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Nobrow’s new app lets you see through the layers

by  in Comic News Comment
Nobrow’s new app lets you see through the layers

Nobrow Press co-founder Sam Arthur once described the company’s mission as “to publish books that deserved to be printed — and by that I mean they needed to exist as tactile objects that people [can] collect and cherish.” This has been borne out over the years as Nobrow established itself as a publisher that paid painstaking attention to the production process.

Given that, it’s not surprising that it took Nobrow seven years to go digital, and when it did, it came up with a digital solution that addresses the physical aspects of its comics.

While a lot of publishers simply make their work available on comiXology or Kindle, Nobrow has gone old-school by creating a standalone Nobrow iPad app. It launched this week with a handful of titles, some of which are free for a limited time; this is your opportunity to read Luke Pearson’s Hildafolk or Jon McNaught’s Birchfield Close.

The app functions like pretty much every iPad comics app, with a store, a bookshelf, and a built-in reader, although not surprisingly, it looks like the creators paid a lot of attention to design. What really sets it apart, however, is the “layers” feature: With some comics, the reader can swipe up or down to see different states of the comic — thumbnails, pencils, inks. Not every comic features this additional content, but a lot of them do, and it’s a nice extra for readers who are fascinated by process.

The app is free, and it allows for in-app purchases via the iTunes store (you’ll have to sign in to get some of the free comics as well, presumably because of age ratings). The app does require the user to set up an account to get the comics, whether free or purchased, and there’s an option to sign up for their digital newsletter as well, which suggests there is considerable marketing going into this.

Here’s a quick review: The interface looks good, and navigation is pretty easy once you figure out what the little icons are for. You can move through the layers with swipes or little buttons at the bottom of the page. The pages don’t move to the side as you swipe — instead, the new page fades in over the old one — which feels a little funny, but it’s not that unusual. Double-tap toggles you in and out of the panel-by-panel view mode, and you move through the panels by swiping to the right (even if that shifts the page left). It takes a little getting used to, but it’s pretty smooth.

Right now this is a very limited app, as it only works on one platform, but Nobrow’s press release refers to it as the “first offering,” so presumably there will be more to come. While a standalone app is an unusual choice, it does allow the Nobrow folks to curate their selection and control the presentation to meet their own standards, rather than those of a one-size-fits-all digital store. There’s merit to both, and it will be interesting to see whether Nobrow pursues both options in the future.

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