Comics on Phones: Will They Replace Books?

No, comics on phones will not replace books.

There. I figured I should start this kind of post with the answer first, and then pull a Quentin Tarantino and tell about how I came to this conclusion.

It starts with a personal tale:

For my birthday last week, I upgraded my phone–At long last!–from a dumb-phone to a Motorola Razr. It’s fabulous.

As I was playing around with the apps, I discovered I could get Comixology on it, and better yet, I could download a preview issue of the fabulous “City in the Desert” by Moro Rogers, the newest comic from Archaia (nobody paid me to say this. Honest).

So I downloaded the first chapter of “City in the Desert” onto my phone.

At first, I was hesitant to because I’ve been rather adamant about keeping comics in physical form. I’m weary of webcomics more for technical reasons, and I’m personally biased to get actual books because I like their physicality: the weight, the new book smell, the page designs, the immediate reference for when you’re drawing and you want to see how the artist rendered this particular detail to use it in your work…

But I tried the comic on the smart phone.

And I liked it. That was what surprised me.

It’s a different experience: because phones are small, the comic can only be read one panel at a time, so it creates an almost slideshow effect. The panels transition well, plus it can zoom on particular details, and the speech balloons are actually readable. Thankfully, the art of “City in the Desert” is simple in style, and so it’s not cluttered on the screen at all.

It was fun to read the comic on the phone. It would certainly help pass the time when you’re stranded at a laundromat or something.

I think that’s the difference, though, between comics on phones and actual books.

The comic book can vary in numbers of pages and not have any severe consequences. Comics on phones, however, by nature, should be kept short: longer works take up more data space, take longer to download, and tend explore literature and art, where as comics on the Razr and such are usually there to help pass the time. A comic on a phone that tries to get into territory like “Maus” would have a hard time working on the phone, I think, because longer and/or more serious works require a little more emotional investment from the reader. It’s hard to emotionally invest in a comic that you can flip through effortlessly on a phone. It’s not that it can’t be done, it’s just that it would be difficult.

Also, there’s the issue of page design.

On a phone, you can’t see the layout of a page because it’s displayed one panel at a time. If there is a larger panel or, rarely, a full-page spread, the phone has to take it in chunks. This is a problem for a comic that likes to have fun with page layouts, or construct page layouts into a particular pattern, like “The God Machine” by Chandra Free, or “Asterios Polyp” by David Mazzucchelli. The meaning of the page design can be lost if you only read it one panel at a time in these kinds of works.

I think, however, comics on smart phones are viable. It’s an area of the comics field that should be explored a little more. Maybe, with enough tinkering, I can be proved wrong about the assumption that phone comics can’t be taken seriously as art and/or literature.

I just don’t think that comics on phones are going to replace actual books anytime soon. As long as there are comics that want to be longer, larger, thicker, and have weightier themes, there will be comic books¬†and graphic novels.

That’s just my opinion, anyway.

2 Replies to “Comics on Phones: Will They Replace Books?”

  1. I think you’re mostly right. All your points are noteworthy.

    The only thing I would add though is that the phone technology will continue to change, so what you’re describing is really more about the phones we use today than about phones in general.

    I think the change that most of us aren’t expecting is that in the course of the next 10 years or so we’re likely to see projection displays on phones and with higher resolution, we’ll be able to project full-sized comic pages onto any wall or other flat surface to peruse. That does kind of rule out using it in a lot of places (on the bus for example), but let’s say you’re in a hotel room, you don’t necessarily need a full-sized computer if you can just project from your phone onto the wall of your room.

    Anyway, I enjoyed the article. :)

  2. @Isaac Dealey, Firstly, I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

    Secondly, you’re right in that I didn’t take into account advancing phone technologies. I can see projections from phones happening, though I think it would be a little unusual for comics to tread into that territory. Comics projected from a phone onto a flat surface might be useful for presentations and such, but as a function of personal enjoyment? I’m not sure.

    We’ll have to wait to see what the future brings us. But you have given me some good food for thought. Thank you.

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