Getting started with digital comics

Remember those comics you tried so hard to keep in great shape? The ones with the plastic and cardboard backings? Well, your mom moved them to the basement when she converted your old bedroom into a pottery studio, and they got water-damaged and now they're gone forever. Digital comics will ensure that you'll never again have to experience this type of loss. That's assuming Comixology’s servers don’t crash, of course—but I’d put my money on a bank of servers over mom’s dank basement any day.

Digital comics have been around since the late 1980s (the first one was published on CompuServe in 1985), but more recently their makers have polished them up and presented them in a shiny new way.

Comixology, which has been around since 2007, has led the way by creating new deals within the industry to help develop digital offerings, and in the process it has become a one-stop shop for most of the digital comics available today. The influx of new and better tablets also helped spark the digital comic uprising; and now, just in time for the updated iPad’s Retina Display screen, that revolution seems to be in full swing.

Dark Horse, DC, IDW, Image, and Marvel also have their own standalone apps (some of which require you to create new accounts), but for the most part you’ll find what you’re looking for through Comixology. The exception to that rule is Dark Horse (Buffy, The Guild, Star Wars), which requires you to use its standalone app to get its content.

Digital comics offer new features exclusive to the platform.

So why should you try out these newfangled digital comics? Here are few reasons.

Same-day publication: Some digital comics are now available on the same day as their print counterparts. If you were afraid to go digital because you feared you wouldn’t get your titles on time, relax. You’ll get your copy of Uncanny Avengers at the same time as everyone else.

Digital firsts: Digital firsts are comics that are available in digital form before their print version arrives on store shelves. Be the envy of all your friends and get bragging rights about finishing the new issue of Batman before anyone else.

High-def comics: Taking advantage of new Retina Display technology, some comics from Marvel, DC, Image, and others are now available in high definition. These versions look much better than their standard-def counterparts, with razor-sharp text and crisp colors. If you’re using a Retina Display tablet, the app will recognize that fact and offer you an HD comic option.

Guided View: A new (and highly addictive) feature called Guided View adds an interesting twist to reading comics on your mobile device or tablet. To launch Guided View, double-tap any page of the comic; in response the app will zoom in to certain areas of the page. I found that this helped me focus on the scene at hand and not skip ahead to adjacent panels. It also introduces a movie- or animation-like quality to your reading experience. Keep in mind, though, that Guided View works only in the Comixology app or when you're using an app that possesses the same technology.

Graphic novels collections such as The Walking Dead are available digitally.

Graphic novels: Have a 3-hour plane ride and need something longer a few comic books to read? Many comic apps also offer graphic novels. Thanks to digital comics, I can download all of The Walking Dead collections to catch up on the series. The paper versions of some graphic novels can be a bit heavy to carry around, but having 10 or 20 of them on your phone or tablet fixes that problem right away.

Free comics: Another reason to go digital is to take advantage of free comics. Some publishers offer the first issue of some series at no charge, and you can often get promotional comics without having to pay a dime. For instance, issue #1 of Fatale, a dark and gritty horror noir book, was recently made available for free.

Marvel Mondays: No one likes Mondays, but Marvel wants to help change your opinion of that innocent back-to-work day by offering 99-cent issues on Monday. It’s like jumping into a time machine and traveling back to an age when comic prices were more reasonable.

Sorting by Story Arc: Comixology lets you sort by publisher, series, genre, or imprint, but Marvel and DC also offer Story Arc search. This sorting method allows you to hunt down all of the comics involved in a particular story arc (such as Marvel’s Civil War). A story arc description is available on the search results landing page, and all books titles in that arc appear in a list below that.

Other options: The Google Play, iBooks, and Kindle book stores offer digital comics, too, though their selections are generally limited to select collections and omnibuses. If you're interested in single issues, Comixology is your best bet, though some collections are available only in Amazon's, Apple's, or Google's digital storefronts.

So fire up a smartphone or tablet, download some comics, and rest secure in the knowledge that mom won’t be ruining them any time soon.

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