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April 8, 2010

Geek Out!: In search of a better comic book app

Posted: 12:03 PM ET
Comic book apps
Comic book apps

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

One of the more anticipated uses for the iPad was as an eBook reader for books, magazines, and newspapers. But comic books are one of the most popular print-format periodicals - and there has been little mention of the iPad as a comic reader.

Luckily for those of us wanting to use it as such, Marvel Comics put out the Marvel app in time for last week's release.

I’ve had my iPad for just over four days now. One of the first things I did was download the Marvel app and take it for a test drive.

The convenience of downloading your comics while sitting in a coffee shop, or anywhere else, is great. And the panel-by-panel flow lives up to the hype, although it doesn't really make reading comics on the iPad a new experience. Honestly, I could live without it.

So far, my personal favorite app for comics on the iPad is ComicBook. They have a pretty good desktop app for the Mac (ComicBookLover), which is very similar to iTunes (imitation... flattery... etc.).

Their iPhone app is in early alpha (0.3) but it is more than usable and available for free on the iTunes app store. You upload your files to your iPad over WiFi using either a second app on the Mac (ComicBookLover Sync) or by FTP (file transfer protocol). This will probably change since the iPad offers better file syncing through iTunes.

ComicBook hasn’t been updated for the iPad yet, so the user interface is built for the iPhone’s screen (you have to pixel-double to fill the screen). But once you open a comic, you forget about the zoomed look.

Comics look great. They don’t have the automatic panel-to-panel feature of the Marvel app, but you can easily double-tap to zoom, and swipe to move around and change pages. I’m happy enough to just read them full screen though.

The apps, both made by Comixology, are indeed amazing - as long as you only want to read back issues (the Marvel app, obviously, only offers their own titles).

There are several other publisher-backed apps, but they don’t come close to the quality of the Marvel and Comics apps. The list of available publishers, titles, and issues is small. For example I have yet to see any DC [a Time-Warner Company] titles, and I really need my Batman!

That’s where independent apps come in. While they don’t have deals with publishers, they do let you read CBR and CBZ (comic book RAR and comic book ZIP) files, and in some cases even PDF files. CBR and CBZ files are ZIP or RAR compressed files that contain JPEG images of each page of a comic. So an entire issue is packaged in one file.

But how and where you get these files is the real moral dilemma. You can’t buy them online. So you either have to scan your own comics or find them in shady Internet back alleys and download them with programs like BitTorrent.

The music industry already had this battle with downloaded music files. Once they figured out they could sell music and make money, they backed the music downloads. The movie industry is just getting up-to-speed on downloadable and streaming video (Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, etc). So how about the comic book industry? It seems the publishers are ignoring history.

I’d be more than happy to pay cover price (maybe a bit less) for current titles. I’d even pay a bit over cover price to get my comics early. Maybe a monthly fee for all-you-can-eat (like Rhapsody and Zune do with music)?

And they can feel free to put as much DRM on the files as they want (although iTunes has removed DRM and the world hasn’t ended just yet). Just let me back up the files if I’ve bought individual issues - don’t make them expire in three years - and let me read them on my computer and my mobile device. My bag, board, and long box collector days are way behind me, but I still like the stories.

What's your favorite comic book app? Anything you're looking for that the current apps don't provide?

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Filed under: Geek Out! • pop culture

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Dan   April 8th, 2010 12:39 pm ET

I want the next generation of interactive comic.

I want the characters to talk to me.

I want to talk to the characters. I want to be part of the story.

I want personalized AR elements as part of the experience.

I want to see some innovation.

Ryan   April 8th, 2010 1:26 pm ET

Dan, may I introduce you to a wonderful invention called the 'video game'?

Tyler   April 8th, 2010 1:30 pm ET

Marvel and DC both need to offer all-you-can-eat subscriptions for exhaustive back issue collections. Give it a 2 or 3 year gap so as not to cannibalize current sales and charge me $20 a month. I'd sign up for both in an instant.
I suppose their concern is that the stories that are really worth reading are being sold as trade paperbacks now and they don't want to disrupt those sales.

Kalel3756   April 8th, 2010 1:53 pm ET

are those apps available to Sprint?? I have the Samsung Moment....

paden   April 8th, 2010 1:55 pm ET


Brandon   April 8th, 2010 1:56 pm ET

You guys should add to this list.

Lilac   April 8th, 2010 1:57 pm ET

Dan, I think you may also want to check out "Choose Your Own Adventure."

DaveO   April 8th, 2010 1:58 pm ET


I want you to put down the iPad, step outside and interact with some real people. They'll talk to you, interact with you and be part of your story... just as long as you don't freak them out.

paden   April 8th, 2010 1:59 pm ET

i agree with daveO

Nighthaawk   April 8th, 2010 2:24 pm ET

What the heck is wrong with a real book?? Lasts for years and never needs a recharge!

stankyonthahangdown   April 8th, 2010 2:36 pm ET

nighthawk brand tv dinners are delicious. Try them instead of an ipad.

Robyn   April 8th, 2010 2:51 pm ET

I've been collecting comics since the "Dark Phoenix" days, and I have to say that nothing in the business is making it easier to collect. Shops are disappearing, popular back issues are nearly impossible to find... if Marvel put their books online and charged 1.99 (instead of 3.99 for the hard copies), I would buy an Ipad the next day. Please!

Chris Waldrip   April 8th, 2010 2:55 pm ET

Nighthaawk, I love books. I had about a dozen long boxes of comics, and have several bookshelves full of books. My comics got ruined though a few years ago (lots of mourning followed).

And with real books you can read on the plan during taxi, takeoff, and landings.

But it can be a pain to lug around a stack of comics or a couple of books.

I can easily see iPad like devices being the norm in K-12 and college classrooms in the very near future too (Seton Hill University is moving that way now).

And having my D&D books as PDF files on my iPad – really easier to lug around.

Nerd News Round Up-April 8, 2010   April 8th, 2010 3:28 pm ET

[...] CNN Blog: Geek Out!: In search of a better comic book app [...]

De   April 8th, 2010 4:36 pm ET

While ComicBook hasn't been updated for the iPad yet, Comic Zeal has. It works a lot like ComicBook and runs with Windows. Yes, it's $7.99 but well worth the expense for the mileage you'll get out of it.

Jason   April 8th, 2010 5:04 pm ET

Don't forget about Panelfly! Can't wait to see what they have in store for the iPad...

PhillyB   April 8th, 2010 5:07 pm ET

Marvel does offer a "back-Issue" subscribtion... I am new to comics but have always loved them, I just wish Marvel wouldn't wait so long to make the back issue availible in their subsriction service... it's like 60 bucks for the year by the way.

Brent Martyn   April 8th, 2010 7:57 pm ET

What needs to be addressed in this piece is how motion Comics can really come into play. Like the treatment which was expertly done for the Watchmen. This is an obvious revenue source for Marvel and DC and a way to breathe new life into assets which they already own. I for one would pay big money for a motion comic that followed the Death of Robin, or Crises of Infinite Earths, or any number of Marvel Story lines whic today get packaged into Graphic Novels

Avrailer(Jeremii)   April 9th, 2010 10:26 am ET

well this is a nice addition. i still remember the old captain planet comic books, which i still have a few of which are in good condition.

Ron Marz   April 9th, 2010 10:40 am ET

Wow, "independent apps" is quite the euphemsim, CNN. What you really mean by "independent apps" is pirated files - scanned comics available for download, with neither the publisher nor the creators receiving any payment whatsoever. "Independent apps" means stealing, plain and simple, and as a comic creator, I'm offended that you offer up such morally reprehensible behavior as an alternative.

Did you get paid to write this piece, Chris Waldrip? The people who create comics would like the same courtesy.

Chris Waldrip   April 9th, 2010 12:04 pm ET

Actually, no I didn't get paid to write this. Thanks for asking.

And my comic files are not "stolen". I happened to be able to scan many of my comics before I had to get rid of them (due to water damage and mildew). So now I can read my comics just fine, and don't have to worry about the pages sticking together or further deteriorating.

As I stated in the article, I'd be happy to use the publisher provided apps, if they had anything I was interested in. As great as back issues of comics are (and its a great thing since many can be hard to obtain). I want current issues, and I'd like a larger selection.

Right now the Comic publishers are scared of the internet, and understandably. The music industry and Hollywood were too. And in the absence of a distribution method provided by the content creators that was acceptable to the market, the market developed its own products (BitTorrent, et. al). The music industry and Hollywood have started to see the light though. I happily buy and download music from iTunes and Amazon. I subscribe to several TV shows through iTunes. But I'm still happy to rent or buy DVDs of my favorite movies to watch on our living room TV.

As long as the Comic publishers are slow to adapt, others will take their place.

Myself, I haven't read or bought a new comic in ages – except for the Watchmen motion comic I downloaded through iTunes. I don't want to have to deal with my local comic shops, and I really don't have room to box them. I guess I could just throw them away when I'm done. But if I'm going to do that I might as well not bother, or maybe just break down, hang out at my local comic shop, and read the comics there (and return to the rack).

Kim Scarborough   April 9th, 2010 1:23 pm ET

Ron Marz: Why do you assume all comic files are automatically illegal? There are a ton of copyright-expired comic files available at Golden Age, and public domain comics at the Internet Archive. Some comics creators have made their comics available for free in CBR/CBZ format as well. You need an app to read all these, but you wouldn't be breaking any laws.

Ron Marz   April 9th, 2010 1:59 pm ET

And I assume it was YOUR CHOICE that you didn't get paid for this piece, right, Chris? When people illegally download material, my fellow creators and publishers aren't given that choice. We just get ripped off.

You say "I want current issues and I'd like larger selection." That's swell. I'd like a cookie. Doesn't mean I get one without paying for it. You can rationalize it all you want by saying "the market developed its own products," but anyone who is downloading illegal files is stealing from the very medium they're interested in.

Sounds like perhaps you're not illegally downloading youself. That's great. It was still irresponsible of you to provide a plaform for those who troll "shady Internet back alleys."

Ron Marz   April 9th, 2010 2:03 pm ET

Kim: Of course not all comic files are illegal. But a great many of them are, including all the new ones that show up each and every week when new comics are released. And that's the problem.

Kim Scarborough   April 9th, 2010 2:09 pm ET

Marz: But you're attacking the apps that allow you to read both legal and illegal comics, which is obnoxious.

Ron Marz   April 9th, 2010 2:14 pm ET

Kim: No, I'm attacking the use of those of the apps to download illegal comics, which is stealing.

Dave   April 9th, 2010 2:19 pm ET

The new app also will create big challehnges for those who have prospered by selling print comics as wholesalers or retailers. One example in Baltimore: Steve Geppi, who has used some of his earnings to buy a piece of the Orioles and start an entertainmejnt museum that features comic book characters.

iPad Links: Friday, April 9, 2010 « Mike Cane's iPad Test   April 9th, 2010 6:39 pm ET

[...] how we read news online Scroll down, start at: Me and my iPad shadow Magazine Apps on the iPad Geek Out!: In search of a better comic book app 1 – Scrivener: The iPad and Mac Development 2 – Scrivener: Scrivener for iPad The iPad [...]

Chris Waldrip   April 9th, 2010 9:57 pm ET

Ron, what about iTunes and Windows Media Player? They allow users to play MP3s from any source – bought or downloaded illegally.

As I've said twice now – if you give me the chance to buy the comics I want to buy, I'll buy them. I've got the spare income, I've got a history of paying for what I want. And I think we all realize that there are always going to be people who steal.Always have been, and always will be.

The point I was trying to make is that the problem with the publisher's apps is that the selection is small. Would you go to a movie theater that didn't play any movies you wanted to see, or would you look elsewhere.

Satoshi   April 11th, 2010 2:36 pm ET

Please try my PDF/cbz reader, Cloud Readers, which is absolutely free. I'm an independent developer trying have more fun with my iPad.

Jamie   April 12th, 2010 11:01 am ET

I like the PSP Comic APP, it offers more than one publisher (IDW, Marvel, Disney, etc) via the SonyStore.

laura   May 2nd, 2010 6:26 pm ET

Thank you Satoshi. I tried your app and it works great. Could you maybe add how to transfer files with a wire to the instructions? I saw a blip for it at the beginning when I first started the app, but couldn't find the intructions in the instructions sheet (just wireless instructions). Also, being able to import CBR files would be awesome. But i'm grateful to be able to import my PDF files so thanks!!!

PA Amplifier   November 24th, 2010 3:07 pm ET

books online are great, wether they are e-books or conventional hardbound and paperback books '.'

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