Digital comics

The best way to read your digital comics

Comic shops, wherever you are. Photo: Stephen R. Clark

The days are getting shorter, September is fast approaching and you are still behind on your summer reading. Our free time is suddenly so much more valuable, so tablets are a great way to take a virtual library with us wherever we go. Comics, graphic novels and manga can be consumed at the speed of pressing a wake-up button. So how do you know which is the best way to read your favorite stories? GeekDad has your guide.

Equipment

Some GeekMoms and GeekDads still prefer reading digital comics on a laptop. But let’s face it, nothing since the invention of paper itself has been as perfectly suited to reading comics as the tablet.

Although the iPad is a flagship device that combines one of the biggest screens with some of the best hardware, it is also one of the most expensive. Still, if you have an iPad in your house, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything better. Even a first-generation iPad (stuck on iOS 5) can run the Marvel Digital Comics app and let you access your library.

Not every home has a tablet, or if it does, it might not be the best for reading comics. A low-res budget 7-inch tablet gets the job done, but makes reading full-page comics nearly impossible. They also tend to use cheaper screens that only work well in a dark room. With just a few weeks of good weather, get outside and read in that fresh air your mom always talks about.

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The perfect size for short cargo pockets, 8″ tablets are perfect for summer. PhotoStephen R. Clark

In my experience, there’s no better tablet than an 8-inch high-resolution screen. It strikes the right balance between portability and visibility. The screen is significantly smaller than a comic book or a paperback (more on that in a minute), but it’s larger than a standard manga or many graphic novels.

The most interesting material currently comes out in 8″ format, as opposed to 7″ or 10″. Most budget 7-inch tablets have low resolution, which makes fine print on a small screen almost impossible to read. Tablets with 10-inch screens and larger often start at $500 and quickly go up from there.

My personal preference for digital comics is the LG G Pad X 8.0, available exclusively through T-Mobile. It can be purchased outright for US$240 (or CDN$240 on select plans through Rogers in Canada where it’s sold under the even more complicated name, LG G Pad III 8.0). It has a midrange Snapdragon 615 processor, 2GB of RAM, 802.11ac, LTE, and Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow.

What really sets the tablet apart is the screen. The 1920×1200 resolution makes pixels imperceptible on the 8.0-inch screen, so fine print is easy to read. The colors are super bright, so reading outside in the summer sun is little problem. iPads have a 4:3 screen and most budget tablets have a 16:9. In both cases, more than 10% of the screen is filled with black. The 16:10 aspect ratio of the LG G Pad X 8.0 almost matches that of standard comics and paperbacks. As a result, it displays comics with over 95% of the screen filled with superhero entertainment.

A very unique display feature to note as well is Reader Mode. If you read before bed, you might avoid tablets because you know that blue or short-wavelength light can disrupt normal sleep patterns. A dedicated button on the right side of the tablet applies a sepia filter to the screen to minimize the effect of reading before bed.

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Software

There are many great apps and storefronts for finding digital comics. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so please add your favorites in the comments below). These are the most commonly used apps by me, other GeekDads and GeekMoms, and just about every comic book geek I could find.

ComiXology

If you only have one digital comics app, this is it. ComiXology is the grandfather’s showcase with releases from Marvel, DC, Image, and Dark Horse. There’s even a respectable collection of anglicized manga from distributors like Viz and Kodanosha Comics. Beyond that, you’ll find dozens and dozens of other publishers with countless titles. The app is available on a wide variety of devices, from iOS and android at Kindle Fire and even Windows tablets.

Digital comics are generally more portable than any other media you own. At least as portable as music, and way more than digital movies or TV shows. The vast majority of comic book distributors use ComiXology to sell their virtual wares. Dedicated apps like those from Marvel and DC focus your collection, but really use a renowned ComiXology storefront. It’s also great for Marvel readers who can grab their free digital copy of their print comics and then read it in the Marvel app or ComiXology.

Unlimited Marvel

In Netflix’s age of all-you-can-eat content, Marvel Unlimited was the first to give you access to its entire back catalog for a monthly fee. $9.99 per month (or as little as $69/year) gets you reading all the comics they’ve digitized going back decades of hardware. Some of those epic series you’ve heard of but never read are available. Civil War, The Infinity Gauntlet, Secret Invasion and more are here, along with classic numbers featuring your favorites from Captain America to Squirrel Girl. It’s not the perfect alternative to buying your weekly comics, as new issues don’t appear on Marvel Unlimited for at least six months. Even so, there’s enough here to keep reading.

Available on iOS and android, The app only allows you to download a dozen comics at a time. It supports syncing your reading position, so dropping a comic on your tablet should mean you can pick it up on your cellphone in the same place. In my experience, this feature didn’t work very well, nor did remembering the last issue you read.

Comixology Unlimited promotion showing multiple comic book titles

ComiXology Unlimited

ComiXology has also launched a unlimited service. At just $5.99, it’s considerably cheaper than Marvel’s $9.99, but you only get the first or first issues of a series. However, due to ComiXology’s huge library, many other publishers will let you sample their products. If you’re buying a lot of #1s looking for a new series to follow, the subscription is worth it as you can “borrow” up to 50 titles at a time.

There are a few notable issues with the service. At the moment it is only available in the United States. Although there are plenty of publishers represented, Marvel and DC aren’t involved. Although “thousands” of titles are available, titles may change from month to month. If you have friends who work on comics with the publishers involved, you may have heard that ComiXology launched the service without any clear public royalty-sharing structure. In theory, the model encourages the exploration (and sale) of new titles, but the lack of warning before the launch has offended many artists.

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Manga Crunchyroll

If you read on a tablet, you must try the manga. Even a budget 7-inch tablet has a screen large enough to display full-page manga.

Crunchyroll started life as a streaming service for fansubbed anime. They went legit and launched a royalty-sharing subscription service that specializes in simulcasting first-run subtitled anime straight from Japan. If you’re already paying the $6.95 per month ($59.95 per year) subscription, you also get access to tons of manga through their iOS and android approx.30

Many manga series match those available on the anime service, so there are premium titles like Attack on Titan, ReLIFE, and Orange. There are some free issues if you don’t have a premium subscription, but when it comes with the first-run anime, the Crunchyroll subscription is worth it.

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Manga-Rock

There are still plenty of series that haven’t crossed the pond. Fansubbing in anime isn’t as prominent as it once was, but the manga-equivalent “scanlations” (from the translation of scanned manga) are stronger than ever. One of the best aggregator apps pulled from a variety of sites in multiple languages ​​can be found on the iTunes app store and Kindle Fire like Manga Rock, and on Google Play for Android like Manga Rock – Global Version. Both will pull license-free content from sites like Manga Fox and Botato.

Content is technically in a legal gray area (which is why it tends to disappear from app stores from time to time). The police won’t come knocking down your door for illegally acquiring manga, but every time you download licensed content for free, you’re discouraging publishers from translating manga and bringing high-quality entertainment to our shores.

There is also a lot of content theft from one host to another. Talk to three different people about the modern state of scanlations and you’ll get four different opinions. Even so, if you want to see what’s fresh and new in the world, Manga Rock is a good way to find it.

Reading digital comics is a very personal experience. What material do you use? Your phone? A laptop? Where do you get your comics and what software do you use? Share your best setup for on-the-go comics in the comments below.

(Edit August 30, 2016, 8:30 PM EST: Removed reference that ComiXology can be downloaded on first-generation iPads after a careful reader discovered this was no longer possible. The comic book app digital Marvel will still work.)

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