This week, 2000AD launched its new iOS reader, adding the U.K.'s iconic anthology to Apple's lucrative Newsstand application. 2000AD artist Paul "PJ" Holden is a longstanding commentator on the digital distribution of comics, frequently blogging and podcasting about the subject, since long before the launch of the game-changing iPad device. ROBOT 6 asked Holden to review the app, and he quickly obliged.
PJ Holden: First, let me get this out of the way, I'm a 2000AD artist, who's worked for "The Galaxy's Greatest Comic" (as it is sometimes known) for something over a decade. In fact, I'm currently the artist on "Judge Dredd" (at least for the next two weeks). So, in some respects, I have a horse in this race. Rebellion, the parent company of 2000AD, has had a curious relationship to digital comics. They bought the digital comics company Clickwheel a number of years ago, far in advance of the real blossoming of digital comics with the advent of the iPad (and whatever you feel the merits of Apple vs Android, the iPad was what really opened the doors to the tablet becoming a mass-medium digital comic reading device) and have been selling PDF/CBZ formats of 2000AD ever since. Since then they've also opened a digital comic shop on the 2000AD website itself, again selling DRM free versions of 2000AD (in both PDF and CBZ formats). But now, at last, they've joined the surprisingly small ranks of publishers who've put out on iOS comic reader, and, as a publisher which also happens to be a video game developer, the only thing that's really a wonder is how long it's taken.
One of the striking differences between 2000AD on the iPad and, say, any other comic on any other comic reader is that the native file format appears to be PDF. This is most obvious in the fact that the text is resolution independent. Regardless of zoom level, it's always crisp and sharp -- which is great. Less great is that, at least at this stage, the actual resolution of the artwork is sadly not as good as Apple's Retina Screen resolution can actually deliver (this is a personal opinion, of course -- I suspect your mileage may vary, especially if you're using an iPhone or a first or second generation iPad). It gives a slightly mushy feel to some of the coloured art -- though it's far less obvious in the b&w or greyscale strips. A curio -- which may have nothing but novelty value at this stage -- is the text is also searchable, this feels like an answer waiting for a question though, but it's nice it's there. I suspect when they allow you to search multiple "progs" (as individual issues of 2000AD have been know since its launch in 1977) it'll come into its own as a great tool for finding your favourite artist/comic strip.
I've blogged before (at www.pauljholden.com) about some of the features I've felt Comixology lacks, especially in respect to longer form comics and anthology titles; a decent page scrubber and some sort of chapter feature. The 2000AD reader adds a scrub bar along the bottom, showing small thumbnails of each page allowing you to run your fingers along through and entire issue, a surprisingly fun thing to do. ComiXology, by contrast, requires a double tap to pull up a page index, which then requires a third tap to go to a specific page. For an anthology title, a chapter facility is absolutely essential. Some people like to read an anthology in story orders, others prefer to jump around like a child with ADD (I'll let you guess which of those describes me). The 2000AD reader has a neat little drop down for chapters, ticking one big essential requirement for a digital anthology.
Price-wise, the digital 2000AD comes in at £1.99 per prog (compared to the print price of £2.35 per issue), with subscription models that offer savings for monthly, quarterly and annual purchases. More interesting is that subscribing gives you, respectively, one month, two months or three months of free back issues. Which is a great way to side step the frequent difficulty on-going anthologies can have of knowing when to start buying. Start now, and you can catch up easily.
On the downside, and something that seems to infect all comic readers, is that there's no great answer to the question of how to organise your digital collections. The number of options and ways to sort comics on a digital device should be infinitely manipulatable, instead, here we get nice pic of each comic in chronological order. That's it. I dread (no pun intended) to think of how this will look in 5 years time with 260 comics in your digital reader). Hopefully, by that stage they'll have come up with at least a couple of ways to sort them.
In all, it's high time 2000AD had a decent comics reader of their own, the fact that it adds subscriptions for day and date digital delivery (not technically accurate as the digital comics are available when the print comic is available in newsagents, while print subscribers actually receive it a few days earlier) is a big fat bonus.
If you're US reader that's only ever had mild exposure to the "Galaxy's Greatest Comic" this may be the best chance you'll get to get bursts of thrill power at the same time as we do in the U.K.