Comic books have always been a source of solace for me. During a lengthy hospital stay a few years ago I couldn’t concentrate on words, so I had my Calvin and Hobbes collection brought in. Even a few weeks ago when I was sick, curling up in bed with a comic on my iPad helped me feel better. Maybe it reminded me of being a little kid, reading comics, and having my mom bring me some soup.
There are a lot of comic book readers out there, so I’m going to share with you the comic reading apps that I use the most, both commercial readers that allow you to read comics purchased from their store, and one that lets you read comic book files.
Comixology: Comixology (free) is the Amazon Kindle(s AMZN) service for buying comics. Almost every digital publisher (sadly, no Dark Horse, but Marvel, DC Comics, and IDW are present) is in Comixology, and many of them make digital versions available the same day they become available in print. With the release of the third-generation iPad earlier this year, Comixology introduced the CMX-HD, which are high-resolution files that take full advantage of the Retina display. They look amazing; even small text is quite readable. On the iPad 2(s AAPL), I had to use the panel-by-panel view (a view that zooms in so each panel takes up the full screen). Now, I rarely need to. While you can purchase and read comics via the app, if you create an account on Comixology’s website, you can also read your comics on non-iOS devices. One nice feature is that I can define alerts for when new issues of my favorite series are released.
Dark Horse: Dark Horse (free) as you’d imagine, is dedicated solely to Dark Horse’s catalogue. Yeah, I wish they’d partner up with Comixology, too. Unlike Comixology, Dark Horse requires an account on its site to purchase comics, although it can use your iTunes billing information to purchase the comic; I don’t have a credit card on file with Dark Horse.
The Dark Horse app is well-done. Downloaded comics show up on the bookshelf tab, and the Store is easy to navigate and search. One oddity, though, in that I can’t find a way to see comics I’ve purchased, but not downloaded; I had to search the store and note that there was a Download button next to the title I had purchased.
Reading comics is likewise very easy, utilizing a panel-by-panel view similar to Comixology. I’m not sure if the comics are hi-res, but they look fine on my iPad 3.
The standard file format for comics is either a CBR or a CBZ file, which is essentially a RAR file with the images in it. I will let you use your own moral compass on how to obtain the files, but for full disclosure, as part of my research for this article I only downloaded a few comics I had purchased digital versions of already. While CBR readers are a dime a dozen on the iOS App Store, for me, there’s only one app I really like: Comic Zeal. Previously, I had enjoyed Comic Reader Mobi, but sadly the developer was banned from the App Store. One free app I looked at, ComicFlow, didn’t seem to have an easy way to delete files.
Comic Zeal: At $4.99, this is a great app. It takes advantage of the Retina display, and while it doesn’t have a form of panel-by-panel reading that I could find, it is easy to pinch and zoom in. Again, like all the apps, it looks amazing on the Retina display.
While individual comics are easy to navigate, there is a learning curve on the Library interface. Rather than dragging and dropping comics into a folder, instead you swipe the comic to the right and then paste it into a folder. After a little bit, I got used to it.
Getting comics into Comic Zeal is pretty easy: you can just drag and drop them via the App tab in iTunes. An easier way I found was to use Google Drive(s GOOG) to store the file. I then opened the file with the Google Drive app, and when it told me it couldn’t read the file, I had it “Open in” Comic Zeal.
The Last Page
The iPad has really reinvigorated my interest in comics. When I was reading them a long time ago, if I missed some of a series, or if I became interested in a series in the middle of the run, I’d have a hard time catching up. These days, I just set an alert in Comixology for the next issue of a series, and it’s relatively easy (although expensive when you buy 20 issues at once –oy, my wallet) to come into a series late. The cloud-based nature of both Comixology and Dark Horse also makes it easy to read my comics on alternate devices, like my Nexus 7.
It’s a shame, though, that I have little reason to go into my local comics store anymore.