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.