Will The iPad Change The Way We Read Comics?

Yesterday, I got a chance to have a real play on a friend’s iPad. And yes, I really am taken. But that’s another story, for another post.

Of all the apps I played with, the one that really got me thinking was the Marvel comics app that my friend had purchased. It’s a really nice slick app. I’d already been thinking that I wanted to start reading Paul Cornell’s Captain Britain and MI: 13, but after this, I might hang fire until I have an iPad of my own. The graphics look stunning on its display, and its just a nice way to read a comic.

No, scratch that.

It’s two nice ways to read comics.

Method one is to hold the iPad in a portrait orientation, and read the comic a page at a time, as can be seen on the screenshot on this blog post. The display is perhaps a little smaller than a standard comic, but it’s still very readable. You go from page to page by just swiping with your finger.

Or, you can hold the iPad in a landscape orientation and double tap on a individual frame, at which point that frame expands to fill the entire screen. You then just read the story frame-by-frame, again by swiping with your finger.

Method two was the way my friends were using to read it, but I felt that by doing so, you miss out on a part of the comics experience. After all, comics are both a literary and a visual experience; you don’t only read a comic just as you don’t only listen to a TV programme. And the arrangement of frames on the page is (IMNSHO) an important part of the comics reading experience.

For example, the size and density of the frames can be used to control the pace of the story, while the turnover of a right-hand page can be used to both disguise and introduce twists.

A writer (or artist) might first slow a story down by having a two-page spread densely covered with tiny frames, taking the reader step by precise step through the action of a story and then – on the page turnover – punch into a single, huge, two-page frame. Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow as it were.

The shape of frames can tell a story; regular frames suggesting order, irregular frames suggesting chaos. Imagine you were telling a story where the protagonist had been drugged; a chaotic frame layout here might be an effective way of of getting over that confused, disorientated feel.

I think you lose a lot when reading frame-by-frame; but I suspect that this might be the way many – perhaps most – people will read comics on the iPad. Over time, especially given a new generation who might never have read comics in paper format, it might become the dominant way of reading. And if that happens, perhaps comics will be written to deliver a frame-by-frame reading experience, rather than a page-by-page one.

I’m not saying it will be worse. As things change, they generally aren’t worse, only different, and are only perceived as worse by those who are used to the old ways of doing things. If people prefer to read frame-by-frame, who the hell am I to say they shouldn’t?

Even so, I think a little part of me will grieve for page-by-page comics. And if you think that marks me out as a crusty old fogey then yes, you’re right. I’m forty years old. What did you expect? But none of that means that I’m not looking forward to having an iPad and reading comics on it.

And if you see me on a train reading comics on my iPad?

I’ll be holding it portrait, dammit!

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