Reading Comics with Your Android

Posted by on January 17th, 2011 at 12:01 AM

In November, I finally joined the cult of the smartphone.  I’m not the type of guy who’s usually on the bleeding edge of technology, nor am I one to become an early adopter of anything (other than comics, of course), but when Verizon’s release of the Droid X coincided with my contract expiration, I decided to take the plunge.

I decided to go with an Android phone over an iPhone for a few reasons.  Part of this is my loyalty to Google over Apple, but moreso it was because everyone I know who has an iPhone complains about AT&T dropping calls.  Verizon, it seems common knowledge, has the better network.  I also was turned off by Apple’s ideological stand against Adobe Flash, and the Droid seemed to support more multi-tasking and other features.

At any rate, in the three months since I got my phone, I’ve come to love it.  I’ve also found that it’s pretty good for reading comics, though it has its limitations.

There are essentially four apps that I use to read comics, depending on what I’m doing, and each has its pros and cons.

First, is the Android Comic Viewer, or ACV.  This app was designed by Robot Comics, a publisher that releases mobile comics exclusively for both the Android and iPhone markets (no print versions are published, to my knowledge).  All of their comics are specifically designed for phones, meaning they’re mostly single-image pages (or single-tier) and everything is size-optimized.  I’ve sampled a few of their offerings and the genres tend to be what I would call alt-mainstream (the kinds of books Boom! Studios or Image Comics might publish), as well as some limited manga.  Each title also has reader comments and ratings, not dissimilar to Amazon’s rating system, which is helpful when making purchasing decisions.  Comics range from free to 99¢.

However, ACV is an essential app to download because it allows you to pretty much read any digital comic, legal or otherwise, as long as it’s in a CBR or CBZ format.  My limited experience with the app showed that CBR files often caused memory errors, so converting to CBZ was the best option.  ACV has by far the best user interface of the four apps, too.  It uses the pinch and drag functionality you see all over the iPad TV commercials, which is very easy to grasp and works surprisingly well.  It also responds to flipping the phone, switching from landscape to portrait mode instantly.  This app also reads files directly from your phone’s local SD card, so there are no advertisements or pageload delays to deal with.

The second app I’ve used is Comixology.  Long a player in the iPhone space, the site finally released an Android equivalent app a few weeks ago (or maybe longer, I only saw it in the market recently).  This is a pay-to-download app (though there are plenty of free limited previews), but they only feature comics from certain publishers, notably DC and Image.  They also have limited books from Devil’s Due, NBM, Archie Comics and Slave Labor Graphics.  No Marvel comics, though (actually, I’m curious if anyone knows how to get Marvel comics for the Android, and also if there is a good Web-comic app you recommend).  The interface is also pretty simple to use though it’s less clean than ACV.  The biggest drawback with Comixology is that the comics are still pretty expensive.  Though not as pricey are their print counterparts, most of the books go for $1.99 per issue.

If you’re a fan of Golden Age comics, I highly recommend the Vintage Comic Droid app.  This app offers a vast library of old, out of print, public-domain comics for free.  They have some pretty good stuff, if you know what you’re looking for.  For example, I recently read several of the original issues of Animal Comics, featuring the earliest appearances of Walt Kelly’s Pogo.  There’s tons of war, romance, science-fiction and other classics to explore.  The only downside with this app is that the interface isn’t as well-designed as ACV.  Rather than allow you to pinch and drag panels, it relies on magnifying buttons which zoom in and out at predetermined sizes.  This makes it harder to fit a panel to the exact screen dimensions, and can become mildly annoying when reading page after page of a comic with varying panel sizes.    It also doesn’t automatically change orientation when you flip the phone, instead you have to hit another button to adjust the image.  The buttons also hover over the artwork, though they do fade after a second or two.  Still, when moving from panel to panel, it can get a little cumbersome.  The app is also supported by advertisements, which can get distracting after a while. The content offered is great, the prices are unbeatable, and the app does a great job making available older comics that most people would never have access to read otherwise.

Finally, there’s an app called Manga Browser which offers thousands of issues of manga for free.  In the PC World review of this app, Andrew King wrote, “With a clunky UI, an unreliable Manga stream, and a lack of features that you’d expect on any comic viewer, the Manga Browser leaves even the most low-maintenance Manga fans wanting more.”  This pretty much sums up my experience with the app.  Also, rather than allow you to download comic files to your phone, like all three of the other apps, Manga Browser loads page after page from its server, meaning that each page requires an Internet request which takes time, and occasionally stalls.  When dealing with manga in particular, which has much higher page counts, this gets old fast.  The site does have an impressive selection of titles, but one word of caution: I don’t know a lot about the manga side of the industry, but it seems to me that there may be tons of copyrighted material being offered for free.

The experience of reading comics on a four-inch screen is also something that took some getting used to at first.  For one thing, it’s much harder to appreciate page designs when zooming in and out of individual panels.  You can look at an entire page, but the tradeoff is that the text is too small to read.  What I like to do is start with the full page, then zoom into the text and read across and down the page.  While this may sound annoying, I actually got used to it pretty quickly, and now barely even think about it.  I will say that reading comics with standard grid layouts is a much better experience than some of the flashier, overly designed modern comics.  For example, I don’t think reading a David Mack or J.H. Williams III comic on a phone would be worth the effort; too much of the design elements that make those types of artists worth reading would be sacrificed.

Overall, I really like reading comics on my phone.  It’s no substitute for the real thing, but for certain types of books, particularly older, out-of-print, or high-priced back issues, it can be very useful, particularly on a crowded subway, where I can’t imagine trying to handle a large graphic novel, or even a tablet computer or iPad, while holding onto the rail with one hand.  It’s also convenient to always have a comic in your pocket, so that when you suddenly find yourself with five minutes to spare, say in the bathroom or waiting in line, your entertainment needs are covered.

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3 Responses to “Reading Comics with Your Android”

  1. DerikB says:

    Oh that Manga Browsers is definitely all pirated manga. No question about it.

    In re the Vintage Comic App. You can probably download a lot of the same comics from places like Golden Age Comics, convert them to cbz and read them on the ACV.

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