Recently I “discovered” a box full of comics from my childhood. This brought back many fond memories of summer days and comic books. Although Superman, Spiderman and Batman already existed, they did not rule the roost back then.
We had Richie Rich, Little Lotta, Dagwood and a fair share of Popeye comics to entertain us. And Garfield! Do not forget about Garfield and his lasagne.
Our parents complained that these weren’t real books and we were not really reading. But they seemed to miss the fact that just like “real books”, these comics fired our imagination. We created our own stories and worlds around Richie and Popeye.
This trip down memory lane made me wonder about comics and e-books.
Do people read e-comics?
The answer is yes. If you search for “comics” in the Kindle Store on Amazon you are offered just shy of 33, 000 results. Even if half of these are e-books, primarily text, you still have 16,000 comic e-comics.
As of today, 18 November 2014, How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You [Kindle Edition] is the #1 seller in three different categories. It is also the 222nd most popular paid item in the Kindle Store.
Calvin and Hobbes rates as the 11th most popular Kindle Comic book. Overall that translates to 31,648th place. The paperback version is the 12th most popular and the 1,930th most popular overall.
(Note: The Oatmeal comics might be completely different from Batman or Superman. Some might argue that these are not “real comics” for various philosophical reasons, but these are e-books in which images create the primary content and this is what we are talking about!)
We already saw the technical capabilities and restrictions of the EPUB and .mobi file formats. “EPUB [and MOBI] is designed for reflowable content, meaning that an EPUB reader can optimize text for a particular display device.”
These formats are primarily created for text and not images. This makes sense as most “real books”, like mom would call them, contain infinitely more words than images.
According to the technical specifications of these files, both EPUB and MOBI can display images. We know this is true because e-books come with cover page images, don’t they?
These formats were developed to primarily display text. They do not handle images all that well. On Amazon they use MOBI, and other e-book sellers also use EPUB for the e-comics they sell.
A bit like using a family car instead of a pick-up truck to move bricks or sand.
The Kindle-family, the Nook-family and the Kobo-family all support the PDF file format. This may be good news for comics as PDF is primarily a graphic format.
The big problem is that PDF files are not reflowable in these devices. What does that mean? They do not adapt themselves to “respect” the screen-size and device resolution.
This means a lot of zooming in and out, as well as scrolling left, right, up and down to see one page that was not created to fit the screen of the device.
If you have ever tried to read an A4 page in PDF format on a Kindle, for example, you will know how frustrating this can be. Also, it seems as if the PDF files really tax the processing ability of the standard e-readers. Turning to a new page, usually takes a few seconds.
Batman: Earth One Special Preview Edition is offered as a free download on Amazon. Batman and black go together. It felt as if a lot of detail disappears because of my Kindle’s monochrome display.
Black on black does not display well. But then again, the standard “paper” comic is not printed on high gloss, super quality paper.
The Promises: A Conclusion
My super unscientific research on e-comic sales on Amazon shows that there is a definite interest. What we have also seen time and again is that what enough people want they eventually get.
One of the things needed is a standard file format built to display images when it comes to dedicated e-readers. Tablets and the smarter smart phones with their superior processing capabilities and higher resolution can much better display PDF files.
The higher resolution means that even on a smaller device, it might be able to display an A4 clear enough that it is not necessary to zoom or scroll.
Seeing that some e-comics are already being successfully sold on Amazon and other places also means that there is a way to do it, in spite of the limits that currently exist.
E-books are still fairly new. Kindle only came on the market in 2007. So there are still many innovations waiting around the corner of the new year.
In the next article on e-comics we will briefly survey these specialized apps.