A Newbie Guide to the Digital Scent of Comic Books

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February 21, 2014 by Ray Yanek

Sometimes, out of nowhere, I’ll catch the phantom scent of books and ink,  and I’ll remember the safety and security I used to feel while sitting in my bedroom as a child, surrounded by paperbacks and comic books,while dark summer nights lounged in the breeze outside my window.

Those phantom scents affect me so powerfully that I wrote a blog on that topic awhile ago called “Of Scents and Comics, Of Books and Memories”.  Maybe you should go read that post before you read this one, because if you do, it will make it all the easier for you to understand why I’ll cringe when I finally say what I’m about to say.

And I am cringing  as I admit to you that I AM A SELL-OUT.

Yes.  You heard right.

I’m a sell-out because I’ve fallen in love with my scent-less Kindle Fire.

Before you start throwing tomatoes and other piece of metallic flotsam at my crotch, let me explain.

For me, who lives in a small town with no bookstores and one really shitty Wal-mart, the e-reader has opened up a lot of things for me.  Obviously, it gives me access to more books, both new and old, mainstream or the more obscure.  I’ve started to read magazines again, magazines again like Fantasy and Science Fiction, Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Smithsonian, and a few others that I’m pretty sure have never set a physical, printed foot into my small town’s market place.

Recently, I’ve found another reason why I love my Kindle. So get the torches and the pitchforks ready…torch and pitchfork

I love it, because it’s reintroduced me to that beloved world of comic books.

Okay look, in my own defense, I didn’t have access to a very wide variety of comic books in my home town, okay?  I just explained that.   Nothing against Marvel or DC, but I didn’t have access to the edgier, more mature independent publishers, all right? I got kids man, and  all kinds of stuff going on after work, so I couldn’t just take off a couple times a month and drive the 45 minutes to an hour to the nearest comic shop. Plus, comics aren’t cheap anymore.  The days of a 65 cent book are long-freaking-gone. Tack on the gas it would take to drive to these place and that price gets even steeper. Would it be worth the cost?  Well, yeah, but so is getting, you know, immunizations for my kids.

So I thought I would just check out what the Kindle had to offer in regards to comics…just one time.  Take a little look.  It wasn’t going to hurt nothin’.

Besides, I never thought I would like it, never thought it would match the old school reading experience. As a kid, I remember walking around with that comic resting flat on my palms like a stone tablet I humped down the mountain.  I remember the sound of the pages turning, the feel of the paper on my fingers.  Like I said, no way.  No way did I think that stupid Kindle would match that incredible experience.

It hasn’t.

But uh, well, you know… it’s kind of created another new, pretty cool reading experience.

And I kind of prefer it…

No, I am not on drugs and before you douse me in Holy Water and burn an X into my forehead, just let me finish, geez… relax a minute.

Clink on the logo to go to the ComiXology web page, or download the free app from whichever store you fancy.

Clink on the logo to go to the ComiXology web page, or download the free app from whichever store you fancy.

A big-time comic book guy that I work with turned me on to this Kindle app called ComiXology which I’ve been reading my comics through and really enjoying the hell out of.  There’s a area in the ComiXology store where you can pick up free issues of whatever they happen to be offering.  It’s a fun place to sample stuff and maybe find new things that you normally wouldn’t have thought to pick up.  I have, for example, read an old issue of Joe Hill’s Locke and Key that I’ve always wanted to read but could never find.  I  picked up the first issue of Saga (which is a series that often shows up on the the store’s Staff’s Picks page) which honestly was something I would never have bought on my own.  Both issues pulled me in though and odds are I’ll go back to both of them.

 

It’s the actual reading experience though, that stands out the most for me.  The first time I tried reading a comic on the Kindle, I was presented with the whole page on that lock and keytiny screen.  I had to drag the screen around, zoom in on the words and take away half of the frame, zoom out, move over, zoom in, etc.  I spent more time grunting and cussing then I did reading.  It was a pain in the ass and I almost gave up on it right then.

Then I learned how to double tap the screen.  What happens when you do is that each frame appears individually on the screen. The panel size is relative to how it appears on the page, and the size shifts as you move to the next frame, kind of like a Powerpoint slide will slide or fade into the the next slide (I can’t believe I just compared something to a Powerpoint slide…you can get me one time with that pitchfork, but that’s it…) and the next panel will enter in from the direction that you were supposed to read it on the page, sliding diagonal when you move to the next row. In other words, it follows the movement your eye would naturally take across a regular page.  

That’s a good thing for me.  When I used to read old comic books, I was more concerned with the writing and the dialogue, so I had a tendency to let my eye slide across the art.  I guess I only marginally came to appreciate the impact the artwork had on the overall effect which, thinking about it now, is kind of similar to drinking a non-alcoholic beer.  

Using this function on ComiXology forces people like me with a fast eye to slow down and see the pretty, pretty pictures.  It keeps you from cheating too, and seeing what happens in later frames and thus spoiling the story.  Even better, it gives the art an almost cinematic quality–which I suppose the artist was going for in the first place, right? 

east of west coverI read the first issue of a series from Image Comics called East of West (written by Jonathan Hickman and drawn by Nick Dragotta) and I think the first frames series illustrates this the best.  In the opening panels, we get a bird’s eye view of a bricked circle with four, glowing triangles spaced at intervals around the periphery.  Smoke billows from these triangles and when you swipe to the next frame, we’re taken to a close up (still bird’s-eye) of one of those triangles that no longer glows. Swipe again and the view turns horizontal as a fist punches up from the triangle.  Swipe again and the point of view shifts to the front of the triangle as two hands are clawing their way out of the hole. The next frame is larger showing a torso and head of the creature as it pushes it’s way up from that hole.  On the next frame we see the creature fight to free itself from the ‘umbilical cord’ attached to its chest.  The POV pulls back then to show three dark forms that have risen from the triangles while the fourth triangle remains untouched.  Cool stuff, but if you see it frame-by-frame, each frame standing alone on a white backdrop, and when the next panel scrolls in or expands in size it looks almost like those images are moving. And because you can’t peek, every new panel has the potential for surprise..

Like I said, I wasn’t much into the art before, but after reading with this app I can totally and completely appreciate the size of the panels, the distance of the POV, and the movement.

This is all with small to medium images and the ComiXology reader takes a different approach to full page panels.  What the reader does is to zoom in on the first dialogue balloon and then, if there is more on the page, it will slide you to the next piece of dialogue.  Finally, when the dialogue is completed, it zooms out giving the entire screen to the page panel.  I’m having a hard time putting my finger on why this zoom out is so cool, but man,  does it make that page pop.

As with everything though, there are some negatives also.  The free issue feature is cool, but for the comics you have to buy, you only get to preview the first three pages. Really though, I suppose if the comic doesn’t grab you by then it’s not going to.

Also, the touchscreen of the Kindle is sometimes  less than responsive.  You have to swipe a couple of times, which really throws off the effect of the movement.  Other times, you’ll swipe or tap and it will move you backwards, which REALLY screws up that feeling of movement.  

And then of course, that smell isn’t there.  

And sometimes, reading on the Kindle still makes me feel guilty.

By using the Kindle, I’m definitely putting more money into the writer’s and artist’s hands, but I am drumming out the middle man.  I still make a point of stopping into a Barnes and Noble or an indie bookstore when I’m out of town, just like I always used to.  I get a cup of coffee and browse the stacks, as if my Kindle doesn’t exist.  I still spend money.  I don’t do that because of guilt, though.  I do it because I love to, because for me at least, there are few places in this world with the atmosphere and magic of a bookstore.

Occasionally, before finding ComiXology, I would also pop into comic book stores when

Graham Cracker's Comic Shops in Illinois

Graham Cracker’s Comic Shops in Illinois

I was out of town, especially to take my kids so that they might possibly find the magic  there that I once found in a tower comic book rack that squeaked when it turned.  But those stops were rare. Very rare.

You know, maybe I shouldn’t feel guilty.  To be honest, I think I might, because of the world the Kindle and it’s app have re-opened to me, stop into those comic shops more often now…

And yes,  I did see you–yes you–lighting up that torch again during that last part…

Before I go, I think there might be some other comic apps out there for Kindle or maybe there are different apps for the Nook.  If you know of any or have tried any out, drop a line in the comments and let me know.

Take care.

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2 thoughts on “A Newbie Guide to the Digital Scent of Comic Books

  1. jenbr323 says:

    I promise not to lynch you, but when I read this for some reason Sheldon Cooper comes to mind…

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