Robot 6

Comics on the Kindle (app)

The big news from Amazon yesterday was that Kindle books are outselling print books, both paperbacks and hardbacks, so far this year. And by “Kindle books,” they mean “e-books bought through the Kindle Store,” because you don’t need a Kindle to read them; I have Kindle apps on my Mac, my iPod Touch, my iPad, and my Android phone, and I love them.

I have a friend who thinks that Kindle is actually the best way to market comics. “People are already there,” she told me. “That’s where they go to look for books. Why not sell them graphic novels there?” It’s stunningly logical when you think about it, as plenty of readers already get their graphic novels through Amazon, which often offers a hefty discount.

Graphic novel publishers don’t seem to have caught on, however. The list of graphic novels available for the Kindle is large but eclectic: There’s Joshua Hale Fialkov and Noel Tuazon’s Tumor, a line of Kindle-only yaoi from the Japanese publisher Animate, Harlequin manga published by Digital Manga Publishing, children’s folk tale adaptations from Graphic Universe, some self-published graphic novels—there’s good stuff in there, no doubt, but it’s not easy to find it unless you already have a creator or title in mind. On the other hand, you don’t have the problem of fragmentation that the iTunes store presents—you can search for a creator or title and be confident that if it’s there, you will find it, while the iTunes store doesn’t allow you to search across apps.

As a graphic novel reader, however, the Kindle leaves something to be desired. The Kindle device itself is in black and white, so color is out. As I mentioned, I don’t have a Kindle so I use the iPad. The interface is a lot better than it used to be, but the page size is small (the right size for the Kindle but smaller than the iPad screen). You can enlarge it with the iPad’s pinch and zoom functions, but since the resolution isn’t very good, the picture doesn’t become clearer. The biggest distraction is a sort of cloudiness around the lettering, which gets bigger when you zoom. Also, the Kindle interface doesn’t play very nicely with the iPad; if you pinch or zoom, you have to click a red X on the corner of the page to get back to a normal-size page and move to the next. This is a distraction and seems unnatural, since a big red X usually closes you out of whatever you are doing.

Some books do better than others. I downloaded half a Harlequin manga, which was advertised as a free book (nothing in the catalog listing hinted that it was only a very large sample, which is another problem with the Kindle store). It looked terrible on my iPad but the page size was bigger on the Mac version of Kindle, which made for an easier read. The Graphic Universe folktales and the yaoi from Animate stayed small on both devices. Tumor, which was originally published for the Kindle, was chopped up into “pages” of one or two panels, which I thought made it harder to read. The World of Quest, with thick lines and simple blocks of color, wasn’t too hard to read at its small size. All the comics got fuzzy when I zoomed in, though.

Amazon could be the best place to get digital graphic novels. The marketplace is there, and as my friend pointed out, people are already buying books there. If you want to sell, say, a Janet Evanovich graphic novel to Janet Evanovich mystery fans, that would be the place to do it. But Amazon has to improve the searching a bit and optimize the books for devices other than the Kindle in order for that to happen. Unfortunately, they may be going in the opposite direction: When I checked out the books in this 2009 article about graphic novels for the Kindle, a lot of them had disappeared.



My wife got a Kindle for Christmas (I guess technically we both did, but I don’t use it often), and I downloaded a preview of GIJoe #1 (IDW). I had the hard copy next to me for reference. I was extremely disappointed that the Kindle version not only was completely reformatted to be one panel per page, but most panels were severely truncated. I don’t know if this is commonplace, but it has kept me from checking out any other Kindle comics. If I’m going to pay for a comic book, even if the Kindle version is discounted, I want the full thing.

From what I understand the problem is that the .mobi format (which Kindle uses) and the epub format (which the Nook and iBooks uses) is not geared towards graphics heavy books. They are built to handle reflowable text which is one of the cool things about e-readers and how they translate to different devices. You can imagine how that wouldn’t work so well with a graphic novel. It’s a pain-staking process to convert your comic to this format and in the end it doesn’t look that great.

People have been doing it but it just seems like a completely unideal format for comics right now despite your excellent point that there is an enormous market out there looking and waiting for Kindle-ready comics.

Actually, the Kindle does off some color titles. The two Alan Moore Supreme trades and the related Judgement Day trade are available, and are in color on the iPad Kindle App. The reading is a little awkward, as they are sized for the Kindle, and when you zoom in to make the page fit the screen, you loose the ability to turn the page. As a result, the text is a little small. It’s not nearly as smooth as the items on the Comixology App.

Brigid Alverson

January 28, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Sorry, I guess I wasn’t clear about this—the Kindle app does display books in color.

I’m glad to see someone writing about some of the many digital comics options available. Great overview!

Hi Brigid, my graphic novel “Crude Behavior” was one of the 2009 Top Ten Graphic Novels on the Kindle (that you referenced in your article) and is still available on Amazon—> – Didn’t realize the Kindle App for iPads actually presents these books in color – this was a major negative for Kindle being considered as a device for graphic novels, a year ago.

I agree that so far, the Kindle / Kindle apps are not the best way to experience comics, and I also agree that they has great potential if/when they become more graphics-capable. One of the fun things of Kindle comics as they stand, though, is that Amazon has a fairly low barrier to entry and, as a proprietary format attached to a well-known retailer, is attractive to foreign creators; thus, rummaging around in the category Kindle Store › Kindle eBooks › Comics & Graphic Novels can find things like Hitoshi Ariga’s adorable Mimimi ~The Tale of a Cat and a Robot~ and yoshitoshi ABe’s I am an alien. I have a question, little tidbits published by their creators, presumably to test the market for their manga. (Mixed in with quite a lot of questionable stuff of dubious quality, of course.) Hopefully these experiments will be successful and attract more direct-from-creator overseas comics.

Thanks, Brigid, for the engaging and informative article. The negatives you mention about the Kindle as a comics reader are the reasons why Red Plains is not on the Kindle (and why it is on other devices).

Another problem with comics on the Kindle -it just doesn’t have enough resolution. The standard Kindle (DX is larger I think) is only 600×800 pixels. Not really enough.

@WebHobbit: I agree. I thought that using the Kindle app on the iPad would help, but it didn’t, so the problem must be with their e-book software. The one exception was the Harlequin manga, but those are available on the web as well so they might be formatted differently.

“Another problem with comics on the Kindle -it just doesn’t have enough resolution. The standard Kindle (DX is larger I think) is only 600×800 pixels. Not really enough.”

The Kindle hardware is of fixed resolution, but the images can be submitted at a higher resolution (within the constraints of the overall file size); I noticed that some Kindle comic books are labelled as “optimized for larger screens” or some such verbiage, which appears to indicate a higher resolution file set.

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