OK, you have your shiny new “magical” device, you’ve played with all the preloaded apps, surfed the web, watched a movie, experienced a sense of childlike wonder, blah blah. How does it do as a reader for comics?
In a word- awesome. I’ll to say up front that I have NOT been a regular reader of comics for a long time. I’ve used the existing apps for the iPhone and while they are great at what they do, I’ve never been really comfortable reading for any extended time on the small screen of a phone. The size of the iPad makes reading for extended time a wholly different matter.
Marvel, IDW, iVerse, and Comixology have been available since the iPad’s release. All are similar in form and features. In general their look takes its cue from iTunes for layout and search, so most users will be familiar with how to proceed. All are free downloads and also have selections of free comics that you can grab immediately. So kind of like a drug dealer, the first taste is free, knowing that you’ll come back for more. I know I will.
The Marvel reader is similar in look and features compared to the others. The Marvel online store opens as the default. Along the bottom tabs are your options for My Comics, Store, and Settings. The first thing you’ll get under settings is a prompt to get an account with Marvel, gain free ways to push out emails about new releases etc. Under reader preferences you can set the panel transitions, whether you want letterboxing on panels and how often you want updates to be sent by email.You can also manage storage options. Your maximum space is 500 megabytes, after that you will have to start deleting. I have 9 downloaded right now and its only taking up 80 MBs. You can store a lot, but not your whole collection. This is a decision by Marvel, not Apple, the iPad I’m using has 64 gig of storage.
Hit the read button and the book opens to the cover. Swipe your finger and the first panel opens.
One thing I don’t care for with the Marvel app is that the panel zooms in almost like a movie camera. Keep swiping and the zoom takes you from one word balloon to the next. After a few initial opening moves like this it settles down and you get the whole panel with each swipe. This is where the iPad shines.
You can read the whole page if you want, just as in a traditional printed version.
Tap the bottom of the screen and you get a line with each panel in a tiny thumbnail. One tap on the panel that is slightly enlarged and the whole page pulls up. Swipe the page and you go to the next page. A traditionalist may prefer this as it more closely imitates reading a comic. But just double tap the panel that you want to read and your screen is filled with that single panel. Again a swipe across and you get the next, then the next. The transitions are smooth and its akin to a movie-like experience. I love it. It’s immersive in the story and the display really shines here. Since you have an LCD screen almost any color and shade is available.
I know that comics have made gigantic strides in color reproduction in the past decade, but you simply have to see this for yourself to get the depth of clarity and color. This is very early in the game, and who knows what kind of artwork and storytelling will be used in future versions.
The Comixology reader is my personal favorite. Its more like an online store, not tied to a single publisher. The welcoming layout is again iTunes like, almost a mirror of the Marvel reader. Online storage is again limited to 500 mbs. Navigating within the panel is again panel to panel with intelligent zooming and scrolling. Except for the choices of content, Marvel and Comix are for all purposes the same app.
The apps for the IDW and Iverse readers for all intents and purposes the same. On both readers your opening default is your comic collection. Pull up their store and the layout is similar to Marvel, with an alphabetical listing on the side of featured titles. Again this is very similar to using iTunes crossed with the iBook app. One very nice feature that so far only IDW has is the ability to find a local comic shop. When you are in your library there is an option button ‘more’. This gives a basic settings menu and the Find Comic Shops option. Simply fill in your zip code and a listing comes up. Mine searched as far as 1 miles away. Tap any result and it will open the location in the map app. As far as storage there seems to be no limit, unlike the Marvel or Comix apps. Tap on any comic in your library and the screen fills with the page. Reading the comic is a different experience from Marvel. Tapping a panel will simply enlarge it, but it will not autofill the screen. Repeated taps will keep zooming the panel, but again, the effect is almost random, not comfortable for reading. You are stuck reading the entire page unless you want to zoom and pinch each panel by hand. All in all both are disappointments as a user experience compared to what else is available.
So what’s the bottom like? It’s FUN to read with the iPad. Being able to have a huge library at your fingertips is something that I have personally dreamed about ever since I got my first computer. I don’t know if the iPad will save comic publishing, but I’ll be doing my part by buying, and reading comics when I should be paying attention at that meeting.