I began my survey of digital comics by looking at comics created specifically for the digital world. Comics that could only exist in on the infinite canvas of the digital world. As a comic reader, however, these comics are outliers in the set of titles I read. I generally still read comics that are produced to be printed, most often, digitally thought a scanned digital edition. Though delivered digitally these comics are far from digital comics because they are still bound by the physical limitations of printed comics. I decided this week to look into the ways that those traditional comic producers are presenting their content in the digital environment to see what, if anything, these publishers were doing to explore this new literacy of digital comics.
I found a company called ComiXology, to be a big player in digital presence of the major comic publishers. This Amazon subsidiary acts as a comic book store for the digital editions from the collections of 75 comic publishing companies, including the collections of both the major comic publishers – DC and Marvel, and the smaller but highly influential Image, Dark Horse and Archie comics. Most importantly it seems that DC and Marvel are both closely aligned with ComiXology. Marvel employees ComiXology technologies in the digital comic reader on Marvel.com, and DC links its digital collection directly from its website to the ComiXology page. All of these comics are still just digital versions of traditional comics, or as I have begun to think of them – analog comics.
ComiXology has created a specialized reading technology, called Guided View, that attempts to create an “immersive and cinematic experience” for the reader (ComicXoogy website). This is an attempt to make uses the qualities of the digital environment to create an enhanced reading expericne without changing the physically published comic. I decided to critique a ComiXology title to determine how successful Guided View was a creating that enhanced experience.
I was fortunate enough to find a comic on ComiXology that I also owned as a physical comic book, Star Wars: Free Previews. This comic is a free teaser book that was used to launch Marvel comics’ new Star Wars series of titles. This continuing series explores the lives of the heroes and villains from the Star Wars universe in adventures not highlighted in the movies. Because I had access to both I first read the book online using the Guided View technology and then reread the physical comic to note the differences in my experiences and then used pacing, media application, and media grammar as my critique criteria.
The pacing in reading the two formats of the same title were vastly different. The digital Guided View version zooms in on panels or sections of panels giving the reader only a small view of the greater page, the time spent on each panel and the decision to move to the next was up to the viewer but there was little motivation to linger on the small window and lots of motivation to see what was happening next so I quickly moved though panels. My reading of the print comic was at a much more leisurely pace. I like to look at the new pages as a whole, then at each panel, then usually at the whole again. Also when reading the physical comic there were no restraints on moving backward to reread pages or character interactions, the Guided View comic, true to its clam, was more of a movie experience where the story only moves forward.
I thought that the Guide View reader was a fun way to read a comic, one that I could see myself using occasionally, maybe when checking out series or authors. The technology removes the ambiguity of panel order that may occur in some comics and does and awesome job of building tension and not spoiling surprises because the reader cannot sneak peaks of future panels. I am guilty of both getting confused by panel order and sneaking peaks of what is happening at the bottom of a page but for me that is part of the magic of comics. I watch movies when I want a story told to me and I read comics when I want to interact with the story. I would read new series with Guided View because I am not yet involved in the illustrations and written content together as a single piece of art, using Guided View to read these books makes sense because I am still learning if the book has a story that is compelling enough hold my interest and Guided View focuses attention on those story elements.
The only failure I found with Guided View, and probably the reason I will seldom use Guided View, is the resolution and clarity of the art is compromised by zooming in so close to each panel. Because Guided View fills a whole computer screen with one comic panel the resolution becomes fuzzy and the art is not crisp. The art is at least half the point of the comic, if you lose quality there then you are going to lose my interest. I am interested, however, to use Guided View on a mobile phone, because the screen is smaller so the distortion maybe less and it is difficult to read full pages of comic on those small screens.
Overall I do feel that I would use Guided View again, but not often and definitely not to replace my current comic reading habits. I think that people new to comics would enjoy the movie like experience of Guided View and could use Guided View as a bridge to the comic book genera because of comfortable viewing experience. If the resolution on the zoomed in panels were to improve then Comixology may be able to gain even more converts from comic book traditionalists.
If you are interested in a peek into the lives of your favorite Star Wars characters or are want to check out Guided View for yourself you can find the Star Wars Free Preview here, you will need to sign in with an Amazon account.