FEATURE: iPad is the new comic book reader.
For years, I’ve been yearning for an electronic device that would allow me to read a large collection of comics no matter where I am in the world. I’ve previously written about my excitement over the iPad, and now that the device is here, how well does it work for comic books, and what comic book applications are the best?
Note: Originally published April 5, 2010 – Images will be added back in when time permits.
YOUR PORTABLE COMIC BOOK COLLECTION
If you haven’t already heard me gush about how cool I think the iPad is, be sure to listen to the latest episode of The Coolness Roundup, in which my co-host Charlie White and I break down what’s good and what is bad about the device.
There are two things a comic book reader is going to need to know about the iPad. The first is the screen gives off brilliant colors. The cover to New Avengers look amazing, as digital coloring probably looks as good or better than when it was original done. The colors leap off the screen, smack you in the head, and scream at you to admire their beauty. As one of my friends, who never reads comics said, “Wow. Wow! Damn, that looks great!” And that may be all one needs to see in order to be convinced that the iPad is worth the money for reading digital comics (among other things).
The other thing to remember is the actual iPad screen is about an inch and half smaller (diagonally) than a regular comic book, putting the digital issues at approximately 85% the size of the physical copy. Of the 20 or so comics I’ve read on the iPad so far, I haven’t experienced a big problem reading. If I do run into a panel that I want to explore in detail, I can use the multitouch capabilities of the iPad to zoom in and out of the panel. It’s amazingly easy to do, although there have been a few titles that begin to lose their resolution behind the first simple zoom.
I purchased the 64GB iPad, and after loading it up with 17GB of Music, four or five HD movies, and photos of wife and son, I still have over 15 GB of of space open to load comics. When most issues average 10 to 18MB in size, that leaves me with hundreds of comics I can load up on the iPad and carry with me where ever I go. If I don’t think I’ll be reading an issue, I can always back it up on my network hard drive for safe keeping. It’s so simple, that I’ll never have to worry about my precious back issues getting bent up in my satchel as I go about my travels.
THE APPS MAKE IT SHINE
When it comes to the iPad, it isn’t the technology under the hood that makes this device rock, it is the applications that take the iPad to its limits. And when it comes to comics, there are new apps being released every day (http://www.majorspoilers.com/archives/37565.htm/). Two days after release, here are a collection of apps for reading your four color comics.
Comics by ComiXology
This is the app the Marvel Comics app is built on. Browsing the store is great, and it probably has the largest collection of comics available for purchase (both free and paid). When you read an issue, you have two options; the first is normal full page mode, which is fine, but the Guided Mode is a huge game changer. Instead of zooming in, the application zooms into each panel, allowing you to read all the word balloons, and then when you are ready, a simple tap takes you to the next panel in a very nice animated transition. Reading free Amazing Spider-Man issue was a real treat, as certain information is withheld from the reader until the big reveal, which keeps a lot of potential spoilers to a minimum.
Publishers Represented (as of this writing)
Creative Impulse Entertainment
Evil Twin Comics
Slave Labor Graphics
Th3rd World Studios
This is another solid comic book reader. The only downside is that instead of a Guided View, you simply flick through each panel as needed. If this doesn’t interest you at all, that is fine the full screen view works just fine.
Small Scale Comics
Top Shelf Productions
There are quite a number of iPod and iPhone comic book reader applications that have not yet been optimized for the iPad, but still work, and still display pretty images. PanelFly is one of those. Like other applications, PanelFly allows you to read by page or by panel, and even when the images are doubled in size, the pictures look nice and sharp. Since the company hasn’t released the iPad version doubling the size of the interface makes things a bit chunky, but I can live with that as long as the comics are pretty. While a nice interface and user experience overall, I would really like to be able to search by publisher, however, PanelFly does allow you to search by genre, which is a nice touch.
57th Street Comics
Brain Scan Studios
Lost in the Dark
If your only interest is Marvel Comics, then the Marvel Comics app is for you. All Marvel, all the time. This app uses the Comics by ComiXology engine, which makes this a must have addition to the iPad. The app is also tied to your Marvel.com account, but not tied to your Marvel DCU Account (yet), which means you there is no way (yet) to transfer comics from your online account to the iPad. It’s still a great app, and for those who want to venture into Marvel territory, there’s nothing better than a hand full of free comics to get you started.
Just like the Marvel app, IDW Comics allows fans to purchase titles released by IDW Publishing. Star Trek, Transformers, G.I. Joe, Locke & Key, all look fantastic and catching up on a new G.I. Joe series is as simple as buying an issue or two. This app is based upon the iVerse platform, so any zooming in and flicking through the pages works well.
While there may be some readers who will only want to download and install the IDW Publishing Star Trek app, or the Transformers App, I much prefer to have all the publisher’s comics under one roof, making it easier for me to browse and potentially lead me to a new title or two.
READERS PLAIN AND SIMPLE
While all in one readers and storefronts make for great applications, some comic book fans might prefer a reader (or two) for their own collection of digital comics.
As a desktop application, ComicBookLover can’t be beat. Collections are organized, titles are easy to navigate, and you can get great double page spreads on the computer screen. The current version of ComicBookLover is only designed for the iPhone and iPod Touch, which means you need to double the screen size in order to fill the iPad’s screen real estate. That being said, once you import comics (.CBR and .CBZ only for this app) the reading experience is very much like other applications mentioned above; pinch, zoom, flick, read.
Apple has a weird policy with both ComicBookLover and ComicZeal4 that doesn’t allow USB syncing of files (more than likely over copyright concerns), which means you have to use a syncing application to wirelessly transfer your titles to the iPad. It’s a bit of a pain to set up if you are on a weird wireless network (i.e. work), but with most home networks, connecting to the device is a breeze.
When transferring titles, ComicBookLover Sync gives you the option of compressing the files, or leaving them full size. One title I tested had an uncompressed size of 18MB, while the compressed file clocked in at only 10MB. Even with the screen doubling, the single issue pages are passible, and very easy to read. I really thought going uncompressed would yield a better picture, but in this release of the software, I couldn’t tell much of a difference.
This is the most slim of all the iPad ready comic book readers. There are no publishers represented, but what it lacks in titles, it makes up for in the apps ability to import .cbr .cbz, .zip, and most importantly for this comic book reviewer who receives a large number of review copies in electronic form – .PDF. Like ComicBookLover, it is a bit of a chore to get issues into the iPad, but once they are there, it works as advertised.
Unfortunately, in the current release, the syncing application used is for version 3, which compresses the files quite a bit. It’s not as noticeable on black and white comics, like Manga, but it is really apparent that compression is occurring in the color titles.
One option you might want to consider if your comic collection is in PDF format, is to check out PDFReader. It’s a done and dirty PDF reader, that has a nice relatively easy to figure out interface, and once you figure out how to transfer files to the iPad, you can access the comics. Like ComicZeal, PDFReader compresses the files sent to the iPad, and while not as compressed as ComicZeal, it is noticeable. I’m really disappointed in the navigation of PDFs transferred to the iPad, instead of actual pages, your documents are presented in one long scrolling document. While pinching and zooming is available it isn’t as developed as other FREE applications. Additionally, this app is a slow performer, and really drags as you try to “turn” pages. I’m only putting this one on the list to give you, Dear Reader, other options to think about as you think about reading comics on your iPad.
TAKE THE GOOD WITH THE BAD
Even with all the great apps available, there are still a number of shortfalls in the applications and the iPad itself.
The biggest is the lack of current issues. When trying to get 700,000 new readers on board, the last thing you want to offer up is a comic from two years ago. I was really disappointed to see that Image Comics’ Invincible only goes up to issue #54 on the Comics by ComiXology application, while the print world has us closing in on issue #74. When I made note of this on the Major Spoilers Twitter feed, ComiXology quickly responded by saying they wouldn’t be behind for long.
Marvel remains hush-hush on when they will catch up to their print runs, but I have a feeling that the #14 App on the iTunes store is going to force someone’s hand to get new issues available sooner, rather than later.
I also find it incredible that some publishers don’t put their entire library of titles online, instead opting to pick and chose which titles go with which application. Noticeably absent from Dynamite Entertainment on the ComiXology app are the Garth Ennis Battlefields series, Red Sonja, and of course The Boys. This isn’t the fault of the application, but rather something each publisher will have to deal with as the work out agreements with creators and any estates involved in a particular title.
I also found it interesting that a virtual comic book shop war is going to hit at some point as some titles are being handled by iVerse, and other titles from the same publisher are being handled by Comics by ComiXology and PanelFly. And who knows what will happen when LongBox Digital arrives on the scene with their offerings. While the reading experience is going to be different with each, it’s a good thing both of the main applications are free.
There’s also the issue of reading the iPad in bright sunlight. One could certainly make jokes about comic book readers, and the dark basements in which they live, but in reality, readers are more likely to want to read on the bus, the train, riding shotgun, sitting in the shade, or hanging out in the hammock in the backyard. Direct sunlight is a big no-no with the iPad, as you can’t see a darn thing.
In the shade it’s a different story, as users can crank the brightness on the iPad all the way up and read titles without minor reflection problems. An afternoon spent relaxing on the back porch proved it can be done, but at a cost. The brighter one makes the screen, the shorter the battery life becomes. While the iPad has an impressive life for a device of its size, five hours at full brightness is all I’m able to get out of the system.
Most comic book reporting sites and blogs made a big deal of a Comics and Graphic Novels category Apple had placed in its iBooks store, but in the final release, that category is mysteriously absent. As much hype and praise the Marvel app has received, Apple either shelved this option for now, allowing the application developers to have their day in the sun, or the company read comments on sites like Major Spoilers and didn’t think comic book readers would be interested in an iPad. If the later is the case, then Apple is really mistaken.
$1.99 IS THE NEW $3.99
Probably the best news for those purchasing comic through the various applications is it looks like most comics have settled on a $1.99 price point, which is good news for those testing out the comic book waters for the first time, and even better for those who want to catch up on their favorite series, but don’t want to spend months diving through long boxes, or waiting for a trade to be made available. It’s not the 99-cents that made music fly off the virtual iTunes shelves, but it is a nice price for those starting out in their comic book journey.
When I mentioned I was reading Marvel comics on the iPad, a Major Spoilerite asked if I would be reading more Marvel comics now than I have in the past. As soon as a digital copy is released the same day as the physical copy, I’ll be more than happy to drop $1.99 for a comic that I’m now paying $3.99 for, and I just might be tempted to read more comics from those companies that offer iPad friendly versions of their titles.
WHO IS LEFT OUT?
There are a number of publishers that don’t have a presence on the iPad. The two most notable missing on the various application lists are Oni Press, and DC Comics. Oni could make a killing right now with a release of Scott Pilgrim on the iPad, and one doesn’t have to put two and two together to see that the longer DC drags its feet on releasing their titles in a digital form, the more and more potential customers they are going to lose.
If you made it this far, then you know most companies and app developers aren’t tossing the iPad aside; they’re embracing the device as yet another outlet for attracting new readers. The experience reading a comic on a digital device is much different than a physical one, and it may just force Scott McCloud to rethink how we interact and read comics. I for one am sold on the iPad. Yes, there is a bit of spit and polish that needs to happen on everything from the iPad to the application developers, and the publishers, but it’s a great start, and I’m glad I jumping in with both feet.
<– ddsig –>