Comics on the go (iOS Edition)

by Christoph Staffl

Introduction

If you read a couple of my articles, you might know that I live in Austria. That means, unfortunately, that I do not have access to traditional comic book stores. They are scarce and rare, and even if you manage to find one, they mostly do not have the original single issues. The publisher Panini is responsible for bringing them over the big pond. There are two problems with that: First, I do not like translated or dubbed things. Second, the publisher has a weird release schedule.

I love comics, and even though there are some options to get my hands on single issues, like ordering them from a UK store, the shipping costs make this endeavor unaffordable – at least in the long run. So there are two options left:

  1. Trade Waiting
  2. Reading comics digitally

This article is about reading comics on the go and not the philosophical considerations that go into trade waiting, so I make it short: it is your decision, and there is no right or wrong answer. And if you struggle to find a good solution juggling a digital collection and an analog one, welcome to the club – you are not alone.

That being said, with a few exceptions, I read my comics digitally. This decision has to do with sales on ComiXology, wanting to have as many comics with me as possible and not wanting to hold an Omnibus for two hours or more while reading it.

The Hardware

How can you read comics on the go in a digital world?

Though there is nothing wrong with reading your comics on the screen of a notebook or PC, I would recommend using a tablet.

I want to read comics on a screen which is as big and beautiful as possible. Therefore, my choice fell on the iPad Pro with 12.9″. Up until two weeks ago, I used the first generation but upgraded to the current version. It might be a bit expensive, but comics are my passion, and I want to read them with the best tools available. Before the iPad Pro, I used a regular one which was perfectly fine as well. In addition to a beautiful screen, iPads spare you of the weight that comes with TPBs and Omnibus.

I mention this to give you the full picture because reading on different devices gives you different experiences.

The Apps

ComiXology

Screenshot of my ComiXology Smart Lists Overview

ComiXology is probably the biggest website when it comes to buying your comics digitally. Almost every big and small publisher uses this platform, and you can even find a lot of digital first editions. Either you buy your weekly comics by clicking through them one by one, or you subscribe to the series you are interested in.

If you want to save a bug or two, I suggest you wait two months or so, because the previous issues tend to get cheaper. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I even think in case of DC, the digital versions of their single issues are a bit cheaper as well, which is also true for most TPBs of every publisher. You can also wait for the next sale (they have a lot of these throughout the year) and spend your savings on buying hundreds of issues (I speak from experience).

Anyhow, after you bought the comics, you can download them on any device that supports the ComiXology app or read the issues in your browser.

If you worry that your comics are gone someday in the future when the company does not exist anymore: yes, that is always a possibility. I once considered keeping every comic I buy on my iPad, but the storage is just too small for a couple of thousand issues, collections and so on. Anyway, Amazon owns ComiXology, so there is a chance they are going to be around for quite some time. That being said, some publishers, like Image, allow you to download the comics onto your computer to save them somewhere else or do with them whatever you like.

Now to the app itself: I tried a lot of apps and services over the years and can confidently say: ComiXology provides the best reading experience. Granted, they only support comics you bought on their website, but who doesn’t nowadays.

There are a lot of options regarding page flow, how you want to swipe through your comics, how the borders look like and much more. It is fun to test those various options and find what fits your taste best. In regards to stability, I rarely had a problem with the app. Even at times when I had over 2000 comics on my iPad, the app worked smooth and fast.

A while back ComiXology also introduced a subscription service (similar to Marvel Unlimited), but unfortunately, it is not yet available in the EU. If you use ComiXology Unlimited, let me know what you think.

Kindle

I mention Amazon’s Kindle app to give you the full list and options. It is possible to buy TPBs on Amazon and read them with your Kindle app. Sometimes they offer great deals or even free first volumes. However, I think of Kindle more of an app to read books than comics, so I rarely consider it. But that’s just me personally.

Marvel Unlimited

Screenshot of Marvel Unlimited’s Home Screen

I wish DC would offer a similar service as well. For a reasonable price, you can read almost every Marvel comic of the past decades. For current series, the rule of thumb is, that if it is six months old, it is on Marvel Unlimited.

Regarding older Marvel comics: they have a massive library. I never found an old comic I didn’t like to read. It is incredible, and they are adding more and more comics each week.

Did you hear the but? Here is the big but: I have a lot of problems with the app. I don’t know what it is, but the app regularly freezes up while loading a series overview page, and sometimes it takes forever to load the next pages within a comic. Also, the design looks a bit dated. It could use some fine-tuning. However, that could just be my experience. The reader itself is nice. It is not as good as ComiXology’s, but it does its job.

That being said: I wrote the first draft for this article a couple of weeks ago, and since then the app (almost) runs smoothly. It still takes its time sometimes, but nothing as extreme as before. So either Marvel has hacked my Grammarly account and improved something, or there was an update that fixed my problems.

Be that as it may, Marvel Unlimited is definitely worth the money. The only thing I don’t understand is the 12-issue-limit on downloaded items. That number is too low. At least make it a hundred.

DC Access

Similar to ComiXology Unlimited, we do not get DC Access here, so I cannot talk about that one. I am not even sure what this service includes. If you have experience with it, please let me know.

YAC-Reader

Promotional screenshot of YAC Reader from their website

Unlike ComiXology or Marvel Unlimited, YAC Reader does not provide a store. It is just a reader. And a good one at that. Again, I tested a bunch of different readers over the years (e.g., Chunky or ComicFlow) and there may be a couple of new ones I did not test yet, but YAC Reader is the one I stuck with.

You can import various formats, including *.pdf, *.cbr, and *.cbz. It lets you organize your comics in folders, edit the metadata, and choose backgrounds as well as how you want to navigate through your comics.

If you use the YAC Reader Library to organize your comics on your computer and transfer them via WiFi onto your iPad, it keeps the previously configured structure. The app also allows you to connect to different cloud services so that you can import your comics from there.

So far I had no problems with the app, no matter how many issues I had within the app.

WebComics

Finally, I briefly want to mention WebComics. If you are a fan of WebComics, there are a couple of options for you as well. I mostly use two apps, in particular, to stay updated on a bunch of series (not including the Patreon App, where I also support some creators):

Tapas

Screenshot of Tapas’ Home Screen

Tapas is the ComiXology of WebComics. I did not find a better way yet, to stay updated on several series. There are continually appearing new creators, who put their work on Tapas. The app also includes exclusive content, and I could browse hours and hours through all the categories and lists. The app also sends you push-notification (if you want) as soon as a creator you follow posts something new.

For some content, you have to pay (that’s up to the creators to decide), but so far I have managed to read only free stuff and tipped the things I like.

Tapas’ reader might not be the best, but it never crashed so far, and you can even download an unlimited number of pages/chapters of every series (or as many as are available).

Manga Rock

My other app of choice regarding WebComics is MangaRock because it focuses solely on Manga. Unfortunately, the app crashes sometimes, and the reader could use some work. However, the basic functions are similar to the ones on Tapas. If you are a Manga fan, you should have years worth of reading material.

Conclusion

There are a lot of apps out there, with a lot of different designs and options regarding settings or how to organize your comics. The truth is, you have to try a bunch of different ones, to find the best solution for you. I don’t remember how many times I imported, exported, downloaded, copied and deleted comics in the beginning, but it was worth it. Every reader has its pros and cons. The apps presented in this article are the ones I use on a regular basis, and they are a good place to start. Because no matter which other apps I try, I always come back to those mentioned above.

One last tip: Be patient. It needs some time to work out your personal workflow and preferences. But the journey is fun, and you might learn to appreciate comics from a whole new perspective.

Have fun and thanks for reading.

Featured Image Photo by Daniel CaƱibano on Unsplash

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