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The iPad as a comic-book reader

Jason Snell | March 5, 2013
Tablets, led by the iPad, have the potential to shake up the comic-book industry even more than ebook readers have begun to change the world of prose books. Large, portable color screens are perfect for reading comics. They've got a portability that desktop and laptop PCs can't match, and of course they show off the source material in a way that small black-and-white Kindle screens can't.

Reading comics using the Comics app is pretty straightforward, as well. Once you open an issue, you can spread your fingers to zoom in and pinch to zoom out. Swiping to the left brings up the next page, and swiping right takes you back. In portrait orientation, the iPad's screen is just big enough to make reading a pleasant experience. I equivocate here because some comics seem a bit too small when fit to the iPad's screen size, while others don't. It's not much of a hardship to zoom in a little and pan around, but it's nicer when you don't have to.

Comixology's app also offers a guided view, which moves you through the comic panel by panel as you tap. This view is necessary on the iPhone as its screen is too small to comfortably view a full comic page. On the iPad, though, I found the feature superfluous.

While Comixology has risen to become the industry's dominant provider of digital comics, not everyone's on board. If you're a fan of Dark Horse Comics, you'll need to use the Dark Horse app to buy and read comics. I've used the Dark Horse app to buy several issues of the Buffy Season 9 comic, and have experienced numerous download and purchase failures. The reading experience also fails to match up with the Comics app--it's just not as smooth. But for now, that app is the only digital source for Dark Horse comics.

Wait for the trade

These days, lots of comic book readers aren't just readers of the flimsy monthly installments. A long time ago, comics publishers realized that many readers preferred to buy longer, more expensive trade-paperback editions of comics. (Some of these are original self-contained "graphic novels," while others are just collections of several issues of a monthly comic.)

We now see that trend paralleled in the world of digital comics. You can buy many of these trade-paperback-style collections, sometimes at a discount over buying the individual issues, via Comixology. But they're also available where regular books are sold: on Apple's iBookstore, Amazon's Kindle Store, the Google Play bookstore, and Barnes & Noble's Nook Store. (These bookstores are now also beginning to offer individual issues, not just trade paperbacks, if you prefer to keep everything you read within the iBooks or Kindle app.)

It's nice to see publishers trying to reach casual comics readers via mainstream bookstores, but the reading experience is better in Comixology's Comics app, which was purpose-built for  reading comics. It's easier to pan, zoom, and navigate through a comic using the Comics app than it is to use Kindle or iBooks apps, but the gap is narrowing.


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