Read Comics, Learn a Second Language




They nearly make up for it with additional features, though. Here's where things get interesting:

You can rent a lot of the comics. Not all. Not the most recent releases that I've found. But many of them are available for just 2 Euro, going up to 4 Euro. The rental is good for a ten day period, too. That's a good week longer than I expected it to be.

Then, they have one of those All You Can Eat plans everyone over here wishes they could get. For just 10 Euro a month, you have your run of the store. That's a lot to read, with new stuff landing every week. Almost.

The small print, however, indicates that you have "hundreds of comics" to choose from. The store, itself, boasts thousands of titles. So maybe "run of the store" isn't a good description of it. To be fair, they will show you the list of available titles in advance. Looks like not all publishers are game for that model yet.

There's also a kid-friendly edition of that subscription that you can have -- like the kid's store on Netflix -- for only 6 Euro a month. It limits the available comics to those appropriate for a younger audience, which makes up a little more than 10% of the larger subscription. It includes licensed books like "Garfield≤" but also lots of "Spirou" titles, "Marsupilami," "Boule et Bill≤" and the French editions of "Lucky Luke."


Izneo claims to have over 8,000 titles, with the last information I could dig up. It's a pretty broad array of titles, and there is something for nearly everyone here. It's missing "Tintin" and "Asterix" for starters, but does have both the original French and translated English language editions of "Lucky Luke," "The Smurfs," and some Moebius, Schuiten, and Franquin efforts. "Cities of the Fantastic" is well represented, but the "The Hollow Grounds" books are missing. 28 volumes of "Marsupilami" are there for the reading. "Gaston" gets 17 books.

Izneo has a good number of publishers in their system and often boasts that it's open to all publishers. This being the business world, everything is not consolidated quite that easily. Delcourt/Soleil, for example, are available on comiXology, instead. They started with Izneo, but left to pursue the non-rental/subscription model. A few of the books from Marvel's short-lived French translated line of titles are in there. comiXology even has a separate app for the Delcourt/Soleil books.

There is tension in the French world over digital comics. Not the least of which is the business model. It's not all that different from here, really.

I don't know all the intricacies of the politics of all the French publishers. I just know that's there's plenty of new work for me to find here, even with the holes I do spot. Didier Conrad's work on "Tigresse Blanche" is there, but not "Les Innommables≤" for example.

Izneo did go through a spat with Apple a couple of years ago where they removed a couple thousand titles from their catalogue due to Apple's policies against more family friendly works. I don't know if that was ever resolved or not, or if those titles are back in the marketplace again. "Les Innommables" might have been caught up in that.

While there are other digital distributors in the European market, Izneo seems to have the biggest catalog and the biggest publishers, minus Delcourt/Soleil.


Izneo's website is set up to function in English (there's an obvious toggle in the header), which is a big help in easing the path to new comics for us mono-linguistic North Americans. The album descriptions aren't in English unless the album, itself, is.

You can look through the catalog in every way you might imagine, from searching on album title names (Hint: Most seem to start with "L," for "the") to best sellers, to upcoming titles, to new releases, etc.

There's even a drop down list where you can choose to see a specific publisher's books. Weirdly, it includes a lot of publishers whose books they don't carry. Maybe those are the publishers who have since left the platform? I don't know.


The Dollar to Euro exchange rate is pretty good right now -- it's basically equal. Those 1 Euro specials I bought last weekend cost me $1.09 USD. Given the history of the conversion (see Google's chart), that's a great deal.

For example: at last glance, the 9.90 Euro subscription is about $10.75 American. Three years ago, that would have been closer to $14.

Izneo accepts major credit cards, and even PayPal. You can charge a new order for each purchase, or load up a wallet at the store and spend as you go. They aren't limited to European audiences, either. As an American, I can still shop there. No region lock.

There are also gift cards and gift purchases available.


Izneo carries a lot of Cinebook's line-up. Yes, that means there are English language comics in the store. You can read "XIII," "Largo Winch," "Blake & Mortimer," "Lady S.," "Thorgal," "Spirou & Fantasio" and all 49 volumes of "Lucky Luke" so far, all in English.


One of the reasons that the iPad is such a great reading experience for the standard North American comic is that it's about the same size. It's a hair smaller, in fact, but that doesn't affect the readability too much for me. The brighter colors and often clearer art more than make up for it. With a high def/retina display on even my now-ancient iPad v3, the art looks great.

European comics, though, come in album form. They're noticeably bigger than your standard Marvel/DC/Image comic. The iPad is a dramatic step down in size. Let me show you.

First, here's my 27" iMac with the web browser blown up to full screen, side-by-side with a printed edition of "Largo Winch" from Cinebook.


We're talking about images from larger page sizes being viewed both larger and smaller than the originals. Is there any pixelation when you blow them up? Does the original art hold up in pixels to the printed art?

It depends on the quality of the original scans. Looking at both screen sizes, they look identical. Comparing them to the print editions, though, a couple of the usual issues creep in:

1.The colors are much brighter. A lit up computer screen will always produce brighter and bolder colors than ink on paper. I like that, though. I think far too many comics are printed far too dark, either as an accident of the process or a specific desire to make the book feel "more realistic" by muting the colors. Either way, I generally prefer the digital comics for their color, except in the infrequent case of a comic whose colors are ridiculously bright to begin with so they look normal in print, but then look over-saturated digitally.

2.The original scans are key. The "Lucky Luke" issues I sampled are identical to the print editions. The "Largo Winch" art, on the other hand, suffers digitally. The resolution just isn't high enough. Thin lines disappear too quickly or lose their subtleties. The print editions aren't perfect representations of the art, but the digital edition is another step lower.

Also, if you zoom in too far on the art on an iPad screen, you're more likely to see the scan imperfections. That's generally true for any non-vector art, though. If you take any jpg image and zoom too far, you'll get the pixelation and staircasing effects.

In the case of "Largo Winch," though, I bet the French editions are the ones without the art edits to make some of the women slightly more demure -- by which I mean clothed.

The vast majority of the books I've looked at, though, look great. Even the Francois Schuiten ones -- which tiny lines and lots of them are bound to mess up any scan -- hold up well next to the print editions.


I have three options here, and they're not necessarily exclusive from one another.

1.Just read the sample pages. If I'm just sampling different books and different styles, I can get a few pages here and there to practice my French on and be exposed to different art looks.

2.Rent. For the low price of $2 or $3, I can have an album for 10 days to read. That's enough to read it a couple or four times, and even review it here in Pipeline. It's a fraction of the price of the full digital edition, let alone the print. If I'm considering starting a long-running series, paying $3 for a rental now to decide if I like it would make shelling out the money to buy the comics down the road more palatable.

2.All I Can Eat for a Month. This is a fun idea, but it's one limited by time. I'm not sure I can read enough in a month to justify the cost on this. Sure, it's a pittance, but I have a hard enough time keeping up on the other comics I'm already reading. Albums take more of a commitment to read, particularly if I'm going for the books in French. But if I want to sample a whole heck of a lot of stuff, this might be the way to go for a month.

I still prefer print comics, for the most part, particularly with album-sized titles where reading them on an iPad would be harder that in print. Also, I want to own something when I pay money to "buy" it. Izneo is still in the pre-DRM days. You pay a price to buy a comic that requires you to be logged in to read. You can only read it in the Izneo readers. You can't transfer it anywhere outside of there. It's fairly typical, still, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

For my purposes, the best option might just be to take a kid's subscription price for a month as a test run. As a beginning French learner, those books are easier to read. Fewer words per page is a good metric for what I'm looking for right now. I can work my way up.

I might also rent a Cinebook or two to try out different series I might like to get started on without having to spend the full $10 to buy an album I'm not sure I'd like.

Either way, it's nice to have those additional sources. It's great to know that these books are available to me just as easily now as the North American comics.

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