Digital Comics On The iPhone

Even as comic and manga publishers fret over the future of their media as the digital transition takes hold, it’s a great time to be a reader! The last few days I’ve been rediscovering comics in digital form with the help of iPhone readers from Dark Horse, comiXology, and Viz.

Growing up, keeping up with the comics I liked was not an easy task. If I had the money there was the very real problem of getting to the nearest comic shop which for me was at the top of a very steep hill near Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza. Eventually I moved on to other books only revisiting comics latter for the occasional Batman graphic novel release.

My first glimpse of what comics could be on a portable device came when the Digital Comics service debuted on the PSP. The guided, panel to panel mode was the perfect way, for me at least, to read comics on that big beautiful screen! That was back in 2009 and digital books hadn’t really taken hold of my conciousness and the PSP was not something that I carried around with me all the time, so the thought of turning it into a reader and building a library on it was not something I was ready to do.

Fast forward two years to the iPhone, a device I usually have on my person which between 3G and Wi-Fi is almost always on the network. And with a display screen nearly as large as the PSP and much more available storage space, using it as a reader only awaited the right apps. Well it looks like the right apps have arrived!

Oz: The Manga

David Hutchison's Re-imagining of Oz in Manga Form

Last Saturday was Free Comic Book Day, so I decided to give reader apps from Dark Horse, comiXology, and Viz, a workout. I started thinking about this originally when Viz released their manga reader for iPhone and iPod touch. Being iPadless, I was curious to see how manga fared on the iPhone’s much smaller screen.

The iPhone version of the Viz reader was a bit of a disappointment. While manga are clear and readable, you have to manually pan and zoom. Not only that, all reading is done in portrait mode. Twilt your iPhone all you want, that picture is not rotating. This would not be all bad except for the fact that I knew of a better way to read graphic novels in that form factor.

Both the Dark Horse and comiXology readers gave a much more enjoyable reading experience. The key to this being their guided panel to panel reading mode. It makes reading a comic somewhere between viewing a slideshow and a movie. Both were easy to use, though I felt that the Dark Horse app performed a little better overall. And both Dark Horse and comiXology allow you to read titles in your library online in a web browser. Right now it doesn’t look like you can read Viz manga from your in app library on a computer. That’s an interesting omission given that Viz does make several of its Shonen Jump manga titles available for online reading.

As a manga reader, it’s a little disappointing that Viz’s reader is not quite up to the standard set by the digital comic readers. But I’m sure we’ll see improvements in later releases. In the meantime, I’m having a lot of fun rediscovering comics such as David Hutchison’s Oz: The Manga, which looks great on my iPhone!

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