Visualizing Comics on the iPad

Steve Jobs didn’t specifically talk about comics and other visually-intensive ebooks on the iPad, but it does fix many of the graphics and usability issues that severely limited the comics-reading utility of the monochrome e-readers and bulky tablet PCs that came before.

With its large color screen, slim form factor and long battery life, it may well be the reading device that comics fans have been waiting for.

While we await the iPad’s arrival, I wanted to visualize just how the iPad might work as a comics-reading machine. I fired up Photoshop and plugged in a couple of screens from the Witchblade books on WOWIO. What do you think?

iPhone + Comics: (Not) Seeing the Big Picture

cover art

Cover art (above) displays beautifully, but text in the interior pages (below) is illegible without zooming.

interior page, portrait orientation

After some extended use, I’ve found that the iPhone has the potential to be a surprisingly good ebook reader. This is true for immersive text reading, such as fiction… but how about comics and graphic novels? The demo photos looked good, but how is it in real life?

To test this out, I loaded the comic A Bit of Madness (which, as an aside, has some of the most gorgeous comic art I’ve seen, and a richly-textured story to match) on my iPhone. Well… attempted to load would be more accurate, because Mobile Safari was unable to display the graphics-heavy 25MB PDF (the largest file I’ve been able to open is 7MB). The file was too large for email, so the backup plan of using Mail’s PDF viewer was out, as well.

Assuming that Apple or a third party will someday develop a true PDF reader that can handle the complete book, I decided to use a smaller 2MB excerpt just to test the display hardware and interface.

The results are beautiful to behold. When viewed in portrait orientation, the entire comic page can be shown and the iPhone’s sharp, rich-color display shows off the art beautifully… with one significant problem. The text is simply too small to read. The infinitely variable zooming allows it to be made legible, but actual reading requires a fair amount of scrolling. While the fingertip motion is very natural, it’s impossible to get a sense of the whole page and the integrated, flowing nature of the book’s layout is lost.

Switching to landscape orientation helps legibility, but again, the visual flow is definitely compromised.

landscape view

On the other hand, a more sequential, panel-oriented comic like retro superhero Pistolfist (below) is much more amenable to the iPhone display’s limitations.

Pistolfist page, landscape view

The iPhone’s limitations with storing and displaying documents continue to be a problem, but these are fixable in future software upgrades. However, the reader experience with page-oriented comics is hurt by the small physical size of the display, which can’t legibly display text in a full-page view. Unless your comic reading is limited to panel-oriented titles, you’ll definitely want to consider a larger-screened alternative or wait for Apple to release an iPhone-like device with a bigger screen.

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