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Comics on the cheap: Reading DVDs on the iPad

by  in Comic News Comment

There was a time, maybe 10 years ago, when comics on DVD were the New Big Thing. A DVD holds a lot of comics in a fairly small space, and you can read the comics conveniently on your computer screen without having all those longboxes cluttering up the place.

Then thumb drives came along, and The Cloud, and streaming this and that, and DVDs started looking sort of dowdy and oversized and old-fashioned. Also, for some reason a lot of people hate reading comics on a computer screen. So, as Johanna Draper Carlson pointed out recently, you can get some comics DVDs really cheap via Amazon. And, as another blogger pointed out, you can bypass the clunky DVDs pretty quickly and read the comics on your iPad.

Really?

Yes, really. I did this. It was cheap, easy, and required no technical knowhow whatsoever.

First I went on Amazon and snapped up a bunch of these DVDs, some of which were seriously marked down. For under $25, I got about 1,000 comics. Here’s my list:

Those links will suggest other bargains as well—20 Looney Toons comics for $2.99, a complete run of the National Lampoon for $19.45. The other DVD collections I saw, Mad Magazine and various Marvel titles, seemed to be pricier, but all these are cheaper than paying $2.99 per comic via digital distributors.

I started with the Bronze Age Jughead DVD, because it happened to be at the top of my stack. You need Adobe 7.0 or higher to read these, which wasn’t a problem; I have Adobe Reader version 8.2.5 on my Mac. I popped the disc in and the menu opened right up. Double-clicking an icon opens up the comic, and you can see right away why this didn’t catch on—the comic is presented in double-page spreads, but you scroll down to read it, which feels kind of weird.

The iPad solves that problem, though. I have several PDF readers on my iPad: GoodReader, Bluefire, Stanza, ComicZeal, and CloudReaders. I move the files to all of them the same way: Connect the iPad to the computer with a USB cable, then drag and drop the files into iTunes. It syncs automatically, and the comic appears on the virtual bookshelf when you open the app.

The results: ComicZeal, Bluefire, Stanza, and CloudReaders all displayed the comics one page at a time, but they also show a faint watermark on each page. GoodReader didn’t automatically resize the comic to fit a single page on the vertical screen—I had to do that using the iPad’s zoom feature, and scrolling was a bit awkward—but it also didn’t display the watermark. I couldn’t find a PDF reader that both resized automatically and eliminated the watermark.

It should also be said that the scans aren’t the greatest quality; on this and the Scooby Doo comics, I noticed some crooked pages and smudges. The gutters are yellowed, and the staples are visible. So actually, it’s sort of like reading a real vintage comic, except that with the iPad, you expect everything to be crisp and clean. On the plus side, the colors are nice and bright and the resolution is decent.

If the watermark is a deal-breaker and you don’t mind reading at a small size, I would recommend using GoodReader held in landscape mode; it automatically displays two pages at a time, and it’s about the size of an Archie digest. The other readers all do a better job of automatically showing single pages, but the watermark is hard to avoid. I like ComicZeal, which organizes the series of comics into virtual longboxes, but I wouldn’t buy it just for this; Bluefire, Stanza, and CloudReaders do just as well. No doubt there is a better PDF reader out there, or a hack that makes this work better—feel free to make suggestions in the comments section—but even without refinement this was an easy, straightforward way to load up my iPad with vintage comics for very short money.