From ComiXology to Kindle

I remember the early days of the iPad. It was a cool and experimental time for large (1024x768) touchscreen applications. This was huge for a certain community: comic book people. For the first time in my life, I turned my head to comic books.

I remember sitting in my room at night watching Iron Man because the sequel to Iron Man was coming out and I wanted to get caught up. So I downloaded a few comic apps. I didn’t know what the difference was. There was a Marvel one. A DC one. There may have been more. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t buy anything, but it was neat that comics were finally accessible to me.

I lived in a small town around an hour from the nearest mall, thirty minutes from the grocery store. Riding in cars was a big part of my childhood. I don’t think I ever saw a comic book store. The local Books-a-Million had some comics but why would I ever start with issue 500 of Captain America?

I kept hearing good things about some comics. It never seemed like I could figure out how to get into them. Then the Scott Pilgrim movie came out. I. Fucking. Loved. It. So I saved my money and bought the volumes on the Scott Pilgrim Comics app and read them every night.

I. Fucking. Loved. It.

Scott Pilgrim was a special experience. It was a black and white comic, that more closely resembles a manga than anything you see in American comics. It is funny, true, self-deprecating, and about a loner. Hi.

I remember hearing a lot of hype for DC’s New 52 launch so I tried some of them. They were expensive at $5 or more per issue if I remember correctly. They were gross and not really a fresh start as I was promised. I felt like I was missing 500 issues of stuff. That and the rapey skin-suit arc of Detective Comics was super upsetting.

It’s around this time that I realized the apps for Scott Pilgrim, Marvel, and DC comics were all just subsections of a bigger app called ComiXology. Luckily all my purchases merged into one account.

I then started reading my first comic that would lead to reading a lot of comics: Locke and Key. It’s dark and gross sure, but it’s not DC Comics dark and gross, and it was an exciting adventure. Written by the son of Stephen King, what can you expect?

I started reading a lot of things that made me jump into a story, that challenged me, and that were outside my comfort zone. I blame my friend Erik for that. Thanks again Erik for the DEMO recommendation and buying me a copy of Astonishing X-Men: Gifted.

Here we are around 7 years later. ComiXology and I have been close buds. Very close buds. Digital comics never go out of print. They never require you to go to a store with awful restrooms. The checkout page doesn’t even try to discourage women from buying whatever they want. Digital comics made comics accessible to more people. For the first time in years, people could read comics and not have to worry about collectors who don’t read the comics anyway getting in the way.

Digital comics made comics accessible to more people.

A few years ago some weird news came to fans of ComiXology: Amazon was acquiring them. It worried people. It made buying comics from Apple products harder. Apple and Amazon do not play nice, and both sides should be ashamed: from their App Stores to eBook price fixing to that promised Amazon Video app for Apple TV that seems like more of a lie than something that will really come out this year. The list of ways both companies refuse to work together to ultimately harm consumers is sickening.

To ComiXology’s credit, they have done a great job staying relevant in the years since. I have no issues with ComiXology as a service. They even provide DRM-free copies of a lot of their comics now and have partnered with manga publishers for digital manga. Some manga even come out in English the same day as Japan.

That said, most manga on ComiXology feels kind of hostile with this alert box that gets in your face every time you open a book. I don't understand it to be honest, while the page size of a manga is smaller, it's still not great to read on a phone one page at a time. I think I saw a manga publisher with panel view (Guided View) support once though. Good for that publisher.

Ultimately it's great that they've partnered with manga publishers, the American comic scene has tanked. It was tanking before, then digital comics seemed to be saving it but that may have been just a coincidence. Comic book stores are not doing well and the major publishers do not understand how they work. Marvel struggles to sell 40,000 copies of a new number one book and the manga My Hero Academia outsells Batman comics.

At the same time, we see something else happening though: the iPad seems to have gotten stale. When the iPad came out you would see all these great experimental apps come out every so often: Twitter's sliding panel app, Flipboard's origami folding newspaper app, and Paper the simple-yet-enticing drawing app. They all fizzled out, sure. But since then we've not really seen anyone play with the device in these ways. Apple themselves have noticed a decline in sales so they released the iPad Pro. Most artists were still using the Surface because it supported the apps they already use. Well, until a few weeks ago when Clip Studio Paint came out for the iPad. Overnight comic artists and manga creators seemed to flock to it, and I'm excited to see what comes from it. But that's not for me, I don't draw.

For the last few years, the iPad has been a comic reading device for me and not much else. The more I read about people who use their iPad as their primary device the more it seems like they exclusively work through email or they use a SSH shell to do programming on a remote computer. It's genuinely hard for me to recommend an iPad to anyone these days.

So I was reading less American comics (read: color comics) and I was relying on the iPad less. I knew Amazon's Kindle store had a lot of the ComiXology store and more in regards to manga and I hadn't used a Kindle for years. So I decided to try one of those really slick looking Kindle Oasis devices with the high quality lighted e-ink screens. It's small enough to fit in my jacket pocket and that e-ink screen is amazing. Also, if I ever wanted to go back to the iPad and ComiXology, my Kindle comic purchases show up in my ComiXology account.

I think it's ultimately been a good decision. I can easily get books on the device, the battery life is perfect, and I don't have to worry about what bugs and quirks come with the latest version of iOS these days. The Kindle apps support comics the exact same way ComiXology does and they're available on basically every platform. I hope ComiXology continues to be around, and I like the way they connect together, but damn e-ink screens are great for manga.