Every week, an average of 100-or-so new comic books from DC, Marvel, and other publishers hit the racks of the 2,700-plus independent comic book stores across the United States. But ZAP! BAM! BOOM! Whether you’re into Spiderman or Archie, apps are now out there that will let you read the same comics on a digital device like an iPad or a PC. Although the iPad apps all leave something to be desired, you can find some big advantages as well to downloading your favorite comics on to your fave tablet. In this roundup, we’ll take a close look at the four major comic book apps for the Apple iPad, to help you figure out whether you want to give them a spin.
Most obviously, an iPad app will save you the trouble of going to the store to buy comics. An iPad app won’t take up physical space in your basement or closet, either, and your Mom is unlikely to throw it out. Digital comics won’t get dog-eared when you read them, or ruined by your pets. If anything bad ever happens to your iPad, you can always re-download the apps on to another tablet.
Price-wise, new digital comics typically cost the same as the paper versions — around $2.99 to $3.99 per issue. However, DC, Marvel and others drop the prices on digital comics by a dollar after four weeks. They also offer dozens of free full issues, along with weekly sale specials and hundreds to thousands of back issues for as little as .99 cents to $1.99 apiece.
The iPad’s 9.7-inch (diagonal) display isn’t quite as big as a page in a standard comic book, which measures 6.5- by 10-inches, or 12-inches on the diagonal. Otherwise, though, viewing quality is comparable.
On the other hand, iPad apps for buying, managing and reading digital versions of the new comic books could still stand a lot of improvement, as we’ll see further below.
Comics By comiXology (Free)
Comics by comiXology is the kingpin of the comics digital marketplace. Beyond comiXology’s own Comics app, several other comic book publishers use comiXology’s engine for their own branded apps. Your Comics account will let you see and read comics from both comiXlogy’s app and the other comiXology-based apps.
Within the “Store” view of the comiXology’s free Comics app, you get to see what’s new, look at free preview excerpts, and make purchases from more than 18,000 digital comics and graphic novels.
“Store” supplies a range of views of what’s available, including “Featured” for current specials, “Same Day as Print” releases for the current week, “New and Noteworthy,” “Digital Firsts,” “Publishers,””Genres,” and “Series” (from Action Comics through Zatanna and Zorro). You also get the ability to search by either titles or creators.
Buying a digital comic is simple. You simply tap on the “Buy Now” button, and up pops “Confirm Your In-App Purchase.”
To read any of the comics you’ve purchased, go to “My Comics” (on the top right of the “Store” view) and select an issue by tapping on it. To bring up the top and bottom menu bars, tap at the bottom of the screen.
For reading, you can simply go whole-page, zoom, or use comiXology’s Guided View feature. Comic book pages are divided up into “panels” (sometimes a panel may be a whole page, or even several pages).
Finger-swipes in Guided View mode move you through the comic panel by panel, enlarging each panel to fill the display including making adjustments if you rotate the iPad between Portrait and Landscape orientations. Guided View does let you see more – and that’s nice because, as we’ve noted, the iPad display isn’t quite as big as a comic page. However, many comics really need to be viewed one full page at a time, so Guided View isn’t always the optimum choice.
The Comics by comiXology apps are the best of the batch, but the engine still has some rough patches. For example, tapping to bring up the top/bottom menu bars in “My Comics” often takes several tries. Title alphabetization is often inconsistent, too.
A “Free Comics” area that aggregates all publishers is buried at the bottom of “Store/Featured”. It only goes week-by-week, and there’s no “See all free” view.
Like comiXology’s Comics app, the Comics app from iVerse Media provides sample-and-buy access to comics from dozens of publishers (although not precisely the same ones). Ranging from smaller independents to big guys, Comics publishers include Archie Comics, BOOM! Studios, Comics Buyers Guide, IDW, Image, Marvel, Top Cow, and Warner — but not DC (which is odd, since Warner owns DC).
Beyond over 100 free issues, Comics offers more than 3,000 digital issues for sale. To give one example, Top Cow’s Midnight Nation #1 by J.M. Straczynski is available free of charge, whereas issues #2 through #12 cost 99 cents apiece.
In contrast to comiXology’s app, Comics doesn’t offer a “Guided View.” You can toggle between one-page/ two-page views and you can, to a limited extent, zoom on a panel.
In fact, the entire experience — browsing, getting to free previews, reading, etc. — is a more cumbersome process.
Graphicly also offers many comics for sale, together with a few freebies, from dozens of publishers. A few Marvel titles are thrown into the mix, but these are back-issue story arcs, with nothing current.
Also importantly, though, the overall experience could be a lot more satisfying. In fact, some things don’t even work. For example, two of the four areas on the “Featured” page pop up empty grids instead of showing comic issues.This app boasts two important features that the other comic buy/ read apps don’t. One of these is a high-profile “show all free” button. The other is the ability to organize your downloads in your Library into Collections (similar to, say, Apple’s iBooks). This includes predefined “New Stuff” (in terms of buying, downloading and reading).
The preview is clunky. Moreover, page rendering while reading is slow. And the “panel at a time” mode zooms from panel to panel, but there’s no obvious “next panel” tap.
Madcap Studios’ Digital Comics (Free)
Madcap’s DigitalComics app and store currently offer digital comics from only a few publishers: Top Cow, Antarctic Press, and Indy. There are some titles worth grabbing the freebies of, if nothing else: a “Wanted” by J.G.Jones and Mark Millar, and a “Witchblade.”
The Digital Comics app comes with both full-page and “Panel” modes. In panel mode, you can progress to the next panel either automatically, at a set time interval, or when you tap.
The Comic Shop includes three views: “$,” “Free,” and “All.”
The web site brags “As gunshots fire, and explosions go off in the comic, you’ll see the screen shake and even feel the device vibrate in your hand.” But I didn’t experience any of this.
Also, it takes way too many tap-tries to get the menu bars and controls back.
The preview mode won’t show you a full page all at once.
So What’s a Comic Fan to Do?
If you’re just a DC or Marvel fanperson, get the publisher-branded app, so you don’t have to wade through all of this stuff in these four apps. DC alone now offers three publisher-branded apps: DC, Vertigo, and Mad.
If you buy a combo of DC and Marvel, you should probably go with the Comics by comiXology app, while still downloading the publisher-branded apps in case they offer specials.
Otherwise, you might want to check into all four of the apps we’re considering here, bearing in mind, of course, that each still has some kinds of flaws.
None of them really gives you a one-click view of what you’ve bought recently and what you’ve read or haven’t read. Similarly, there’s no way to create the equivalent of the “playlist” that you might put together for audio downloads – the order in which you might want to read the latest batch of purchases and there’s no way to personalize your home page in any of them.
It would be good to also be able to view pop-up menus for things like “Tell me more about this character,” or to tie into existing publisher sites and databases to be able to find out more about events like the Blackest Night, the Civil War, etc.
Is the reading-comics-on-an-iPad experience good enough to make it worth doing? The answer could well be ‘yes’ if you’re going to stick to the free and inexpensive comics – particularly if you can’t get to a comic book store regularly and you want your weekly fix in a timely fashion.
It remains to be seen, though, whether all that many people are going to be willing to pony up three to dollars each for the more costly digital comics.
If you’re not sure how much of an investment in time and money you’re ultimately going to want to make, take an hour or two, try out these free apps, grab a few dozen of the free issues and maybe spend a few dollars on the paid comics for iPads. Compare the experience against what you’re currently getting from the comic shop. Then decide for yourself. Have fun!