. Hoopla has a massive collection of graphic novels. It has a huge amount of DC Comics material on there, particularly every single DC Rebirth book is on Hoopla. And they’ve recently added Marvel Comics. It’s a bit more specialized – they have some older storylines, but a lot of their newer collections, as well as stuff that focuses on the Black Panther. But the DC stuff is just exquisite – they have so many of the newer collections including The Flash, Wally West, the ’90s Supergirl, they also have several Legends of the Dark Knight, collection of Black Lightning, just a great deal of archive material plus they have some quirky comics from independent companies. Some stuff I’ve read, other stuff I’ve been meaning to check out such as Omnibus Collection of William Shatner’s Tech Wars Comics. They also have so much more of some classic novels that aren’t in the public domain but are kind of rare and lesser known, as well as a lot of Disney movies, Disney Channel originals, and some of the Disney output from the ’70s and ’80s that’s perhaps not as well collected. Quite a variety of music…it’s really an impressive app. Let me tell you how impressed I am with Hoopla as an app.

Again, I don’t have affiliate relationships with any company we’re talking about on this podcast, but my library discontinued the use of Hoopla. I ended up getting a library card with a library that has access to Hoopla and takes out-of-State applications. That’s just how much use I got out of the app. One of the big benefits of Hoopla is that everything in the catalogue is available to check out. Other e-book services have it where it’s like you go to the library, they have in their digital library they have one copy of this book, and when it’s checked out you can’t check it out. Hoopla you can check out anything on their catalogue. The downside with Hoopla is that you do have a monthly limit as to how many you can check out. At my library here is Boise, the limit was five items. For the library that I’m now going through Hoopla for the limit is eight items.

Overdrive and Access 360 are also two e-book providers. They’re better known for their e-books, but they do have some graphic novels. In both cases their coverage is a bit spotty. For example, in Boise The Overdrive has The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries, and then mostly a lot of random manga titles – pretty obscure stuff, though I will say that I found The Shadow Hero through the Overdrive app in Boise and that is just an excellent, excellent graphic novel. The one in the other city they had a lot of Marvel Adventure books which were kid-friendly versions of the Marvel superhero stories from the early 2000s, and also a bunch of random manga. And in the middle of that they had the super Wonder Woman Year One trade paperback with Volume Two of the Wonder Woman Rebirth story. Access 360 is the same thing; though they tend just to be very much into indie comics or minor companies, they have the first volumes of the Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctor comic through Titan, which are about two or three years old at this point. And again, lots of random Japanese comics.

Another one that many libraries have is the Comics Plus library edition. Comics Plus actually has a very massive database. The library edition has access to a massive number of comics and graphic novels. All I would say almost everything outside of Marvel and DC. You’ve got Dark Horse, and you’ve got IDW, and you have Boom, which means you can read things like Star Trek, Back to the Future, Serenity, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, GI Joe, Big Nate, Archie. Now the downside of this particular website is that it’s app doesn’t work particularly well. The library that I go through, I’m able to sign in with my library card number and pin, and they say you don’t have to create a User Name. That’s great, except their app only works if you enter the Username. If you try and enter the library card number and PIN on the app you end up not being able to sign in. So, if your library uses that option where you don’t have to create a Username then you can only read these comics actually sitting there, looking at the website – which, because my back isn’t the greatest in the world, I don’t want to spend hours sitting down to read comics.

So, even though I have access to it and it looks like there are a lot of great titles, I have not really utilized this site because of the faulty nature of the app. Now there may be other library services I’m not familiar with, but I think that’s a good list and there are a couple other things I want to cover that are outside the library. Doesn’t require a library card or you getting a card with a library that will allow you to get a non-resident card. And I should mention, you should make sure that the library you’re getting your non-resident card through has the services you’re going to want to read. Libraries that I am aware that issue non-resident card: the Brooklyn Public Library in New York, the Charlotte Mecklenburg County Library in North Carolina, the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Maryland, the Fairfax County Virginia, the Free Library of Philadelphia, the New Orleans Public Library, and the Orange County Public Library System in Florida. Those all charge fees, and to be honest, the Orange County Public Library Systems is pretty far out of line. Also the Houston, Texas Public Library.

Ok. On to non-library sources and we have Netgalley. Now Netgalley is a site set up for publishers to provide books in advance to readers, and there are quite a few graphic novels that get released there. You can sign up for a Netgalley account and you can download a book and read it and review it. Some books you can just click the Download button and you can just read it just like that. Others you have to put in a request form. All of DC Comics books, except for like graphic novel guides, are things that you have to request, and most DC Rebirth titles end up coming out on Netgalley before they’re available anywhere else, so you can read them in advance if you’re approved. So, you might try reviewing some of the non-mainstream comics material. It is important, if you do go through netgalley.com that you actually go ahead and write the review, because that way you’re giving something to the company, and again, write an honest review. If you don’t like it, write it. I wrote a negative review of a book through DC Comics and it has not impacted me getting future titles. So, I encourage you write honest reviews, and be sure and write the review because, if the program’s not working then publishers won’t put the books out and it just runs things for everyone.

There are also a lot of people who have Amazon Prime memberships, and what they may not know is that there are actually comics that they can read for free with their Prime membership through the Prime Reading option. Now this is not the Kindle Unlimited program or the Kindle Owners Lending Library where you can borrow one title a month. This is a selection of books – right now it’s about a thousand that as a Prime Member you can read, you can download and have it sent to your Kindle. It may also work on the iPad but I don’t have one so I can’t speak for that for certain; but if you’re out of a Kindle you can download it onto your Kindle. And among these thousand books there are several digital comics. Most of these are Marvel books, including a couple three Star Wars titles. As of this recording there’s also a focus on Hulk and Thor since they were in the Thor Ragnarok movie, and they haven’t reset things to Black Panther yet over there. But I’m sure those will change over time. There are also a few indie books that you can download and read with that Prime reading program. As of this recording date you can go under the Your Account heading, click on Your Prime Membership and there listed will be Prime Reading. And you just follow the link and you sort the books so you see the graphic novels. Of course, you can read anything else there that you’d like for free as well.

Finally, I’ll mention that Comixcology, K-O-M-I-X-C-O-L-O-G-Y.com has a selection of free comics. Be right on top the Free button. That link is now in the right hand sidebar, you click on Free Comics. Now, these are not complete graphic novels with one exception: usually these are either samples or they are the first Issue with twenty or twenty-two pages of a book in there. You can try out the series for free, but these are the sort of things that are meant to whet your appetite so that you’ll buy more. So I would recommend sampling these only if you’re in a market to get one or if you are thinking that you could order the trade through your local library.

Alright, well that is all for today. I hope this has been helpful to you and that you’ve found some new methods where you can enjoy some great comics at no cost to you, and we will be back with a regular review episode next time. In the meantime send your comments to classycomicsguy@gmail.com, and check out our website classycomicsguy.com, and follow us on Twitter @classycomicsguy. From Boise, Idaho this is your host, Adam Graham, signing off.

One thought on “EP0019: How to Legally Read Comics for Free”

  1. Thanks for the tips on reading comics for free. I’m lucky enough to live within a short walking distance from my branch of our county library, so I often browse the shelves of the graphic novel and comic trade paperback section there, and sometimes check out the county-wide online catalogue. I also have Comixology on my Kindle Fire, and I really like their “Guided View” feature, which lets me read panel-by-panel, a help to these old eyes. I will be looking for the Hoopla app you mentioned, and look into getting a non-resident library card from the Philadelphia library, since I live just outside that fine city. I’m very glad you talked about these things, and gave the pros and cons of various methods.
    Stay classy!

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