This post also ran on Fanboy Planet.
That is to say, if you read comics in the first place. Those of us dipping our quills in the digital ink traditionally consume our comics in rather shady means — torrent downloads. Yes it’s ugly, but until recently that was the only presentable option, and not a very good one at that. Reading a PDF gives you the gist of what is going on, but it takes away the fundamentals — touching the uniquely textured comic book page, smelling that unique comic smell (especially the classics…mmm), and tasting…well, no tasting. But you get the point.
Tactile response will always be lost in the move to digital, but PDF fails to enhance any of the other aspects of comic consumption. Pouring over the page in meat space somehow feels different than reading a comic book PDF. Until recently, the PDF/Torrent scene was the only option, but now we have digital comic books. A whole other beast unto themselves.
Digital comics are recreations, and while they are fantastic recreations, they are still modified versions of the medium. They are hybrids — part comic and part animatic. Many have just enough movement to feel animated, but retain the look an feel of a panel. Many of the bigger productions actually go as far as adding voice over narration and character line readings, removing the need for text boxes and speech balloons. Enhancement? Defilement? This falls to the eye of the beholder, but in this comic lovers book the digital comic is a welcomed addition to our options.
But it’s not the solution to the main problem — reading comics in a digital era.
Even if things are moving the way of the digital comic, I still don’t want to have everything done for me. I want to retain some of the illusive emergence, the imaginative play that was so rooted to my love of the form.
Graphic.ly is the brainchild of Kevin Mann — a comic lover who grew frustrated with the disappointing availability of comics at local shops while living in the NorthEast of England. Mann wanted to build a comic distribution platform, a community built on the ability to purchase and discuss comic books with other readers and creators/publishers.
Mann teamed up with Micah Baldwin to build the first phase of Graphic.ly, an app built for Windows 7 and Adobe Air which allows you to download, read, and discuss comics in a digital format. Make no mistake, these are comics in every sense of the word, but they are also slightly enhanced in a way that completely retains the medium. Well, if you exclude all the tactile stuff I was waxing poetic about earlier.
The concept is simple, you purchase and download comics from the Graphic.ly comic book store, and then you read them. But you’re not simply reading a comic, you’re flipping through each page. Nay, each panel! With each new full page you get a macro view of the layout, and when you flip to the next section, you fully focus on panel #1. The art and text take center stage here, and this is what makes Graphic.ly so monumentally intriguing — this app pulls you into the process of comic book reading.
The Graphic.ly team is still beta testing the Windows 7 and Adobe Air versions of the app (full disclosure: I’ve been in the beta since the release of the Air app on 1/22). Next up, the team plans to build an iPhone and Android interface. Yes, you read that correction — comics delivered to your phone.
So far I’ve torn through the first two books in the beta: Spartacus Blood and Sand #1 and #2, and next up is Berserker. Not necessarily my cup of tea, per se, but the promise here is phenomenal. Needless to say, although it is still working out the kinks, Graphic.ly has me hooked. If you’re interested, sign up to check out the beta.
Check out screenshots after the break.