I don’t have an ipad and currently have no plans to acquire one (unless you REALLY need one reviewed, in which case: firstname.lastname@example.org can provide you with shipping information). As a creator of comics, however, I am interested in ANY and ALL means of getting more and varied comics content in front of as many potential readers as possible. In the last decade comics creators have brought their concepts and characters to audiences outside of those of us who keep the industry afloat with our every Wednesday (new comics day) buying habits. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the comics movies of the last decade and the residual programming and products have exposed more people to the characters and brought more fans (money) into the industry that we love. The Marvel ipad app is just another step in the growing mass-market appeal of comics and comic book characters as a source of entertainment.
Since 2000 when Joe Quesada became Editor-in-chief, Marvel has been trying new and different ways to engage readers and other forms of comics distribution. Whether it was through different interpretations of their characters like Marvel Mangaverse (characters interpreted through the lens of a more Eastern style of comics storytelling and illustration style), the MAX imprint (a more adult or R rated line of books about many of their darker characters), the Ultimate Universe (essentially a reboot and retelling of the entire Marvel Universe), or distribution efforts like the Marvel Online Archive (a growing hi-resolution database of their entire catalog of comics) Marvel has been putting their characters in front of more and more eyes at every turn. Being the first to have an app on the ipad is not a surprise.
What does it mean for COMICS? Look, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but paper has been dying for years. There are generations growing up right now that are MORE comfortable interacting with a screen than with a page. This technology is the future. This is where things are going. Soon, there won’t be any paper. Soon, the screen will BE the paper. So… yay for the trees!
At the same time, paper has been dying for years. Maybe it’s taking longer than it should. Maybe, paper WON’T ever go away. Maybe, there will always be a need for a hard copy of something along the way. I was pleased to see that part of the Marvel ipad app is the ability to actually ORDER a copy of the book to bag and board for your comics archive in your parent’s basement.
There’s a video which demonstrates the interface of the Marvel app including the ability to zoom in and out on pages, rotate the pad itself to get a more widescreen presentation, follow from panel to panel so that you aren’t seeing the whole page… this is probably where I my concerns with the technology originate.
The 2 most common ways to read comics are in print and online. At the intersection of these 2 streets there is a traffic jam and things get all jumbly. The same thing has happened in the past with movies and TV. Ideally, when one produces a work of art, they produce it with the final intended means of consumption in mind. If I’m making a film that I know will be released in theaters that where a widescreen format is available, I’m going to plan it and shoot it in a widescreen format. The problem occurs when that widescreen film is transferred to televisions that (until recently) were NOT widescreen. 1/3 of the film is literally cut off the movie. While you may still be able to enjoy the story of the film, you are no longer experiencing the true depth and breadth of the film the way the creators intended it.
This happens in comics when a comic designed for print is taken to the web, or a comic designed for the web is transferred to print. There is a constant struggle with the interfaces. Printed comics are a vertically oriented, sequential (through page turning) experience. Good writers and artists take this into account when they make their printed comics. They intentionally plan important moments to happen on a right facing page so that there is some sense of surprise when you turn the page for the next left facing page. This is something that is intrinsic to printed, page-turning comics.
When you transfer that printed format comic to a digital medium or computer screen you are taking it out of its intended mode of presentation. You now have to make changes to the piece of art (or art-like substance) that changes its meaning and impact. More and more, computer monitors are a horizontal format which is directly in conflict with the printed comic. The Marvel ipad app attempts to solve this problem by allowing the reader to turn the ipad itself reorienting the printed page on the screen so that it can be viewed either horizontally or vertically. Does this solve the problem? It helps, but it doesn’t quite replicate the experience of facing pages or the act of turning the page itself. The question is… does that matter?
It doesn’t. Comics are, like it or not, more business than art. And for those of us who truly love comics and either are or want to be working in the field of comics, it is in our best interests to broaden the pool of readers. I want as many people as possible reading, thinking about and buying comics either in print, online or on the ipad. Comics should appeal every age range and all genres just like movies and tv.
Comics, like all traditionally printed media, are in a transitional period. The industry and the creators are trying to find a compromise between the traditional experience of reading a comic BOOK in print (which THEY grew up with) and the reality of the future being here, ready or not, and trying to engage the new readers who EXPECT their entertainment to come from their monitors. Marvel’s ipad app is just one more step in the evolution of the industry.