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The iPad, Comics and Comixology Experience
A look at how the device and service works from a long time comics reader
By Chris Beveridge
July 13, 2010
iPad, Comics and Comixology Experience
Comic books have come full circle for me and it's done so in a really surprising way. I remember way back in 1978 when I really sat down for the first time and read a comic book. While I had previously gotten silly things like Archie comics and some Gladstone books when I was a youngster, my change in thinking when it came to comic books was when I ended up with a copy of Star Wars Issue 8. The Star Wars movie was obviously huge at the time and that movie had served as my awakening to what movies could be about after watching only some basic kids movies at that point.
At the tender age of seven, comic books became something that I was really interested in. Or more specifically, Star Wars comics, as I would sit at the dining room table every morning with a bowl of cereal reading those issues as I got them and re-reading the earlier ones. Milk on them? Eh, whatever, I could read it easily and did so. And eventually followed those up with G.I. Joe, ROM, Micronauts and then to the Marvel Universe proper. And come the mid 1980's I went to DC with the Crisis storylines and into independents and eventually to manga. Though my purchasing waned in the 90's and early 2000's, I've still amassed a nice collection of around 18,000 books and trades from numerous genres, publishers and styles.
I love the visual art of comics. I love superhero comics, I like pulp books, I love the adult material and I love a whole slew of genres from the manga world. My shelf runs the gamut from Iron Fist to Superman to Nexus to Chi's Sweet Home and Maison Ikkoku. I love the books that run for decades with changes far too long to list. I love the series that are focused on running only several volumes with a large coherent storyline to be told. Black and white, color, single issues and trades. I've been there and done it all. I've spent years buying stacks and stacks of books during the glut years when there was such variety and I've spent a ton of time at conventions hunting through bins or at my local comic shop searching out a missing issue back in the pre-Internet days when it was a great discovery to finally fill that hole in a run you had.
Something that I found out about myself in the last couple of years in the anime and manga field is that I'm just as ravenous for content there, stories and artwork to enjoy, but I'm no longer truly a collector. I've view it, manga especially, more as disposable entertainment. I want to read the stories and see the shows but I don't want to maintain rows upon rows of racks of comics, DVDs, Blu-rays and manga. When I go through my lists, especially comics I've been collecting for over thirty years, I realize that I will likely never go back and re-read those single issues again that I labored so hard to collect. Yet I will read a collection of them, such as the G.I. Joe ten issue trades that have been coming out. But even there I find myself losing interest at times in working through the stack that I have.
Enter the iPad and Marvel's foray into the digital world in this format. It wasn't enough to get me to leap into the iPad world when it launched since I'm not as much of a fan of their works as I am DC Comics' titles. So when DC made their announcement for the iPad, well, in the order went after a day or two of internal debate and I finally ended up with one and have started putting it through its paces. The digital form of comics is ideal for me with what I want, in that I want to read the stories, own some version of them (that I know is not forever, but see the part about likely never re-reading something) and be able to read it in an easy to use format that's highly portable and able to store a large amount of them.
There's been a lot said about the Comixology app over the last few months and we've seen different brandings of it across the few publishers that put it out there. The first day I got the iPad I downloaded probably a good forty or so comics and previews that were available from multiple publishers and bought a single comic as well to try out how that works (Sandman #1, how could I not slide a little more money Neil Gaiman's way?). I found reading the issues and previews to be a breeze using the non-animated style to it since I want to replicate the comics experience. I love being able to zoom in on pieces to see a touch more detail in some of it or to get a bit of text a little clearer. I found myself feeling like I was really reading singles again (which obviously I am) in a way I don't get in reading a chapter at a time in a trade paperback. Being able to slide from page to page easily reminded me of just how quick it can be to read an issue when you have just one. But having the ability to slow it down a bit by pinching and zooming has me focusing a bit more on the artwork rather than eagerly reading to the next panel. And with the double page spreads, yes, it's awkward to change the landscape for however long you need, but the end result is really appealing.
I love the look of the comics in this format.
From Marvel, I checked out their issue of Hulk #1 from the 2008 run and the Audi Iron Man special. From Antarctic Press I read some Ninja High School and from another publisher I read a couple pieces of Mage. DC Comics only had me skimming a few things but looking through the Sandman issue to see how that looked. Each experience was definitely a pleasant one at the least or very enjoyable overall since the artwork generally looks really good. Some books obviously look better than others depending on the source it was scanned from and any color correction. The Hulk book obviously looked more vibrant than Sandman or Ninja High School. But all of them looked really good and I felt they gave me a truer reading experience to how the original work looked prior to going to press on whatever form of paper it was on in singles form.
The Comixology app works pretty well as they're doing something similar to the iTunes standard so it's easy to browse. I'm sure we'll see more upgrades to it as time goes on and they get more feedback. What I want out of it is a couple of things. When reading an individual issue and you tap it for the more information panel, they need to list the publisher and original publication date there as well as its digital publication date. This may be more useful if we see some books re-done in the years to come with different scanning sources, corrections and so forth. I'd also really like to see a straight non-graphical list of the books in the various sections rather than the large graphic display we get now. It's really nice, but to be able to switch between the two forms, especially when we start getting to much lengthier runs, will be very helpful.
I really hope Comixology can come up with some kind of folders system for those of us who like to keep a lot of things on our systems. This is going to be my primary comics reading device in the next year and it won't be long realistically until Apple (and other tablet style devices that Comixology will get their stuff working on) will have a lot more storage on it. I love that they allow reading on multiple devices and a central storage aspect of it, but I also want to have more of it on tap when I'm not in a Wi-Fi zone if I choose.
From the publishers side, my requests are generally the same to all of them. Newer books, now. Outside of a couple of older titles that I may have missed some of (such as the Mage 2 series), both Marvel and DC are really bad in not offering much of anything before 2008 and most of it goes back a good deal farther. It's been stated enough, but it's new stuff that sells and until we see more dual publications on the same date, this format will be hampered. It'll happen, that's a given, but they have to push through more of those hurdles. And they have to promote it, much as DC did with its Justice League miniseries that's getting attention for being published both digital and paper at the same time. It's something that in this early stage I will go out of my way to support.
Pricing will always be an issue. When you can get everything for free if you want out there, paying anything feels wrong to some. Coming from a time when the hunt, price shopping for discounts and building a collection with physical issues was a joy, I can understand both sides now that I'm more of a disposable entertainment person. What I hope to see from all publishers is more playing with prices, finding a good cap of $2.99 for a new issue but also realizing they have to lower it after a couple of months as well. $1.99 for an issue within the last couples of years works well as it keeps some demand for it or it may drive some fans towards finding the trades and working from there. If there were a ton of older issues of books for $0.99 on this system, like the old Amazing Spider-Man issues, I'd scoop them all up. If I wanted to pay two bucks an issue, I'd spend a little more and get a really nice trade collection.
But in the end, I'm willing to pay. I'm willing to put my money on the table for the ease, convenience and portability of having a collection. But I'm only really willing to do it for an appropriate price depending on the age of the title (as there is no “collectible” aspect to a digital version like paper comics) and if they are new comics. Selling older comics cheap will build a market, but selling new comics the same date as the comic shops will drive more fans like me who essentially gave up on singles a decade ago in favor of trades to come back. And if I like the book enough, I'll spring for the trade as well. But right now I have zero interest in trying to follow or sample dozens of books in paper form. If the publishers can offer more previews, special discounts at times and other sales to get me to try, they can bring me into more of their books.
The money is on the table. The product is in their hands. And the two are closer than ever to meeting now. This iPad comics experience is exactly what I wanted out of it all and I can't wait to see how it will change in the next year alone.