How Tablets are Changing Comic Book Reading

One of my life-long friends, Jim, lives and breathes the comic book scene. In fact, he loves it so much that he now manages one of the big comic book stores in Sydney. It’s a vibrant, loyal industry that extends to collectables, comic conventions, and for many could be called a lifestyle as much as a hobby.

I’ve always been a casual comic reader, and a big fan of the “trade paperback”, which combines all the comics from a particular episodic run into one easy-to-read volume. This format is the best for me, as I’m not a comic book collector and never want to wait for the next instalment. I’d just wait for Jim to get the trade paperback after the story arc had run its course and enjoy the complete story. The tactile experience of reading an exciting comic, thick in plot, visuals and dialogue, can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of age or gender.

I’m also a huge gadget fiend, so when the iPad arrived on our shores, I had one in my hand within the first hour of the day of launch. After exploring the wide variety of apps in the iTunes/App Store ecosystem, the iPad had reignited my interest in the good old comic book. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this is the future of comics, for a variety of reasons.

I’m not saying that the viability of physical content will go away anytime soon. From what I’ve seen, comic book fans are passionate and enthusiastic, which will fuel this growth for a while to come. What I’m talking about is the expansion of this business into the hands of people that may not have appreciated the art or storylines of comics before.

The vivid experience I have when reading is what makes me very excited to re-engage with the comic book in the electronic format. It’s an amazing, dynamic environment that enhances the comic rather than takes away from it. This is because software developers have created techniques for artists to present their work in new and exciting ways.

For example, the Comixology app for iDevices has an option called “Guided View” technology. You can choose to view each comic page as you would a physical copy, or you can double tap on a panel and it will zoom in and present that panel, which then progresses on to the next, giving you heightened detail and an opportunity to deeply appreciate the artist’s craft. Because of this, I’m not flipping through pages; I find myself slowly and deliberately enjoying the comic, transitioning from panel to panel rather than page to page.

Reading a comic in this fashion is like savouring and consuming a delicious meal, moving from dish to dish, especially if you’re a fan of the artist or writer. And you are in control of the reading pace, so it’s much more intimate and subjective than watching a cartoon or animated feature. It actually extends the reading time of a comic for me, due to the slower admiring of each panel’s finer points.

This is not an experience that will be restricted to the iPad. I’m sure as more major PC manufacturers come out with tablets over the coming months, publishers will be looking to expand their distribution. The iPad has definitely set the benchmark as the platform to beat this kind of reading experience, and it’s a positive outcome for the comic industry with another distribution arm to keep their business on a positive growth curve. Serious comic collectors may keep their first print issues in airtight packages and still enjoy the read in electronic form, which could increase revenue and inspire more artists to create and offer their work online.

Which brings me to my last point on this post, which is today’s technology setting the foundations for new artists and publishers. Printing paper is an expensive and wasteful process, but offering a strong concept online in comic form could be the best way for up and coming talent to showcase their work and earn revenue – and just like music artists that wouldn’t have a had a chance before music was sold online, anyone with the intent and skills has the chance to succeed. That’s what an open market is all about.

I’m going to go back to my Action Philosophers comic now. See you again soon!