29 Jul 2010

Thought Balloon: iPad & Comics - A Review

By Matt T
The iPad has long been touted as the next stage in reading comics, allowing for massive amounts of storage, instant access to a huge back catalogue of issues and a high-res display to navigate them.

Those of us who own an iPhone will already be familiar with the majority of the programs - or apps - used to display issues from the likes of Marvel and DC but for the uninitiated I’ll start with a quick overview. Then we’ll get onto seeing if this groundbreaking bit of tech will actually revolutionize how we buy and read comics, or whether it’s just a lot of hyperbole.

Marvel and DC both use the Comixology app as a basis for their own branded versions, so the interface between both those and Comixology’s own app is the same. First you're presented with an iTunes-style opening page, with front covers, a star rating and short blurb describing what the issue is about. Comics can cost as little as 59p, and are downloaded through an iTunes account. There are also plenty of freebies to grab, from the likes of the first issue of Invaders up to a DC sampler of all their current titles.

Although the content is being constantly updated there isn’t quite the wealth of material that your average shop would have, especially as they’re not yet making new issues available on a Wednesday (or Thursday for us Brits). There are some more obscure titles, especially on the main Comixology app, so if you’ve missed out there’s every chance you’ll be able to download an issue. There are around 40 publishers accessible at the moment, so you’ve got plenty to choose from.

When reading a comic, the interface disappears and leaves the screen filled with the comic. There are then two methods of reading it; ‘guided’, in which the app zooms up on speech bubbles or action within the panel, and ‘standard’ which lets you zoom in and out yourself. The guided view isn’t as bad as it sounds, although often it’ll crop into a panel so much that it’s difficult to get a decent perspective on the action occurring. For example, a single exchange between two characters may be spaced around rather than focused in one area, with dialogue bubbles all over the place. The app would only focus on one area, then move to the next, but cutting off the action within the panel to get there. This did get a little annoying, but it makes the speech bubbles far easier to read. More recent issues seem to be in a high enough resolution to read without too much zooming in, giving a far better overall view.The iPad itself is a stunning piece of kit, although the particular version I had suffered from numerous issues connecting to wireless networks. This showed how limited the device is offline, but for reading comics it's a superb method of getting your fix. Although the guided view is a touch flawed, higher res comics didn't suffer too much, and the Comixology interface is extremely straightforward to use. In spite of this, I won't be buying an iPad for my comics any time soon. The amount of content available in the UK is still a bit limited, and I wouldn't use it enough outside of a quick browse on the internet to justify the cost. However, I don't believe it will be too long before a) the cost of the iPad drops to a more acceptable level, and b) publishers start making all their content available simultaneously with the physical release. The cost of producing a comic on paper and creating a digital version is vastly different, so it won't be long before the economics start to rule the decision-making.

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