Can Tablets Serve as the New Home of Comics in a Digital Era?

In class we discussed the potential of comics which employan infinite canvas and how it dramatically altered our perception of spatial-temporal relations in the medium. The thought of liberating comics from restraints imposed by page size (such as demonstrated in “Click and Drag”) piqued my interest. After reading digitally formatted comics on my computer, I wasn’t as satisfied as reading traditional print comics. However, I found reading comics on my tablet to serve as an ideal technology for interacting with comics. Additionally they increase 16f87e529c0f001d1c80db838deda3e2portability, distributability and market penetration of the comics medium. I will strive to expand on the first two of these statements, addressing the latter two in a future post. Ultimately I hope to persuade readers to open upto adopting a novel comics platform with massive potential.

Much like printed comics,tablets enable readers to physically contact the story. While this small aspect of the extradiegetic space may not immediately appear significant, most readers accustomed to paperback literature will appreciate details such as this. Using a mouse to read acomic feels disconnected and impersonal. When using a tablet, transitions between panels is accomplished by swiping across the surface and in some instances tapping on the glass, making the experience feel very fluid and intuitive. Studies have demonstrated the inherent correlation between touch and emotional response[1], so it would not be a stretch to assume that the way in which a reader touches a story they are emotionally invested influences their experience. While it is understandable that most comics fans would prefer owning and indeed reading comics on a physical paperback copy, digital format comics on tablets offer many more advantages not provided by a paperbound platform.

tabletsOne major advantage to using a tablet is access to the net, where a massive library of comics already exist. Moreover, by displaying comics in a digital format, artists are more capable of breaking linear constraints, whether it be by offering explorative elements such as in the previously mentioned “Click and Drag” or integrating an element of choice and reader involvement in the form of interactive elements such as seen in Margot’s Room (brought to my attention by Eric Bailey’s blog). While I am not saying that these elements are subjugated to digital comics alone (in fact choose your own adventure stories have provided such involvement for decades), the simplicity of transitioning between two thoughts with a gesture (i.e. a tap, swipe, or drag) provides an intuitive and simple means to accomplish otherwise complex tasks. Moreover, changes in the extradiegetic space are not limited only to digital comics employing novel panel arrangements, but can serve to present reformatted comics in a more fluid and uninterrupted manner. For instance, a manga reader iOS app called “Mangastorm” simply lays out pages in a vertical fashion such that page breaks are replaced by a single continuous stream of panels as you scroll downward. The app demonstrates that by simply reorganizating the panel layout of a comic, reading interruption can be reduced and readers are kept constantly engaged.

Possibly the biggest advantage to using an app like Mangastorm is the capability to store hundreds of chapters and even volumes of content on a single device the size of a notepad and to instantly access content at any time and place. Carrying the “Brunnetti Anthology” from place to place was cumbersome enough, imagine the difficulties which would be imposed by carrying hundreds of full issues with you! The convenience provided by storing all one’s content on portable device is highly beneficial, enabling readers to truly enjoy comics at their leisure. comic-collage-artMoreover, as was discussed in our page design lecture, many comics employ an unwieldy book design to accommodate desired levels of detail, but by using a digital format one could enjoy the same page on a portable size by zooming or swiping through an image. If the effect of the page is not compromised by rearrangements, pages can even be reformatted (or split up) to give readers a better handle on pages which would otherwise pose a portability issue.

Overall tablets offer an experience which only diverges moderately from reading paperback comics, yet designing comics in a digital format enables artist to incorporate elements which transform the diegetic and extradiegetic space in their narratives. Tablets offer increased flexibility in presentation both in terms of panel layout as well as what can be presented on the screen. Tablets are not limited by the borders of the display and as a result can depict heavily detailed images without rendering them messy, confusing and otherwise indiscernible. In our modern civilization where people receive massive amounts of information through digital means whether it be social networks, media outlets, or other sources, technology is tightly integrated into people’s lives. A tablet not only serves as convenient for storing and viewing Video-Samsungs-Galaxy-Tab-10.1-Advertcomics or other files, but is a device with which people interact on a daily basis. I believe that the handiness of being able to store comics on a device which lends itself so well to the medium and exists as a piece of hardware millions of people are already accustomed to represents a potential evolution of comics formatting. Digital comics are still burdened with a plethora of contingent issues such as piracy, and other problems which will be discussed later, however the benefits of adopting tablets as a primary comics platform can serve to increase reader enjoyment and convenience substantially. Though I’m very interested in hearing the opinions of those who are already so devoted to the medium. Do you think that tablets offer the benefits necessary to warrant preference over your paperbacks, or maybe you already use them to this end? Maybe the backlight of the screen makes reading on a tablet annoying or maybe you simply prefer the feeling of pulp under your fingers.

Anyways, looking forward to hearing your thoughts,

Matt Sobchuk

1) Valeria Gazzola, Michael L. Spezio, Joset A. Etzel, Fulvia Castelli, Ralph Adolphs,and Christian Keysers. 2012. Primary somatosensory cortex discriminates affective significance in social touch. PNAS. 109 (25): E1657–E1666

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7 Responses to Can Tablets Serve as the New Home of Comics in a Digital Era?

  1. courtneycharnock says:

    You raise some very interesting points Matt!

    I believe that yes, tablets/ereaders can and probably will serve as the new home of comics. But..only to a certain extent. Comics will continue to be in print as long as book are in print because of a social mentally. There are people who will always prefer a physical, tangible copy of a book or a comic to a digital copy–even if it is kinaesthetic and intuitive. For the bibliophiles of the world, reading off of electronics is less personal. Even though our technology has advanced–it is in ever growing demand–there is still a stigma around technology as cold and impersonal. I wonder if this is because of the experience in getting what can be stored on tablets or iphones or whatever. Such as, you can buy a cd on itunes for much cheaper than is sold in stores, you don’t have to bother yourself with the actual trip to the store and god forbid what if you went to the store and it wasn’t in stock? But, these physicalists might argue that you do not get the same experience of going to the store, talking to people who are selling you the product, perhaps having some connection there are leaving with physical evidence of your adoration and fandom. Something that you can point to and display when someone asks, “so what music do you listen to?”. Maybe our attachment to physical objects is petty. Who knows? At least with tablets we would reduce the number of physical objects to covet and to produce.

    Our hoarding tendencies aside, is there something to be gained by having a comic book in physical book form? Is there something to be lost? Not in the experience of getting the comic book, but in reading it. In my own experience, I have enjoyed reading books on the tablet–and that is largely because of the intuitive, kinaesthetic pleasure I derive from flipping the page with the swipe of a finger. But it is also because when you can only view one page at a time, it keeps you guessing about what it is to come in the following pages. Being able to zoom in on the detail that the artist has put into their work makes the reading experience much more intimate for me. However, a dilemma arises! Is there something to be lost from the page design on comics read on tablets? What about looking at a two page spread, open-faced? Think about the “Fearful Symmetry” chapter from Watchman. Would it be nearly as satisfying to read on the tablet? To see the symmetry between that two page spread or from flipping back to previous pages and looking at them in comparison to see that yes–everything is symmetrical!!

    And that I don’t know.

    –Courtney Charnock

  2. brycemaruk says:

    While I agree that the convenience tablets has changed the way we read comics for the better (for myself as well: the app Comic Zeal and hoards of .cbz and .cbr’s are my new best friends), I do think there is something to be lost in the transition from a physical to a digital form.

    Not all comics are available digitally, especially older ones, meaning that the reader is at the mercy of a third party to ensure the quality of a scanned comic. For instance, in comparing my girlfriend’s physical copy of Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s “Lost Girls” versus my digital copy of the same book, differences in colour and texture make for little contest in determining the superior product (not to mention the difference in size between the 12″x9″ book versus my 8″ iPad Mini). Although some scans do an excellent job re-creating the content of a physical product (especially when the art is simplistic and lacking technical detail, fine pen strokes, etc.), faults in digitization can occur. The same argument can be made about other media including music (lossy compression of lossless sound files), and video (lossy compression of digital video, generation loss of magnetic tape).

    But of course, this all dependent on a reader’s taste. Someone who crams 10,000 LP’s on their shelves is no better than someone who has 10,000 albums on their iPod; as long as each individual is content with their consuming habits, then there are no losers. The same goes for comic books, as it may not be feasible for someone to have boxes of comics take up space, but would still like to read new issues every Wednesday.

    Bryce Maruk

  3. yuenly says:

    I agree that comics will lose a bit of that comic essence in the transition from paper to digital. However, I think comics will strongly trend towards the digital medium simply because it is more economical. Many people have created their own independent webcomics because it is cheap to do so. As the above commenter mentioned, a lot of consumers are at the mercy of third parties to upload comics. I think as more publishers make comics more widely available online, digital distribution will take over as the prime method of sale, sorta like Itunes.

  4. James Lai says:

    In response to the comment made by yuenly, you bring up the point that the tablet will make access to comics more economical. This is where I would disagree with you, although it may be economical for those readers who would buy many comics to offset the cost of purchasing a fairly expensive device such as a tablet. However, I believe that for the casual reader who would not purchase many comics, buying a tablet would be a very sizable investment and may in fact make comics less accessible.

    Although having comics available on tablets brings a lot of very neat features to the comics book industry as described by the original poster, I don’t believe that access to comics is one of them. At this time, I believe that this is a novel idea that although having its merits is still not feasible for the current market for comics.

    James Lai

    • kodydillman says:

      While buying a tablet strictly for reading comics casually may not be economically feasible, many people wouldn’t have to actually buy a tablet for that reason. These devices are quickly becoming ubiquitous, and I can even use my smart phone to view comics, so for most people who already own a smart phone or tablet for one of its many other uses, they can begin to use it as a comic viewer as well.

      As much as I might miss printed comics, digital will likely become the major medium for these works in the next few decades.

  5. AshShan says:

    To start, I want to say that I agree with many of the above comments that say they have a preference for printed comics. If given the choice between a digital copy of a comic and the printed version, I would almost always chose the printed. This is probably due to being used to reading printed copies as opposed to digital. My opinion in this area is that same for novels and textbooks. E-readers are ‘okay’. They are convenient for road trips and when you’re just too lazy to go to the store and buy the printed version of a book. However, with textbooks, it would take a lot of work to be able to switch to digital form. It’s just so much easier to use a printed version of a textbook. Also, I find that reading digital material is slightly harder on the eyes, even on the easy-to-read e-readers. It’s really just not the same as printed. Get off my lawn.

    With this said, I would agree that comics are likely going to be the first to become completely digital. Being that most comics lack walls of text, they’re not as tiresome to read in digital form and detailed artwork can be shown properly. Also, by making new comics digital, they can potentially be accessible to a larger audience. Here’s to hoping that we get a few more years with printed versions at least!

    – Ashley Shannon

  6. baileypowell says:

    This post is awesome — thought-provoking and really well written! I definitely agree that comics are a medium that seem to be especially fitting for the tablet mode of reading. Like Courtney mentioned, being restricted to reading one page at a time might be limiting at times, but for someone like me who is constantly looking to the next page or flipping to the end to see what happens, this might make the reading experience more enjoyable. That being said, I am not an avid comic book reader, so I can see how many people would prefer to hold a tangible paper copy of their favorite comic in their hands. As someone who owns a Kindle but buys every book she likes off the shelf regardless of that, I can completely understand this compulsion. It is interesting to think about how CDs have almost completely become obsolete to digital music — I buy absolutely everything on iTunes, even though I think I once swore I would always buy my favorite artists’ actual, physical CD. It seems the transition from CD to digital was not that difficult for our society to endure. Comics, however, is another beast altogether. No one yet has mentioned that comics are extremely collectible, and those who are dedicated readers collect every issue of their favorite comics. This aspect of the comics medium is what makes me hesitant to think that it will ever become completely digital.

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