Is it still a comic if I can't crease the pages? Thoughts on digital and the iPad

With DC Comics revealing its digital strategy yesterday, all of the major players now have some sort of digital comics plan, allowing folks who have an Apple devices (iPad, iPhone, etc.), a PlayStation Portable or even just access to the web to read at least some of their comics in a digital format.

I've had an iPhone for a while now, and I've downloaded free comic apps from distributors like comiXology, Panelfly and iVerse. I've used them to download free samples of comics they were offering (sampling Jersey Gods on the iPhone, for example, led to me purchasing the trades). But I never actually bought comics on it. And there's a big difference between downloading something because it's free, and actually becoming a paying customer and spending real money on it.

So what held me back? Part of it was because of what was available -- most of the material I would have been interested in downloading I already owned in print, and I couldn't justify buying it again. And part of it was that I just didn't enjoy the experience of reading a comic on my iPhone as much as I did a print comic, mostly because of the size restrictions. The app developers, of course, tried to make it easy to adjust, offering zoom features and panel-to-panel scrolling, but there's just something about not seeing the whole page of a comic at a time, versus just seeing each panel, that was the hump I couldn't get over. I need the forest, and I need the trees.

Two weeks ago, the FedEx guy blessed my household with the delivery of an iPad. After loading it up with several comics apps, I started downloading some of the free titles. And it was while reading Runaways #1, which was offered for free in Marvel's app, that I got over that second hump. I remember instinctively reaching for the corner of the comic so I could feel the pages I hadn't read yet flip through my fingers.

Have you ever done that? While reading a comic, maybe taking a finger or thumb to the corner of the book and feeling the pages you have yet to read flip against your skin? It's not anything I ever really noticed I did until that moment, when I was reading Runaways and the pages weren't there for me to touch ... but I realized at that point that I had forgotten I was holding an electronic gadget and not a paper comic. I was just laying in bed, reading a comic and not really noticing there was anything different about this experience I'd had a million times before. And that's probably the biggest compliment I can give the iPad or the comiXology folks or anyone else involved in getting comics onto these devices.

So last week I made my first digital comics purchase: Dark Horse's Grandville, from the comiXology app. And yesterday I bought all four issues of Justice League: Generation Lost via the DC app, and IDW's Mystery Society #1, which the publisher began offering this week on their app. All three of these titles were books I actually wanted to read, but I decided for one reason or another I was going to wait for the trade on them (with Grandville, an original graphic novel, I'd planned to wait until I had some Amazon credit or a birthday or something, and get it then). In the case of JL:GL, the first issue was sold out by the time I made it to the comic shop the week it came out, so I decided that instead of hunting down a copy I would just wait for the trade. But then DC gave me the opportunity to read it now, so I don't think they could have picked out a better title to start offering day-of-release, at least from my perspective.

So I had comics I actually wanted to read that I didn't already own, and device-wise, I had my iPad, which makes it way easier to read comics in a way that I was used to -- a page at a time versus a panel at a time. So I had a blast last night reading JL:GL, Grandville, Mystery Society and the free download of Bayou from DC. (Seriously, Zuda, as you continue to redefine what you are after ending your contests, please make it part of your strategy that you'll either make all your strips available on the iPad or that you'll drop the Flash interface on your website so I can read them on my iPad's browser. Because Bayou looks awesome on the device).

Now I'm certainly not the first person to note that it's pretty friggin' easy to read comics on an iPad; Chris Sims called it "the perfect way to read comics" earlier this month. But it's one thing to read how great it is, and another to experience it for yourself. I think the one thing I've been afraid of in the whole digital transition is that I would lose something going from print to digital, that something I couldn't really define in words would be lost ... and while it's probably still too early to know for sure, I feel a lot better about the prospects than I did two weeks ago.

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