Robot 6

Is it still a comic if I can’t crease the pages? Thoughts on digital and the iPad

DC Comics App on the iPad

DC Comics App on the iPad

With DC Comics revealing its digital strategy yesterday, all of the major players now have some sort of digital comics plan, allowing folks who have an Apple devices (iPad, iPhone, etc.), a PlayStation Portable or even just access to the web to read at least some of their comics in a digital format.

I’ve had an iPhone for a while now, and I’ve downloaded free comic apps from distributors like comiXology, Panelfly and iVerse. I’ve used them to download free samples of comics they were offering (sampling Jersey Gods on the iPhone, for example, led to me purchasing the trades). But I never actually bought comics on it. And there’s a big difference between downloading something because it’s free, and actually becoming a paying customer and spending real money on it.

So what held me back? Part of it was because of what was available — most of the material I would have been interested in downloading I already owned in print, and I couldn’t justify buying it again. And part of it was that I just didn’t enjoy the experience of reading a comic on my iPhone as much as I did a print comic, mostly because of the size restrictions. The app developers, of course, tried to make it easy to adjust, offering zoom features and panel-to-panel scrolling, but there’s just something about not seeing the whole page of a comic at a time, versus just seeing each panel, that was the hump I couldn’t get over. I need the forest, and I need the trees.

Two weeks ago, the FedEx guy blessed my household with the delivery of an iPad. After loading it up with several comics apps, I started downloading some of the free titles. And it was while reading Runaways #1, which was offered for free in Marvel’s app, that I got over that second hump. I remember instinctively reaching for the corner of the comic so I could feel the pages I hadn’t read yet flip through my fingers.

Have you ever done that? While reading a comic, maybe taking a finger or thumb to the corner of the book and feeling the pages you have yet to read flip against your skin? It’s not anything I ever really noticed I did until that moment, when I was reading Runaways and the pages weren’t there for me to touch … but I realized at that point that I had forgotten I was holding an electronic gadget and not a paper comic. I was just laying in bed, reading a comic and not really noticing there was anything different about this experience I’d had a million times before. And that’s probably the biggest compliment I can give the iPad or the comiXology folks or anyone else involved in getting comics onto these devices.

So last week I made my first digital comics purchase: Dark Horse’s Grandville, from the comiXology app. And yesterday I bought all four issues of Justice League: Generation Lost via the DC app, and IDW’s Mystery Society #1, which the publisher began offering this week on their app. All three of these titles were books I actually wanted to read, but I decided for one reason or another I was going to wait for the trade on them (with Grandville, an original graphic novel, I’d planned to wait until I had some Amazon credit or a birthday or something, and get it then). In the case of JL:GL, the first issue was sold out by the time I made it to the comic shop the week it came out, so I decided that instead of hunting down a copy I would just wait for the trade. But then DC gave me the opportunity to read it now, so I don’t think they could have picked out a better title to start offering day-of-release, at least from my perspective.

So I had comics I actually wanted to read that I didn’t already own, and device-wise, I had my iPad, which makes it way easier to read comics in a way that I was used to — a page at a time versus a panel at a time. So I had a blast last night reading JL:GL, Grandville, Mystery Society and the free download of Bayou from DC. (Seriously, Zuda, as you continue to redefine what you are after ending your contests, please make it part of your strategy that you’ll either make all your strips available on the iPad or that you’ll drop the Flash interface on your website so I can read them on my iPad’s browser. Because Bayou looks awesome on the device).

Now I’m certainly not the first person to note that it’s pretty friggin’ easy to read comics on an iPad; Chris Sims called it “the perfect way to read comics” earlier this month. But it’s one thing to read how great it is, and another to experience it for yourself. I think the one thing I’ve been afraid of in the whole digital transition is that I would lose something going from print to digital, that something I couldn’t really define in words would be lost … and while it’s probably still too early to know for sure, I feel a lot better about the prospects than I did two weeks ago.



Comics (and books in general I suppose) are one of the few entertainment media left that won’t go obsolete or need an upgrade at some point. Your favourite music might have gone through the process of LP to 8-track to cassette to cd to dvd?/mp3/digital format, meaning you might have spent money on the same copy of, say, The Beatles’ White Album 5 times (or more). A comic purchased in 1965 is still a comic, and doesn’t need an upgrade or change, until perhaps this point.

If your iPad goes out and you lose your entire library, then what? I know there are backup options, and there are certainly advantages to digital vs physical copies (saving on physical space if you live in a small living area with limited storage, for example), but I don’t see myself personally paying for any digital copies of comics.

C’mon, I’m a fanboy; I don’t crease my pages.

I would love to have digital copies of my comics, but I refuse to pay the same price as a print issue. Isn’t an album on some legal download service still cheaper than a cd in a store? I haven’t switched to ebooks yet either, though I knew I was never getting a Kindle since it didn’t look like they were getting color comics anytime soon. Lower the prices and throw in more ads – I don’t mind – and I’m in.

Stealthwise, as far as I understand it, your comics library through ComiXology (who drives their own store, the Marvel store and the DC store) is saved on their fileservers, not just to your local machine. There’s a chance that their own servers could suffer a catastrophic failure, I suppose, but that’s not really likely.

I don’t have a problem paying for comics online, just that I wish there were more offered that I felt like paying for.

In print comics, cartoonists use the fixed, relative size of panels to control narrative rhythm, emphasis and reader perception in general. My concern with comics on digital devices has been that in the event of zooming or single panel views this subtle but often important storytelling tool is seriously undermined. Or what about the double page spread that is often used so effectively in print manga? I presume that you can turn the tablet sideways for a landscape view but the whole point of a spread is its huge size so doesn’t the impact lessen by the fact that the spread scales down to fit the screen? I would think that the “forest” is also an important aspect of print comics with relation to book design and the comic as object as it relates to perceptions of the content.

I’ve only seen videos of the IPad in action so this is all speculation but I would think that the differences between print and tablet would create different styles of reading and making comics and that some comics might work better on one than the other. You’ll actually have different forms of comics. Sort of like movies and TV shows, cinemas vs TV and things like widescreen and pan and scan. The serious fans of a work will probably seek out whatever platform and format the work is optimized for even as publishers release across multiple platforms in order to hit casual readers who aren’t that picky.

Or maybe over time people will so value the digital delivery that the tangibility and any other strengths of print books won’t be enough of a selling point. I hope not.

Totally agreed about Zuda!

I read some X-Men comics a few nights ago and I think they got me to pick up some X-Men trades soon.

I haven’t yet made the jump from downloading all of the free ones to actually purchasing one. Not sure why.

I have over 20,000 comics in my collection. I am also a HUGE fan of anything Apple. When I got the iPad (yes, as soon as it was available) the first app I downloaded was ComiXOlogy. I downloaded a bunch of the free comics to see how it felt. Gotta admit, I was blown away! The way the panels transition and zoom in and out made the comic book come to life! It was like I was watching a comic book movie. Then I moved onto looking at the pay comics and I stopped. I came to a struggling point that I never experienced before.

I work in the publishing industry and we are making the move to digital with our B2B publications so I know and enjoy this digital world that we are moving to. However, it was different with this. How can I justify spending money on something that I can’t tuck away for the future? How can I spend money on something that I can’t hold, smell (yes, I love that print smell), and eventually bag and board for safe keeping? This isn’t right! It can’t be that I must now make way for comics that are now held in a virtual environment for all to share with me. I want to have the only copy! The one that perhaps someday will be the only surviving copy in the world!

It is a struggle.

Reminds me of the Star Trek Next Generation episode where Piccard was speaking with a visitor (can’t remember who but not important to the point) as they were at the replicator. The visitor was amazed that whatever he wanted was provided and inquired about money. [Paraphrasing] “We do not have money,” says Piccard. “We know work for the advancement of knowledge.”

Well then…..I say advance my knowledge in this virtual world of comics without my money, please!!

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