Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Digital Comics

I recently subscribed to Marvels' digital comic books. I also have a couple of DVDs of collections - one for the X-Men and one for the Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer. I'd like to compare them with each other and with the paper editions.

Comic books were designed to be on paper. There are no two ways about this. This is also the only form that they have any collectible value. That said, there are disadvantages to having them on paper. They take up a lot of room and they require careful storage to keep up their value. Finding an individual issue can be difficult unless you spend a lot of time filing them and you can't carry them everywhere without risking damage.

The biggest disadvantage of comics on paper is that it is expensive and difficult to read issues that you missed.

The DVD collections have scanned comic books in PDF format. Each book is converted to a scanned image, exactly as it appeared including ads and letters pages. This is a fairly pure experience. You see everything as it was. You use your PDF viewer to zoom in and out, up and down.

Marvel's digital comics take a different approach. They are stored in Flash format with navigation buttons at the bottom for going forward and backwards. The Flash animation has been preset to zoom in or out to make the comic easily readable. The images have been cleaned up. There is no yellowing, no folds, no staples, and nothing but the story itself. You do not buy the digital comics. You buy access, either by the month or by the year. As long as your subscription is valid you can read everything in their library which is being added to daily.

I've been using the PDF images for my FF blogging. Last night I read the FF's first meeting with the Hulk and the first four issues of Thor's return from Marvel's Digital Comics. My impression is that the PDF images work fine for older comics but will not be as convenient for newer ones. The old comics stuck pretty much to a six panel per page format. This was later changed to four panels with some oversized panels. On my PCs, the screen is smaller than the original comic so I zoom it to something like the original size then move the page up and down to read. Newer comics mix panel size constantly. One page might be divided with one panel taking up most of the page and a couple of smaller panels inserted on top of it. This does not lend itself as well to the PDFs.

The Digital Comics will zoom in and out, up and down, trying to follow the story while letting you see the layout of the page. This works fairly well although some word balloons are a bit hard to read when it is showing the full page. You can also override this, scolling the page up or down and changing the zoom. Ironically, the Digital Comics have problems with the older issues. The pages might have been divided into six panels per page but the viewer does not always synchronize properly. There were several times that a word balloon was cut off at the top and I had to scroll up. This is only a minor complaint.

Conclusions: All three ways work. If you are more interested in the story than the physical comic then the digital versions are a good choice. If you want to see the most recent issues then you still have to buy your comics on paper. If you want a wide selection that is still incomplete then the Digital Comics are a good choice. If you want a deep selection - everything for a single character then the DVD collections are good. The DVDs have the additional benefit of portability. You can take them anywhere that you take your laptop. The Digital Comics require a network connection.

Note: Don't even think about trying this on an iPad. It doesn't support Flash or external, optical disks.


Jon said...

I've looked at the some of the PDF comics in the past and as you said they get the job done, but I agree that they don't really work for modern books. Layouts vary wildly and someone like JH Williams III who uses crazy layouts needs something more than a PDF viewer, unless you're using a giant screen, to see everything.

I think tablets in general will do a pretty good job for newer stuff allowing you to pinch, zoom, or depending on the digital provider, give you an experience that will be different. Not just the page and zoom feature.

Mark said...

I agree that a tablet in landscape mode would be a good comic book reader. The iPad doesn't support the right formats unless Marvel comes up with a comic book app. The Joojoo might work. It will support both Flash and PDF.