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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.