Digital comics are here to stay. Some would say print is over and we all need to get used to it. While I appreciate that digitizing books (comics included) will help us avert a Fahrenheit 451 future I’m just not a huge fan.
One of the wonderful things about comics is the hand in hand agreement between the artists, writer, and the reader. The artist and writer agree to; plot, write, draw, ink, color, print and then send it out to my greedy little hands ready for reading. Then I agree (by getting the book) to sit down and read it. We all have our ways of reading comics, some on the couch, the bus, the train, the bed, the bathroom (ew, but it happens I guess) and not only the where but the how. Every-time I turn a page I make the choice to follow the panels, respect the story-telling, or not. Sometimes it’s arresting (like J.H. Williams stuff in Batwoman), sometimes it’s straightforward. The choice of how I read it is always mine. Digital takes that choice away from the reader, it strips us of our half of the agreement.
More on that point in a moment, first a little of my history with digital comics. My first foray’s into digital were using a “cbr” reader, essentially a zip file containing scans of each page. Not a bad way to read a comic but if your screen is too small it shrinks the image which can look pretty crappy. As time went on I saw more and more “pdf” files definitely my least favorite way to read comics (also unfortunately the way most publishers send previews). The software is clumsy, doesn’t re-size the page well and certain lettering styles don’t show up well.
Bring on the web-based viewers. Comixology is the obvious top of the heap with steady sales that just keep growing. Lots of the books use full-page or panel mode. Panel mode (at least for a seasoned comic book reader) is the most annoying invention ever. Click on a panel it zooms to a larger size, then use the arrow keys to navigate between panels. Sounds kinda cool, right? In practice you never see the page or how the panels relate to one another. Well if panel by panel doesn’t do it there’s full-page mode, maybe that’s better….
Sure, if you like squinting at pages. I’m using a 17 inch laptop (or my 10 inch tablet) and I still can’t make out most of the dialogue. So I wind up clicking on panels, which breaks the page and the rhythm. Some readers like Adobe Acrobat allow for zooming (or pinch and zoom on the tablet)but it’s the same problem. It’s just not a comfortable reading experience. This is why I say it strips the agreement between the reader and creator. When a book is formatted, laid-out, plotted, whatever word works for you, to hold in your hand and scan with the human eye then either create a digital device that can replicate the actual comic book interface or design the book for the devices we have.
It’s not all bad though, I have read really well formatted digital comics. For the most part they seem to created specifically for the web, the layout makes the difference. I’ve reviewed many digital titles and loved more than a few but the ones I enjoy are almost always presented (for the lack of a better word) in a more web friendly format. If you’re developing a comic with a print layout mentality odds are I’m not going to appreciate it as much digitally.
You’ve probably noticed I haven’t named any comics in this article (except for referring to J.H. Williams amazing layouts in Batwoman). My reason for that is pretty simple. I won’t pan a comic simply because it’s digital.
What’s your take on digital? Is there some technology that would change the game for you either way? Am I just some crazy old guy yelling at the kids to get off my lawn? Let me hear what you think….