Skip to main content

It’s Business, It’s Business Time. Part 2: Are Those Comics In Your Pocket Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

[CLICK HERE TO READ PART ONE of It's Business, It's Business Time]

Or maybe both?

Today we’re (and by “we,” I mean “me”, but you can totally comment) going to talk about the emergence of comics on mobile devices. Why? Because it’s Tuesday, and Tuesday is the day we talk about comics on mobile devices. Conditions are perfect. (Has anyone figured out I really dig Flight of the Conchords yet?)

Anyway, conditions ARE perfect as the dudes and ladies in tech keep cranking out more and more shiny devices that you can read comics on, or create content for, so click read more, and read some more.

A few years ago I was sitting around a bar with a fellow comic creator talking about our respective ventures. I had JUST gotten into the digital end of comics I was talking about the ups and the downs of the web vs. doing printed books, and the one thing I said I really wanted out of a digital comic was convenience. I don’t mind not owning a physical copy nor using an electronic interface to progress the story rather than turning pages, but what I did, and do, mind is sitting at my desk to get at my entertainment. I know this is a pretty common practice for many, but for me, and many like me, I equate sitting at my desk with working, and I get fidgety if I’m there too long. When I’m on my me-time, I want to be on my couch or on the lawn chair on my balcony, and that’s where you’ll find me when I get home from the comic shop.

Anyways, what I said to my friend was that my holy grail was some kind of device that would allow me to take these endless annals of comics I enjoy and read them in the same way I do Spider-Man. I figured it was really only a matter of time until it was a reality as cell phones were starting to get to be a little more than just a phone and it turned out I was right.

I still believe we’re at the tip of the iceberg here, but modern phones and mobile devices like iPod, PSP, and Nintendo DS are quickly making the notion of digital comics being just as easy to read as their stapled counterparts a reality, and in a certain way, even easier. If you carried around the same amount of comic books that you can fit on an 80 GB iPod you are looking at some serious back problems my friend.

I know what you’re thinking though- those screens are really small. It’s true, they are, especially on cell phones. (Personally I’m still not a fan of comics on cells myself, seeing only one panel removes some of the design and pacing I love about comics.) The iPod video was a huge step up at the time, and even though the screens are still relatively small, the pixel depth is sic, and supports tremendous detail. When that came out I thought we getting somewhere, especially because unlike a phone, an iPod is a dedicated entertainment device, and people load it with things to amuse themselves, like comics. There’s a reason I was involved with Clickwheel only hours after getting that iPod because I could see what I was talking about in the bar with my friend taking shape.

About three weeks ago I had the same experience, but this time I didn’t have to preface it with anything like ‘taking shape.’ The iPhone rocks my world, and it is exactly what I had in mind back in the day. The interface on this bad boy is beyond silly, and it will support a comic of any size or shape be it on a webpage, a collection images in your photo library, or, yes Virginia, a PDF. The ability to scroll and zoom freely much like Adobe Acrobat eliminates the need to format to the sceen’s native size, or worry about the legibility of the text. If you can’t read it, just zoom in. In the case of PDFs and image packs you can flick right from image to image, and it’s just as effortless as turning a page.

“Well, that’s great Tim, I’m really happy for you but I don’t have 600 bones lying around to get one of those things.”

Wow. Sucks for you.

Chill. I kid.

Make no mistake, I think the iPhone is a big deal for digital comics, and digital entertainment writ large because we finally have something to play it on that is built with it mind, not simply shoe-horning the content onto another device’s screen, but at the end of the day, it’s only one device and not everyone is going to get one, and if not everyone gets one, not everyone can read your comic, right? (Of course there are 300,000 out there now, and even if 1% of them read comics that’s 3000 potential readers in the first few weeks already.) Regardless, the true power of the iPhone is that it will almost certainly spawn copycats and before too long I think you can expect most of your potential audience to be schlepping around some kind of electric widget that will display your comic in a way that does it justice, especially in the fashion conscious youth market that comprises much of digital comics fanbase. If nothing else it’s nothing short of a lock the next generation of iPods will be rocking the iPhone’s screen and interface.

So what do we do with this? I say we do just what we did with comics online, we start experimenting both with form and function and we see what sticks to the wall and when new developments like this arise, we grab hold and we make ‘em work. It’s something I’m thinking about from all angles because I feel like there’s a lot to mine here, and if you’d like to toss in your two cents, please do.