Wednesday, August 5, 2009


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

It was only a matter of time, really, before someone realized that there might be a viable market for comics on mobile digital devices. News came out – announced at the ComicCon Convention in San Diego – of one application now available through iTunes App Store that allows a reader to download and read comics on the small screen.

I gave ComiXology a try this week and at first glance, I was pretty impressed. You need to first sign up at the website of ComiXology and then download the application for ComiXology onto your iPhone or iTouch. There is a free version of the app and one for 99 cents, which has more options for viewing and storing comics.

Right now, there are a lot of free comics available and then if you want more of that series, it costs 99 cents.

One of the drawbacks, of course, is that the screen is small, so comics with a lot of text probably won't be that effective. I found myself squinting to read a few lines of dialogue here and there. It is true that with the Apple devices, you can just use your fingers to enlarge an area on the screen (the beauty of the touch), but then you lose the visual of the page. I wonder if the new eReader now being developed by Apple (and slated for release this year) will make this complaint moot.

Still, for most of the comics I read on my iTouch, the shift through the narrative was pretty seamless. A tap of the finger and I was on the next frame, and sometimes the developers realized the possibilities, bringing me in on a close-up of a character's face or hands or an object of importance before panning back across the wider image. You can tell that the developers are still thinking of ways the new medium (the small screen) can be used with comics. The app even comes with a comic tutorial for how to read a comic on your device.

The offerings are conveniently sorted by title, author, genre, popularity and other options that a digital archive can provide.

I started to read two books: CLOCKWORK GIRL by Kevin Hanna, Sean O'Reilly and Grant Bond; and JAM IN THE BAND by Robin Enrico. The first was a comic about a place where inventors compete to show off their talents and one creates a robotic girl. The second is the start of a graphic novel about an all-girl rock band trying to make it to the top. I thought JAM IN THE BAND was more effective as it mixed black and white drawings and shifting visual narratives. CLOCKWORK GIRL, though, has a great storyline going already.

One bonus: no advertising pages. It's just pure story and art.

Needless to say, I was soon clicking "purchase" for the next chapters in both and within seconds, I had more of each story to read. The mobile device gives an immediacy to purchasing, although you lose the feel of a comic store adventure. You don't yet have the ability to stumble across an interesting title, or get advice from the comic book expert behind the counter, or run into an old friend thumbing their way through a new graphic novel.

As I was taking in CLOCKWORK GIRL and JAM IN THE BAND, I was pondering the potential for the classroom. More and more teachers are foregoing desktop and laptop computers and moving towards class sets of mobile devices, such as the iTouch. They see value in the lower costs and Apps such as GPS, texting and others might engage students in new ways (it's too new to say, really).

While many of the comic offerings on ComiXology are geared for adults (and you need to state that you are older than 17 when you sign up), the potential for students reading comics and graphic novels, and then writing reviews are certainly there. My guess is that other Apps for comics and graphic novels will be on the way in the future.

I'm not so sure how this particular comic App helps from the writing standpoint (other than posting reviews of books), but my guess is that with time more and more applications for mobile devices will gear towards user-generated content and wouldn't it be cool to have students write and create their own comics for mobile devices?

Here is a video overview of the ComiXology application.

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