Digital Issues, Part 1 – The Apps

by Dave Grilli

Last week, my pal Chris moved to Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, neither his new place nor his moving truck had room for his massive collection of comics, some twenty-odd long boxes. Generous soul that I am, I offered to hold them for him here in Brooklyn in perpetuity, until such time as he had space for them.

“But you don’t have space for them,” my girlfriend told me.

“Not yet, no,” I replied, eyeing her nightstand and the precious space it was occupying. And did I really need my dresser? I could learn to live without it for thousands of free comics, even though I had vowed to only purchase single issues on my iPad. I know, it’s blasphemy. Please don’t kick me out of the clubhouse.

Comics and the iPad were made for each other. The screen, although slightly smaller than a comic page, works nicely to display comics. Panels look great on it’s glossy screen, even with the backlight turned down. Even the iPad with the smallest capacity can hold 20 longboxes worth of comics, no problem, and that’s just what I can carry with me. Comics folks are classically unwilling to accept change (why do you think no one ever dies in comics?) but it’s time. Comics are going digital and we should embrace that, so here’s a quick look at some of the best digital comics readers for the iPad.

(Note: There are far too many independent publishers of comics and apps for a detailed inspection of all of them, and new ones are being added all the time. I made these selections based on popularity, and my own experience.)

1. Comixology

Comixology is the most popular app for digital comics, and with good reason. Unlike most of the other apps, the integrated comics store has offerings from multiple publishers, including some of the smaller ones. Comixology is a great way to keep all of your digital comics in one place; you can get most major publishers’ books in one place, making switching between apps unnecessary. The interface is smooth and intuitive, and the app itself is stable. Comixology is a must have for anyone reading comics on an iPad, even if you never use it to buy anything. There are tons of free comics available, too.

2. Marvel/DC/Image/Boom!

I’m grouping all of these apps together because, really, they’re the same. Each connects to its own online store, but the apps themselves are all powered by Comixology. The interfaces are functionally identical. The only practical difference is stability, as these apps crash slightly more often than Comixology. For the most part, any book available in these apps will also be available in Comixology, but it’s a good idea to have them for any exclusive offerings that might crop up. Also, uou can sync comics between the Comixology-based apps, which is necessary for reading Vertigo comics, due to age restrictions. (Thanks to Steve Horton for that last bit, which I was confused about.)

3. Comics +/IDW

As Comixology is to Marvel/DC/etc, so too is Comics + the base for IDW’s iPad app. The interface is not quite as easy to use, and the store doesn’t have quite as large of a selection. Also, when the iPad is rotated into landscape mode, these apps display both pages next to each other, requiring you to zoom in in order to read anything. This by itself wouldn’t be such a pain, but when you zoom in on one page, the other stays zoomed out. Not the end of the world, but it looks bad. It’s a shame, too, because if you want to read IDW books on the iPad, it’s your only option.

So which app do you need? If you’re like me, you need all of them, because you read books from every publisher or at least want the option. I would hazard a guess and say that most of what you’re looking for could be found  just through Comixology and Comics +, if you’re trying to keep your iPad’s homepage clean. Plus the apps are all free and come with at least one free comic to try out.

Chris ended up finding room in his truck (and presumably his house) for the comics, so my girlfriend got to keep her nightstand, and I got to keep my girlfriend.

Check in next week as Digital Issues continues with a look at the shadowy world of digital comics piracy!

Comments

  1. Steve Horton says:

    One correction: A book bought in one of ComiXology’s apps will too sync to the other apps. This is, in fact, the only way to read Vertigo comics in the DC app … you have to buy it in ComiXology first, and then sync it to DC, because of age restrictions.

  2. DaveGrilli says:

    @Steve: Good eye, sir. Corrected. Thanks.

  3. monopole says:

    Once they provided the option to skip the guided view mode on tablets Comixology turned out to be a pretty good app. The one feature they need is an easy goto bar indicating the position in the book.

  4. I would add to this list ComicZeal, Graphic.Ly and Robot Comics Comic Viewer

  5. There is one viewer which has a feature none of these has. It’s Safari (the built-in web browser), which allows you to read comics that Apple does not allow to be sold through their App Store.

  6. jacob lyon goddard says:

    why can’t i find a single comic through these programs that i’d want to read?

    i know that at least of the creative force behind alt/indy/art comics is the physical production of the product, but damn it i feel left out.

    i want to read a comic on my phone that isn’t about people in tights punching each other or hopeful movie pitches.

  7. There seems to be a lot of independent comics on the various platforms. I will be setting up many of the Caliber titles as well as Transfuzion-which includes some all new material- on sites very shortly, so that’s about 35-40 graphic novels. I didn’t want this to sound like a plug but just bringing awareness that a lot of material is forthcoming from many different publishers.

  8. @Jacob: Comixology and Comics+ are in the process of setting up an app or a way for indie artists to sell their books. The problem has been that getting Marvel and DC up to speed took up so much of their time. But I’ve spoken to people from both companies and they are working on the indie situation.

  9. Hi there,

    I’ a German Comicbook artist AND it’s very interesting to read the American opinions!

    In the Germay the development of this marketpiece is still in the beginning.

    Best from Germany

    FeliX (Reinhard Horst)

  10. Preston S. says:

    I have a few questions for those of you who might be using these apps. I’m intending to buy an iPad, but it sounds like most of these apps download a comic to a specific device, meaning the comic is not available on your computer as well. Is that correct? Also, how current is the selection? Are publishers releasing digital comics on the same schedule as print comics?

    Essentially, I’m asking how restrictive are these apps. I’m perfectly willing to live with some restrictions, as I am happy to help combat piracy. But how limiting are these apps?

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