Robot 6

Does reading comics on a mobile phone break the idea of comics?

Digital comics have been heralded as the next logical step for the comics medium, but with them comes the challenges of transitioning from one medium to another. Over on the blog Levin/Albright, Matt Levin argues that the “Guided View” functionality in digital comics readers fundamentally changes and “breaks” the comics medium, specifically when looking at a comics page as a whole.

“When reading a comic with Guided View or a similar technology, we’re losing a number of elements,” Levin explains in his blog post. “We don’t see the construction of the whole page, which would peripherally influence our understanding of the current panel.  We also lose the sense of relative size of each panel, which is the most basic way that creators imply pacing.  Reading the same comic on and offline would leave markedly different impressions.”

To better understand what Levin is getting at, it’s important to step back and take a look at a comics page. When reading a comic book in its natural form, we’re reading it in two different ways simultaneously. We’re taking in the story one panel at a time (a ‘montage’ view as Levin calls it), but also digesting the story in the larger context of the page those panels share (in a ‘collage’ view). For an example, Levin shows a page from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns in both its original comic book presentation:

and then a simulation of how it’s read on a mobile device:

Levin is careful to say that he’s not dismissing the consumption of comics on mobile devices, but simply noting the changes going on and how it affects the reading experience. Reading digital comics on tablet devices provide an experience closer to that of the printed page, but there’s still a leap from A to B. It’s important to remember that when comics first jumped from newspaper strips to magazine format they were simply repurposing the newspaper strips to fit in the magazine page, but only later when comic creators created comics specifically for the dimensions and depth of comic books did comic books come into their own.

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61 Comments

what a stupid application…

I think Levin has a valid point. Once I got a reading device, I stopped reading comics on the phone because it’s not an ideal experience. I like to think I’ve found a happy medium. I’ve activated the functionality (in ComiXology) that displays the whole page before breaking down to the individual panels. Then, once you’ve read the last panel, it displays the whole page again, so that you get a sense of the page layout before viewing the page layout of the next page. If you’re reading on a computer screen, which I do sometimes, you can often display two facing pages, which is especially important for double-page spreads.

It’s an obviously different reading experience when moving from the full page to the reduced size of a mobile phone. In addition, any time you take something from it’s native format and force it into another format, you lose something. That being said, I think mobile phones will ultimately improve comic’s reach and provides a powerful service that paper simply can’t: comics always available.

Way back in 2008, some colleagues and I made one of the first digital only comics for the iPhone, SOLDIERS: Zero (still available, if anybody wants to download a copy). We made it to take advantage of the reduced screen size by doing tricks with dialogue balloons, coordinating surprise visuals, and altering the reveal of panels. It was fairly innovative for it’s time, and it taught us a lot about how digital can work. But, just as paper has a hard time reducing in size, tranforming a “digital only” comic to paper can be pretty tough as well.

Bottom line: How people read comics is changing. Just as comic strips made way for comic books, comic books may now be making way for mobile devices — of all shapes and sizes.

Want an example of a paper comic paractically tailor made for Digital? Check out Cooke’s New Frontier, the “storyboard” panel format he used practically screams “digital conversion.”

Pretty sure that whoever was reading the comic that way (as shown in the ‘simulation’) didn’t quite know how to use their phone’s screen settings. I have had a comic reader on my phone for a long time now. I don’t typically ever read them on my phone unless they are only digital and I don’t have my laptop…. but still…. Depending on what reader you have, and really, what PHONE you have… it’s really not as terrible as they say. Especially now that phones have reversed direction, and rather than getting smaller, they are now getting bigger and bigger. The new Samsung’s might as well be a Kindle or tablet themselves, and are marketed as having the same features and abilities…. so, reading them on a phone will probably only get easier and easier.

The answer is no. BOX 13 is an example of a comic specifically designed for guided view. It’s not more ‘breaking comics’ than one panel comics like far side are.

stupid stuff, that’s not a comic book. books are printed on paper not some expensive idiot toy glued to some morons ear 24/7.

No disrespect hate on any one who likes digital comics, but I think I will probably be done with the hobby when it goes all digital, or if prices for print go any higher.

When I try and look at the digital comics that are included on the DC Animated features on a 50 inch HDTV that shows the whole page (or 2 for splash pages), I lose interest very quickly. Watching it on my iPhone screen or a tablet? I am highly skeptical that either of those will deliver me the same reading experience I currently have now with big pages and beautiful artwork that can fill your field of vision immersing you in the story, never mind the community and friendship experience I get going to my LCS.

The cons are too big an unwieldy, and the web too anonymous to rely on exclusively for the social aspects of comic book fandom for me.

Yes it breaks the idea of a comic.

On the other hand, if you are reading X-Men, then you deserve to have comics broken.

I read comics on Comixology. I live in Brooklyn in an apartment smaller than my cubicle at work. Optimal experience is not a possibility for me, so as a compromise, I look at digital comics. Life is shit, but at least I know what happened in the X-Men.

Panel view is always bullshit because it destroys the intent of the artist. Thankfully tablets have gotten to a state where that is not needed anymore. The page is a unit as much as the contents of that unit are.

I also like how he happens to pick a page of DKR that has a uniform structure.

Also I have to wonder why you picked one of the few pages within DKR with the uniform panels that seem perfectly sized for a phone. There are countless better examples in that book.

Sorry, but you’re not a comics fan if your reading it from a phone. Comic books are printed on paper and meant to be read on paper not off a screen. I’d rather the medium die than to see it bastardized because people can’t or won’t put down their phone or ipad. Go find another hobby to ruin.

phones and comics don’t go together, improve the comic with better stories and shipping schedules, also do more company crossovers.

Comics created completely with the medium in mind I’m sure will look/read fine. That being said, digital just isn’t for me. Reading a comic is about going to the shop on Wednesday and experiencing the communal aspects of my LCS. That aside, I simply couldn’t imagine reading an issue of Batwoman or Batman #5 or Infinite Vacation on a tablet. They, and most comics, simply are not created to be properly realized on digital devices.

It’s a different medium, and requires a different approach to reading sure, but I don’t think it’s an insult to comics or comic readers to read comics on an iPhone or iPod or similar device.For the reader it’s cheaper then a print comic so it means they buy more comics (I know I did). Tablets are the best thought – best of both worlds cheap comics but still able to present the comics in the way they were designed.

The reason the “comixology version” leaves a different impression is because he didn’t even finish the sequence. That’s like only reading half the page. Not to mention that it appears to be intentionally blurry, not the way it is on the app. The writer of the article is stacking the deck in his favor by doing this. It’s just biased writing. In statistics, this degree of bias would just dismiss your work altogether.

I thinki the problem is this idea that you neede to deliver the same material thru different platforms. its a cheapskate approach.
to explain – in newspapers, rather than have a print journo and a web journo, they require the print journo to write in a way that it can be piped thru the different visual form that these different platforms allow. Of course as its just words its just a matter of setting the column widths. because comics are pictures this doesnt work. So we have this idea of drawing panels on the wider frormat so that its can be cut up and piped thru the smaller format. as well as bells and whistles that are just gimmicks for the sake of it… an iphone can do something, so they do it.

but the error here is that because its all ‘visual’ its all the same. we dont accept that tv and comicbook/print patforms are the same and can be used in the same way, so why are we trying to make this new platform like the print? its something new and needs content designed from scratch to suit it. when a comic is brought to it it needs to be translated – remade- to suit it, as you would in making tv

I can see this being an issue on a phone, but with millions of tablets already sold, digital comics are just as readable as they would be in print. I know because I read my comics that way every week and won’t go back to a laptop or print anytime soon.

Don’t want the guided view on your iPad or Android tablet?

Turn.

It.

Off.

I read comics on my Galaxy tab 10.1 every week in full screen mode using ComicRack. It even syncs over wifi to my laptop. Unless I’m trying to read something that’s the size of 2000AD or larger, the size of the screen is perfect for comics. I know there are still dinosaurs out there that refuse to give up killing tress to read the twenty-seven Avengers comics published each month, but hopefully they will be replaced by people that still enjoy READING comic stories more than they do COLLECTING bits of dead tree.

Comics dont look that bad on my phone, I dont know wtf you’re reading that comic on. Seriously though, screw all these print comic purists that read 3 titles a month and consider themselves the wrinkly-elitists of the comic book world.

Digital comics are here to stay, please crawl back to your LCS and complain to your sewing circle.

I read Atomic Robo #1 for free from itunes on my ipod touch and it was both a great story and a well done reading experience. But I’m firm in not buying digital comics unless they’re specifically tailored to mobile phones. I understand that comics designed specifically for digital will lose the impact ability of two page spreads and the sort of panel iconography of comics like Batwoman and Swampthing, but I’m willing to concede that for better reading experieces.

good luck for reading the work of Neal Adams on your smartphone!

One panel is not a sequence. ‘Smart’ phones are NOT for reading comics on, or indeed doing much else on to be honest. Way too small a screen.

That Gif is a horrible comparison to the experience I’ve had on my phone. The guided view Ive used on the iPhone in the past hasn’t worked as well as a full page, but the transition, especially when going from a single panel of action to the next and to the next, has much better flow then shown above.

Also my iPhone blows that image quality out of the water.

The fact is if your not reading paper
Comics then you just aren’t reading comics

Wow, @Linda B. Web comics don’t count? That’s harsh. Any sequentially presented art is a comic. People just can’t appreciate the future. Change isn’t good or bad, it just is.

I think a lot of these posts could be neatly summarized as “Boo! Rock & Roll music is just noise!”

By and large, people don’t like that things change over time. But you know what? Eventually we’ll all be dead and other people will get to decide how things should be. My advice: Like what you like, and let other people like what they like.

Digital comics are currently available across a range of devices, including tablets, phones, computer, and (if you have the right equipment) 50″+ HDTVs. And believe me, you don’t need guided view when you’re reading Justice League #1 on your plasma TV.

jon richardson

March 25, 2012 at 1:05 pm

But reading a comic book is embarassing, seriously. The mainstream wont accept comics unless they see the progress its making. If someone sees you reading a comic on the digital platform they will realize this isn’t just kid stuff and can be as mature and grown up as watching Mad Men or something.

I like reading comics digitally .. it’s a different experience .. like this website .. or any digital experience that used to be printed on paper.

there is a learning curve .. once you optimize the experience for what works for you .. it can be the preferred way to read comics.

it’s the same for newpapers and magazines .. I now prefer to read them digitally .. as opposed to the paper versions.

another side benefit is .. they are always available on your time schedule ..and you don’t clutter up your house with a bunch of stuff printed on dead trees ..

the downside is .. digital is not resellable as collectibles .. so digital comics kill the whole collectible market. Can’t put your digital file up on eBay for resale .. :-)

Digital versions of books/comics will never replace the actual reading experience on a book/comic pages. I’m a tech-savvy as most people, more than some, and I have tried reading everything on everything — smartphones, tablets, e-readers — and none of it comes close to the experience of an honest to goodness BOOK in your hand. The same with comics. Nowadays I have to actually read comics digitally because it’s hard to get to a comic book shop and monthly ordering online is a pain, but man, whenever I find time to dig out those old issues, it always feels BETTER.

And this is just me, but I always have this nagging feeling after reading a digital copy of something that I didn’t actually ABSORB it. Sure, I understood it, enjoyed it even, but it just never STAYS with me after reading it.

BTW anyone who equates not enjoying the reading of a book/comics in a digital format to somehow screaming from the lawn about the “evils of rock and roll” just don’t understand the concept of leisure activity. I never, ever want to read a book knowing I only have a certain amount of minutes/seconds to read this many pages before I have to GO GO GO. If that’s the case with you, maybe you need to prioritize your life. I’m sure there is an hour or two you don’t HAVE to be online. But if you’re saying there isn’t, maybe it’s not that you actually don’t have the time to spare, but maybe you’re obsessed with it.

If it wasn’t for digital comcs I wouldn’t be reading half the comics I am now. A single one comic in Australia right now is seven dollars. In American terms that is seven dollars because of parity between the currencies.

I prefer reading comics on physical paper but I don’t mind reading them digitally. This is why I love the idea of bundling a physical copy and a digital copy together. A lot of times I will read a comic book physically, and later when I am bored someplace away from home I will reread a comic digitally on my phone. However, I would NEVER buy a Digital copy by itself unless all the Comic Book shops in my area closed down or something, OR Digital Comics became too cheap to resist.

Well, that’s an unfair comparison. The “simulation” is only going through half the page. I love digital, I read on an Ipad and looks fantastic. Comixology lets you view the full page if desired, and keeps me from flipping ahead. So the shockers in something like Walking Dead are always a surprise.

i love comics the way they are now but it’s true,think of all the possibilities and the fact that this is going to bring people closer to the universe of comics aside what they only see on the big screen.As much as I love paper comics it’s time to stop being selfish and finally go green on something,and just think about it,with innovation comic shops will evolve and flourish into something new and continue in an”all new all different”way but in the end wont it mean that every comic will go up in value??:> we should enjoy this time for what it is now instead of what it was

I have found reading digital books to have advantages from reading the printed version. When I read digital I’m always surprised by what comes next. In print I inevitably get a peek of what’s to come because when you turn the page you naturally look at the page as a whole where as in digital you are reading column to column with no idea of what is coming.

I think “break” is a pretty loaded term. It certainly changes the reading experience, as do the various technical changes in paper quality, printing and so forth. I also think that the GIF shown is a very disingenuous example, since it seems to be being done in a ludicrously fast fashion, making it look like an overcranked silent film.

Personally I find guided view and digital comics generally enhance my reading experience. I suspect those experiencing difficulty may not know how to use the technology.Please don’t say those who prefer Digital aren’t ‘real fans’ that’s arrogant and insulting.

Digital comics for me are useless.. Viewing is difficult on a small screen. I need perfect lighting to enjoy the colors and art work. I also share my comics with friends and co-workers.

I doubt anybody thinks that reading on a phone-sized screen is optimal. It’s doable, and better than nothing, but I seriously doubt anybody is going from buying 100 print comics a month to buying 100 digital comics a month and only viewing them on a phone screen.

The ups and downs of the larger PC or tablet format where it’s actually possible to view the whole page at one time is a completely different subject.

On a tablet, I’d see it as less of an issue than on a phone. But it’s definitely a problem on a phone.

As for the larger argument, I’m going to give up comics when/if they go strictly digital. To me, there’s so much more to comic books as a hobby than just reading them. If you’re looking for a story, great, go digital all the way. But I love collecting them, bagging & boarding them, scouring back issue bins for old issues for my collections. These are all parts of comic books that digital can’t recreate and when they’re gone, it’s something lost forever.

I love my hobby. For me I can never go digital, I have a sense of pride when I have my friends come over and they look through my collection, allot of them like to see what I bought that week, I have a reading pile out that I am always a little behind in, this allows them to look through them, and have gotten a couple of friends to collect this way, one of them loves digital. I have no issue with digital, and not sure if I should way in on this but I agree with the others that the phone could be a way to go but it needs to be with material designed for that format. That would be the best way and most innovative way to promote comics, a whole seperate sub section. Just my two cents, now to flip through my reading pile and escape reality for 22 pages of super heroic happiness.

I don’t look at digital comics as a comic book killer or bullshit thing for people to use on their phone, all It really is is a logical next step for comic publishers. It’s another way to get the comics out into the world as ebooks are for books. I read plenty of hard copy comics that I pick up at my store but there also some I buy digital. In the grand scheme of things it’s just convenient for readers. I could be at work slacking off and I could buy and read as many comics as I want without a hastle. Times change, things evolve, I hope theres not a day anytime soon when there’s no more physical copies or comic book stores but I’m not gonna bash the awesomeness that is digital. I understand people who are all about collecting them and having them at their fingertips but if your more of the reader like myself, buying digital is great. I don’t have to worry about boxing or storing them and if I want to read them again there just a click away. Soon all physical copies are supposed to come with digital codes, I think that’s great for collectors who don’t want to damage there copies while reading. The way I look at it we better get used to it cause it’s here to stay.

Digital and Print can co-exist fine, not sure what everyone’s issue is. Yes, at some point print comics will become even more of a niche product than it is currently, but they are not going away so people need to calm down here.

I myself prefer digital because it gets rid of the storage space/bagging and boarding aspect and the need to re buy them as collected editions for easier reading. I have no issue with print comics / the few good retailers out there.

I hate guided view. I love reading stuff on my ipad, but I tried reading an issue on my phone, once. I couldn’t even make it through the issue. Yes, in my opinion, guided view completely destroys the intended effect. Digital comics themselves are just fine, it’s the guided view that’s the problem. I not sure a lot of the people posting actually read the article…

Guided View works for making comics readable on a phone size screen. It’s not perfect, but I usually keep a small collection on the phone, so sometimes when I have a few moments I’ll read them on it.

Also, Guided View in my opinion actually is better on Batman 5 than reading the issue normally.

The reason why this page is brilliant is because it displays the medium’s capability of digitizing time. One can see one moment broken up into sixteen panels in either format – but only the comic page allows you to see the subdivision of time simultaneously. The strength of the page is that the reader can see everything that’s going to happen at the same time, kind of like Doctor Manhattan. Then he or she has to use his or her intellect to judge the temporal and causal relationships of the actions depicted in each panel. It gives a unique experience. On the phone, that personal interpretation is removed even though we are seeing the same images. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, it just makes comics almost indistinguishable from film for all intents and purposes and destroys part of the original intent of the page.

I love Guided View. I’ve read comics for over 45 years. Advantage of digital I don’t have a ton of paper books to throw away.

Digital will surpass paper when 1) Every day is Wednesday. New releases no longer have to be bound by the printers schedule. New releases like independents should be other days. 2) Prices should be cheaper as they are saving on paper. Comic Book stores will always have buyers who want paper to collect and resell so paper prices can be raised to compensate. 3) New comics should be released the moment they are completed.

What I do dislike about digital is that they hold comics they have for a certain date when I want to read it NOW.

there are still people that prefer vinyl records to lossless digital files .. yet most people listen to music digitally ..

comics will be like that .. and it’s not just comics .. people are reading books digitally .. newspapers digitally .. magazines digitally .. everything that was print is now moving to digital .. and it’s all available on our smartphones ..

maybe there will still be some printed comics .. maybe not .. since we are moving to life in the digital age .. the age of being connected to all the information all the time ..

for example, we get our information about comics on websites like this one .. this is not a magazine we’re reading .. the type in not ink ..no trees were cut .. it’s pixels ..

point is .. reading this website and reading a digital comic .. same deal ..

I think that reading anything on a mobile phone or a tablet breaks the idea of reading. It’s okay for companies to expand the experience, they need cash, we’re capitalist. True readers take the time to sit somewhere comfortable to read. It’s the same difference between browsing a book on the bus for an assigment or studying it at home.

I wouldn’t hold my breath for a price reduction on digital comics. The vast majority of the cost of comics is the production. That is, the writing and the art.

Drew Melbourne

March 26, 2012 at 7:32 am

@Nathorod wrote: “True readers take the time to sit somewhere comfortable to read.”

The millions of New Yorkers who read standing up on their subway commutes every day beg to differ.

Also: you can sit in a comfortable chair and read from a phone or tablet.

Also: by “true readers” I trust you mean “I personally”.

The way comics are written has been fundamentally changed (EG, 6 issue story arcs) to cater to the trade paperback market, I hope it doesn’t change again to make them more phone-friendly, to the detriment of print books.

Those posters who are saying that if you are not reading a comic on printed paper then you are not ‘a real comics fan’ ?! Give me a break.

I don’t listen to my music on a Gramaphone…am I not a real music fan?

This is just another way to experience the story. I do everything on my Ipad now (books, comics, music, films) because I travel a lot for work. This way I can bring everything with me (and have a much lighter case!), and if I go to a town which doesn’t have a comic shop (which most don’t), then I can still get my comics on the day of release.

I love reading comics on my iPad. I am doing a big ‘Preacher’ re-read at the moment, as well as reading the last 30 issues of ‘Y:the last man’ for the 1st time, as well as having read the first 60 issues of ‘Legends of the Dark Knight’ Thanks to Cmixology I can get all these for much cheaper than buying them in trades.

So hooray for digital:-)

I’ve been reading comics on my iPhone for over a year now and I’m delighted with the experience.

The misleading thing about your “simulation” is the animation. Comixology’s “Guided View” doesn’t animate the panels but lets the reader have control over the pace he/she reads. The experience is very similar to turning the pages in pamphlet comics.

The trend for the last 20 years in comics art has been to produce each page in the most dynamic way possible, often empoying very confusing layouts to create a senseof “action”. We (the comic initiated) don’t usually have a problem navigating a page but if you set that same page before my wife, she’ll have no idea how to follow it. Guided View moves seamlessly between panels in sequential order and makes the reading experience easy.

Lastly, the sense of time and pace that an artist uses to create a comic page can be created within individual panels to either “speed up” or “slow down” the experience. Once creators start writing and drawing for the format instead of trying to carve up the artwork to fit the format then we’ll see true innovation in this media.

I should also point out that I’m 40 and have been collecting/reading comics since I was 5. I never. ever, ever, thought I would enjoy reading digital comics. The few times I’ve tried to do so on my computer were brutal experiences that left me frustrated.

Comixology’s app is brilliant and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I still by trades and OGNs, nothing can replace that experience but the monthly stuff that I like to read fits my lifestyle well on the iPhone.

I don’t read comics on my phone but I do read it on my tablet. At 7 inches, it’s not far from the size of a comic book and I can view the entire page, just like in an actual comic. I couldn’t imagine trying to read one on my smart phone. The screen is just too small. But on a tablet, the experience is basically the same as reading an actual comic.

I know, I know, how dare I. Comics should always be on paper and we should still be reading by candle light, riding horses around town and if God wanted us to fly, he would have given us wings.

The problem is what do you do with all the printed material. The books today and the last 20 years ago really aren’t worth anything. The printed material is a nice to have, however what are you going to do 10 years from now when you want to re-read Justice League 1-6 in print and they are in 6 different boxes. Digital is the best way to go for today’s readers.

Agree with others and recommend a tablet for reading for the closest experience of a printed book. Phone apps just don’t cut it.

I have been enjoying comics on my iPhone for awhile now. I think partially it breaks the traditional idea of comics and when translating some comics like the example of The Dark Knight it is probably not going to match the experience of the printed version. That doesn’t mean new creators can’t utilize the phones features to their advantage and change some of the ways we perceive comics. Tablets, iPhones, these aren’t going to go away and I think we should embrace these technologies and find cool ways to make them work with a medium we already love. For example, webcomics translate really well onto mobile devices. Comics do not need to be relegated to paper and stores.

I love the guiding feature, especially reading old comics that I thought knew so well, are like new again.

Lots of interesting discussion here. I was surprised to see a lot of people talk about the peripheral aspects of reading physical comics, such as the community and the art of collecting. I wonder if there’s any way to bring those elements to a digital medium.

I’m currently working on a web-based mobile comic reader app. Details are available here: http://www.smackjeeves.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=11085. I’d love some feedback on the interface if anyone finds it interesting or useful.

Either the author has never read digital comics using guided-view, or they are being purposefully misleading. The animated gif does not accurately represent “guided-view” on a phone and here’s why:

1) The guided-view feature of digital comics glides over the page from panel to panel, in a pleasant animation. However, the animated gif shows it as a choppy transition that is hard to follow.

2) Guided-view also gives the reader control over the pace of ready, and tapping a panel moves to the next panel when the reader is ready, at their own pace. However, the animated gif rams through the panels at a furious and uncontrolled pace. In the whole page, above the animated-gif, you are free to move your eyes from panel to panel, much like guided-view. You control the pace.

3) Almost all digital comics are very high resolution. However, the animated gif has terrible quality.

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