Pow! Comics hit tiny screens

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 25, 2013

Old-school fans may tell you that it is sheer bliss to flip through the crisp, colourful pages of a comic book, but nothing can beat digital comics for convenience, portability and the sheer brilliance of colours.

Since they first became widely available to readers in the 2000s, digital comics have become big business - sales for North America alone last year were estimated at US$70 million (S$87million).

In July, DC Comics also took what it proclaimed as the next step in digital comics with the debut of Batman '66, a monthly title that incorporates a new technology which adds more layers to your comic-book experience. Features include artwork that morphs into different colours and even sound effects that are triggered when you touch the screen of your device or click the mouse.

So when the Dark Knight bursts through a window and into your face, you might just find yourself jumping too.

Corporate communications manager Adrian Chan, 33, who has been reading comics on and off for about a decade, began dabbling in digital comics recently largely due to "the headache in trying to find a particular series".

Mr Chan uses ComiXology and the Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited appS.

He said: "It's always easier to search online than to go hunting in stores, although the feeling of paper is different from digital images.

"The colours on screen are usually more vibrant, as print is dependent on the type of paper it's printed on.

"Also, digital copies in a tablet save space and they are easier to take around too. You don't have to lug around multiple editions just to finish a series on the go."

Editor Aloysius Yap, 31, who has been reading comics for more than 20 years, said: "Comics look really great on tablets. If you are really into the art, you can zoom in to look at the details.

"It feels like comics are meant to be viewed on tablets because they enhance the reading experience so much more."

But the lure of print is still hard to resist and most graphic novel fans catch up on their weekly and monthly titles through a combination of print and digital platforms.

After all, there are still four comic book stores here, such as GnB Comics and Comics World, and an extensive graphic novel collection at local libraries.

But even long-time comic reader and full-time caregiver Melvin Yong, who is in his 40s, admitted: "Some weeks, there aren't that many on my pull list, so I download instead of going to the shop."

Mr Yong, who has been reading comics since he was a child, added: "I'm not that fussy about the colours, but I guess they are more vibrant on the iPad."

So where can you get your e-comics fix? Digital Life picks out four of the best digital comic platforms around. Two are for reading and buying comics, while two are used for reading comics only.

Nicholas Yong is a freelance writer

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Free, for iOS, Android and PC

Probably the most widely used e-comic app, digital comic retailer ComiXology had the third-best-selling iPad app last year, just fiveyears after starting out.

Stocking titles from a wide stable of publishers, including industry giants Marvel and DC, it has a library of more than 30,000titles, including The Avengers, Batman and Iron Man, as well as titles from independent publishers such as The Walking Dead and Star Trek.

Perhaps its biggest selling point is its Guided View technology that allows readers to read comics in full screen or from panel-to-panel, mimicking the experience of reading a hard copy.

Purchases made on sync automatically to your device.

The price of each comic starts from US$0.99 (S$1.23), with regular special offers and prices of the latest releases dropping after a certain period.

On the downside, you must have a ComiXology account to purchase comics and you are bound to its proprietary ecosystem.

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Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited

Free, for iOS, Android and PC

Launched in 2007, this gives readers the freedom to explore the Marvel Comics archive, which consists of more than 70years of publication history.

For US$9.99 a month or US$69 for an annual subscription, users can access more than 13,000 comics.

Each weekday, five new comics are added to the mix. Full free issues, such as Daredevil#1 that features the first appearance of the blind vigilante back in 1964, are also made available to users on a weekly basis.

However, the massive online library does not comprise the entire Marvel back catalogue and you have to wait six months after a title is released before it is added to the collection. And, of course, you can access only Marvel titles.

There are separate screens for your library, as well as a browse screen that allows you to easily review the latest titles.

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Comic Zeal

US$4.99 (S$6.25), for iOS

An app purely for reading and storing comics, this is my personal favourite.

Comic Zeal is very easy to navigate and lets you easily organise your collection by series using dividers.

Unlike ComiXology and the Marvel app, this app does not sell comics, but allows you to manage your existing collection.

When you are done reading one issue, the app automatically opens the next one for you.

Comic Zeal also allows you to search for your comics by titles, so you do not have to scroll through your entire collection to find a particular back issue of The Amazing Spider-Man.

It even gives you the option of loading your comics via Wi-Fi or other apps such as Dropbox, and you can import files in formats such as CBZ, CBR and PDF.

As for the reading experience itself, the background colour will match that of the panels so that there is no huge contrast to strain your eyes.

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Free, for iOS

One of the best free apps around for managing your comics library, ComicFlow can handle very large comic collections - more than 1,500 comics and dozens of gigabytes - without crashing or becoming unusable.

It does not sell comics but handles your existing digital comics library.

Its library interface is somewhat similar to that of Comic Zeal and flipping pages is a very smooth process.

It can also import comics via Wi-Fi, but it is free for only the first 50 transfers - after that, it will set you back US$3.99.

It supports CBR, CBZ and PDF files, and perhaps best of all, it imports comics in the background. This means that unlike other apps, you can read your existing comics while the transfer is ongoing.