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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
© Mania
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.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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slackey 7/13/2010 7:25:00 AM

I've been using the Marvel, DC, IDW, and Comixology apps on the iPhone and then the iPad and it's absolutely game changing. The big conflict I'm haiving is that I love my comic book shop. I love the atmosphere, and outside of the stereotypes I've made many good friends in that place. If Marvel in particular gets the guts to start releasing new issues day and date with paper ones I'll want to close my out my hold box in the store. I'm not a collector either, I don't have the storage space these days and honestly the overall experience of reading comics is just better on the iPad. Back to my store of choice, if the iPad starts a trend that takes off on similar cheaper tablet style devices that are on the way I could see that store close its doors. So, what's a fan to do? If I and others embrace the new technology it'll inevitably destroy the culture of comics, or at least the social aspect. Sure Marvel or DC could start some sort of social network based around their comics but it won't be the same as dropping into a store and enjoying the culture. It can be compared to the death of the arcade actually. Sure XBOX Live is a cool way to play games with friends while we sit alone in our living rooms but it's not the same as hanging out with friends and meeting new people in person, out of the house, in an arcade. The comparison works also when you consider the fact that the average age of the videogamer has shot up over the years just as the average age of the comic book fan has also shot up. Older people are easily swayed into being less social becasue they have more to deal with than kids so if they can game without leaving the hosue, or read comics without stopping by the local shop to pick them up, then they probably will. It doesn't hurt that the technology makes the experience of gaming, or reading a comic, better than it has ever been. So I love reading comics on my iPad but I'm conflicted about it at the same time. There's much more to be written about this subject....

u_nick 7/13/2010 7:46:24 AM

I couldnt agree more. Your article sums up my feelings exactly. I was hesistant with just Marvel and Comixology, but I went and bought an iPad a day or two after the DC app launched.

Deliver new books on a regular basis the same way they are delivered to the store, and you have a old buyer coming back into the fold. Part of the reason I stopped going to the store was space issues. If I can read regularly again from the comfort of digital space? I'll become a regular reader again instead of waiting two years for the TPBs to hit.

jedibanner 7/13/2010 9:11:23 AM

And thus, the death of paper comics began, hope your happy to encourage this people, you are directly killing comics.

ChadDerdowski 7/13/2010 9:23:28 AM

A lot of calligraphers (sp?) lost their jobs when the printing press was invented.  Do we d*mn the printing press?  Do we d*mn the men who created it?  Do we d*amn the men who speak of it's potential and tell them they're killing the art of calligraphy?  Or do we recognize what we've lost, embrace what we have and move on, realizing that unless you are on the train of progress, we remain tied to the tracks, with no Dudley Do-Right in sight?

Comics will never die, even if they exist solely on your computer.  Novels, illustration and the written word will never die.  Even if they exist solely on a computer.

Beyond that, I have a hard time believing that those who love to hold a physical book in their hands and love the tactile sensation of turning pages or the smell of ink, will ever give it up completely.  Someone will always be printing books and someone will always be buying them.

Do I hear the death knell for comic shops?  Possibly.  And yes, that saddens me.  It saddened me to see the local grocery store run out of business when the big chains moved in.  It saddens me to know that my local video store was run out of business by Blockbuster a few years ago and it both saddens and amuses me to see Blockbuster being run out of business by Netflix now... but times change.  The loss of local business sucks - no two ways about it.  I don't know what the solution is there, but I hope a happy medium can be found.

But digital comics, Comixology and the iPad aren't going to kill comics.  As slackey, u_nick and the author of this article have all discussed, it may very well bring in new readers.  There is bad that comes along with the good, but killing comics?  Hardly.

jedibanner 7/13/2010 9:58:05 AM

I knew one day Chad we would disagree.

BUt obviously my comment is made towards your point where, comics shop wil most likelly ''die'', the paper comics will most likelly ''die-down'' since peoplem will prefer to buy online garbage instead of real comics.

But the fact that things like IPAD is encouraging directly the use of a new media which directly undermines another. that's why I think these tools are directly responsible for helping the death of paper comics.

By the time those suits upstairs realise the cost is so small to do online comics Vs. paper comics, mark my word, paper comics WILL disapear. And that is the death of real comics and that is why we are watching the slow death of the paper comics.

I might be alone on this but, that's how I feel.

Hobbs 7/13/2010 10:26:06 AM

Great article.  I still occasionally read the TPB of something that interests me but otherwise I only read a few issues here and there yet. 

If the price was right this could bring me back to reading comics and multiple titles again.  This could also force comics to come down in price again so kids could afford them.  Those are the positives.

The negatives Chad covered and I can only add this could kill the back issue value as well.  If you have comic worth a grand it could drop it down to next to nothing. 

I'm all for advancement and unfortunately there are things that get left behind when that happens. 

fallensbane 7/13/2010 2:44:57 PM

Personally won't touch an iPad, my laptop is not so unwieldy that I want to drop the money. My laptop also has a helluva lot more versatility. What I will drop money for is a color E-Reader. I am looking forward to the digital age of comics. While I don't like iPad personally, I like that it should push other companies into copycat mode and also improvements on the concept. But again, I am a big reader and I want a Color Nook or Kindle. Though I doubt I would buy first generation.

Personally I actually work in a comic shop and I don't want to see them become a thing of the past, but realistically I will never have all the room to continuously buy and store comics. Digital Downloads is the way to go.

What I would like to see perhaps is some sort of Kiosk system that stores can implement which stores issues on localized hard drives. Each night around mindight the Kiosks would automatically download all new digital comics for new comic day. People could bring their devices in, plug them in and download them from the stores Kiosk. I think a fair deal of comics fans would come in for a system like this, they would get their comics digitally but still get their comic shop talk going everyweek.

I'm not a collector, so I really don't give two puddles if those ridiculously expensive back issues take a nose dive. And normal back issues sit and collect dust at our shop and most shops I have visited, sure on occasion somoene will come in for some, but alot of the time it does not justify the space taken up to store them. Most comic stores only keep back issues because if you don't your not considered "A Real Comic Shop".

I have a friend who is a hardcore collector who is vehemntly against digital books. Yet he is also the guy who has so many long boxes (and manga boxes) full of books he pays 70  a month for a storage shed. Seriously wtf....

All this stuff should hopefully drive the cost of comics down. I would personally like to see a pricing plan for digital books similiar to..'

Standard Size Issue: $1.49.-1.99

Double Size Issue: $2.99-$3.99

Liscensed Books: In situations where comics are being done on liscened franchises (Buffy, Angel, Supernatural etc) add an extra .50 cents to a books cost.

Specials & Deals: I could see lots of deals to get people to longterm subscribe as well, just like magazines. Sign up for an entire year (12-Issues of a series)  and get 25% off. Thats a full year of instant revenue for publisher and if the book was cancelled.... well credit the customers account for te remainder of their sub.

fallensbane 7/13/2010 2:56:58 PM

And also, if digital books were made to be about half as much as printed (I mean look, you are cutting on the cost of (Materials, printing, packing, shipping) I think a large boost in sales will be seen as E-Readers and other book readers become more mainstream.

This is better overall for not only the comic fan but the customer as well. With the final cost being that much lower per issue there is less pressure to have insanely high sales. Current fans would likely read more. People like hobbs would comeback as regulal readers.

In the end its win win win for Creators, Publishers, Fans. Again the sad thing could be the death of comic shops themselves. But my suggested Kiosk idea could work. Especially if publishers would give retailers a one week window for the comic shops to sell them from their kiosks before releasing themselves online digitally.

This could also help blow up the independant scene and bring some of them more attention, I love marvel/dc but I am sick of these long drawn out events that span 18 different ongoing series and always seem to  be a cataclysm. I have become more of a fan of the smaller companies nowadays. Top Cow does it right, they do major world events but they don't constantly shovel them down your throat.

agentkooper 7/13/2010 4:29:38 PM

I love digital comics.  There.  It's been said.  They look freaking amazing on my iPad.  The art pops in ways it can't on a printed page.  Check it!

Dazzler 7/14/2010 4:44:17 AM

I could buy an ipaid every 2 months the way I buy my comics.  I do consider myself a collector.  I do want to read more comics than just Marvel which is all I can afford.  Kids in no way can afford comics like I used to do.  Something does need to be done.  

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