Donny Cates may be known as The Bad Boy of Comics, but he's not bad in the way a Thanos or Carnage is. He's more like The Fonz, "bad" in the Michael Jackson song sense, but with a strong moral code, and he looks great in a motorcycle jacket.
Case in point: when Cates was tagged into an argument justifying comics piracy, Cates was quick to respond with a strong anti-stealing message:
And as comics piracy was a topic of conversation throughout comics Twitter this weekend, Cates continued to opine on the subject.
And he wasn't going to be swayed by any argument.
Nor by moral compromise.
Cates points out, rightfully, that there are ways to read comics for free without pirating them.
And let's take a moment here to talk about them. First of all, and most importantly, there's your local library. Not only is your library likely to have a lot of trade paperbacks, but if it doesn't have the ones you're looking for, you can ask a library to order them. Many libraries also offer digital options, and one of those options is Hoopla, essentially a Netflix-like app where library patrons authenticate using their library card at a participating library. Of course, the comics in libraries still require funding, either from taxes or donations, so it's important even for those who can afford to buy every comic they read to support their local library if they can. Sure, we could get into a discussion about whether there's a conflict between the public service provided by libraries and the needs and desires of unrestricted capitalism, such as Marvel parent company Disney's multi-decade one-corporation war on the public domain, but that's a topic for another time perhaps, and if supporting a corporation like Disney is a moral issue for you, surely you feel strongly enough about it to simply not read their comics at all.
But we digress. The point is, there are a lot of ways you could read comics for free or for significantly cheaper without stealing them, so long as you're willing to get a little creative. You could borrow comics from a friend. You could post an ad on craigslist to form a reading group where you pool your money to purchase comics with a group of friends that you all take turns reading. You could become a comics "journalist" and creators and publishers will give you lots of comics for free in hopes you'll write about them. You could get a Marvel Unlimited or DC Universe or Comixolgy Unlimited subscription for less than the cost of three monthly comic books or a single trade paperback and read all the comics you want. If you can afford internet access to pirate books, then switch your service provider to Metro by T-Mobile (in the United States), which offers a free Amazon Prime subscription as a perk, which would give you access to all those ComiXology Unlimited books. Perhaps some of our readers outside the United States can provide some more localized suggestions in the comments. If you have money for comics but feel they're just too expensive (which would not at all be an outrageous viewpoint), you could use a service like DCBS where you can pre-order them for a little more than half the price. That's where we personally get all of our comics because they tend to be able to get them on our doorstep the fastest due to geographic proximity, but you can find similar deals at MyComicShop (which is also a great place for back issues) and Midtown Comics. DCBS has a sister-site called InStockTrades that offers a similar discount on trade paperbacks.
If all else fails, you can always sit criss-cross-applesauce on the floor of a Barnes and Noble and read the comic right in the aisle. Yes, you are technically still "Byrne-stealing" the comic in that scenario, but if they didn't want you to read things in the store, they wouldn't put chairs everywhere and sell coffee and croissants.
Back to Cates and his friends.
Cates points out that he grew up poor (no surprise since his father, Joe Quesada, abandoned him to pursue a comics career), and yet he managed not to steal.
Like all good Twitter rants, Cates knew when it was time to wrap things up.
And also like all good Twitter rants, he kept going after that.
Including retweeting a note from fellow Marvel writer Matthew Rosenberg.
And that's a fair statement, but allow us to take this opportunity to add without disagreeing that, while, yes, stealing is generally wrong, piracy is not the primary cause of this sort of financial hardship for comic book creators. In a world where the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise makes over a billion dollars at the box office (not even counting the cute plushy Rocket Raccoon doll sales) but Bill Mantlo's family still has to crowdfund for medical expenses, that's not a piracy problem. That's an exploitive capitalism problem. The money is there to compensate creators well, but it goes primarily into the pockets of corporate shareholders, which is reflected not just in an industry like comics but in the entire global economy and especially in the United States, where the wealth gap has been increasing for decades, the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. This was a trend before comics piracy was even possible.
In any case, Cates continued debating with piracy advocates on Twitter, and in fact, he may still be doing so right now, depending on how long before this article is published after we've finished writing it.
But it was a retweet of Zac Thompson, one half of the superstar writing duo Zonnie Tadler, that summed it all up in the best way possible:
And what else is there to say after that? We think all ought to be able to agree that stealing is wrong, and that's why you should never pirate a comic book or use an adblocker on a comic book website.
Want to join in the debate but don't have a Twitter account? There will be plenty of folks to argue with in the comments below.