In this week’s episode, J.D. takes a look at the current state of digital comic books and offers up suggestions on what apps and services are available to help us take our digital comics experience to the next level. Also on the show we have a cubic buttload of tech news, including a fascinating discovery about our new favorite celestial body. Astronomers have determined that good old Comet Lovejoy is spraying sugar and booze as it hurtles it’s way around the solar system. There’s a space party going on and we weren’t invited. Bummer…
Digital comics have thankfully been around for several years now, and in that time, they’ve gone from random back issues to full same-day download distribution for some titles. Digital-first or digital-only issues are also available. Some comics now have other bells and whistles that take advantage of tablet and smartphone technology to help tell the story.
So, what else is new lately?
For one, ComiXolgy, the sort of Amazon of digital comics that was one of the first big download shops, was actually bought by Amazon last year. The site’s mobile Comics app — for Android, iOS and Amazon Kindle — is popular. The app’s Guided View feature and wide selection (at least 75,000 titles) are still part of the ComiXology experience. But with Amazon’s acquisition, in-app purchases on the iOS version are no longer possible because Amazon doesn’t want to give Apple a 30% bite of the pie. So iOS users have to select and pay for purchases through the ComiXology website and then download them while logged into an account. This switch upset many iPad readers who dislike the inconvenience and extra steps, so you may see some pretty negative reviews of the app online. You can still get your comics, but it’s not as easy as it used to be with the ComiXology Comics app. Android and Amazon Kindle versions? No problem.
You can also get Android and iOS apps for your favorite publishers: DC Comics and its Vertigo line, Marvel Comics (which also has its Marvel AR app for augmented reality offerings in certain titles), Dark Horse Comics and IDW Publishing, which does comics for a lot of TV shows. And we can’t forget Archie Comics. Third-party comics reader apps are also around.
If you want comics with a little something more — like motion, soundtracks and light animation, check out the Motion Books in the Madefire storefront app. Motion Books aren’t videos of comics, but technology enhanced digital books that use music, sound effects, parallax views and animated objects within the frame to build the story. Madefire has apps for many screens, and you can also look at comics on your television with its apps for set-top boxes like Android TV and now the new fourth-generation Apple TV. Madefire also makes its Motion Book software available to indie comics creators through the deviantArt website.
Don’t like the Bam! Pow! Pop! stuff? Check out the Sequential app for iOS, which specializes in indie and alternative books. As it says on the Sequential website, “We don’t do superheroes. You can get them in a lot of other places.”
Why, yes. Yes, you can.
This week J.D. and El Kaiser play “Stump the Music Recognition App”. In the news, the annual SxSW Festival in Texas is in full swing; the release of a potential new tent-pole game for the XBox One; Apple quietly rolls out an update to iOS 7; Windows 8.1, Update 1 is leaked; Google announces several new add-ons for Google Docs and Sheets; Samsung gets into the personalized music-service business; and the ‘Veronica Mars’ film based on the cult TV favorite makes it to the big-screen after hugely successful crowd-funding campaign.
Everyone wants to go to the annual SxSW Festival in Texas these days! With a little help from the American Civil Liberties Union, Edward Snowdon, the former National Security Agency contractor who has released thousands of confidential documents about government data collection to the public, appeared to festival attendees via a livestream from a Google Hangout video chat bounced through seven proxy servers. Mr. Snowdon chose to address the techies at SxSW because (in part), “the NSA is setting fire to the future of the Internet and you guys are the firefighters.”
The Xbox One may be lagging behind Sony’s PlayStation 4 in game console sales, but the release of the hotly anticipated Titanfall game for Microsoft’s platform may help even things up. The first-person shooter from Respawn Entertainment and Electronic Arts went on sale this past Tuesday after many awards and promo events.
Apple’s iOS 7.1 update arrived for compatible iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch players earlier this week. Along with the usual “improvements and security fixes,” iOS 7.1 brings user interface tweaks; Apple’s site has a list of the changes. And now that iOS 7.1 has landed, it’s time for the tech blogs to get all excited for iOS 8, which could arrive later this year. The 9to5Mac site reports that Apple is preparing a much-improved version of its once-maligned Apple Maps.
iOS 8 may be a while off, but Microsoft continues work on Windows 8.1, Update 1. The update has not been officially released yet, but it’s out there. According to tech writer Ed Bott, someone at Microsoft inadvertently left the final software packages on the Windows Update server last week. Mr. Bott took advantage of the opportunity to install the Windows 8.1 update on several computers and wrote up a report highlighting the major features of the update.
Google announced several new add-ons for its Google Docs and Sheets online productivity software. Meanwhile, angry parents displeased over a child’s shopping spree of unrestricted in-app purchases, have filed a class-action lawsuit against the company. Google has not responded to the action, which was filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California. The suit alleges that that 30-minute gap of time after the initial password entry “is designed to enable children to purchase in-game currency without parental permission and without having to enter a password.” Or maybe Google was just trying to help developers take advantage of those adult impulse buys…
Like everyone else, Samsung is getting into the personalized music-service business. Designed for those toting Galaxy devices, the new Milk Music radio service will include 200 ad-free and customizable stations. And while Samsung is touting its exclusive music service, Amazon is said to be ramping up its own game-development efforts. The Daily Telegraph of London and others are reporting that Amazon has its own game console hardware in the works and plans to develop its own games to play on it.
Facebook is rolling out yet another revamped News Feed design over the next few weeks. Most people don’t seem to care anymore. (But maybe we should care more now that robots have mastered air hockey and are moving into table-tennis matches with humans.)
ComiXology continues to be one of the highest-grossing mobile apps out there for its excellent interface and wide selection of downloadable digital comics. CNBC has a report this week about the company’s effect on independent publishers and comics creators.
And finally, on the topic of independent productions, the Veronica Mars movie arrives this weekend in selected theaters and on-demand sites. The movie was financed by a Kickstarter campaign that passed its funding goal in less than a day. So, if the film is successful going outside the traditional Hollywood route, will it bust up the paradigm and open up all sorts of new possibilities for movie and TV creators? Time till tell — and if you haven’t seen the original show, the pilot is free on iTunes, (each of the three seasons is $20 there) or you can stream the episodes on Amazon Instant Video. Fans of Frozen: If you loved Kristen Bell in that Oscar-winner, you’ll enjoy seeing her even more animated as the one and only Veronica Mars.
For East Coasters, New York Comic Con rolls into the Javits Center from October 11-14, bringing fans and creators together on the West Side of Manhattan. But even if you’re not making the schlep to NYCC, if you’re a current or lapsed reader and haven’t checked out the digital side of comics, you have plenty of options for keeping up (and catching up) with your favorite titles on an Android or iOS device.
Many serious aficionados of the digital comic book favor the app simply called Comics by ComiXology, which has versions for Android, iOS and the Kindle Fire. The Comics app is best known for its huge selection of titles from mainstream and indie publishers and its Guided View mode, which shows you one page panel at a time in sequence. This can be great for reading big pages on the small phone. ComiXology also has a junior version of its comics-store-and-reader for iOS called Comics4Kids, which keeps the adult material out of sight.
If you are seriously partisan — either DC Comics or Marvel Comics — you can get specific apps for each, but both are powered under the cape by ComiXolgy’s technology. Marvel’s site has links to the Marvel Augmented Reality App, which lets you unlock exclusive bonus content when you scan Marvel products with your Android or iOS device; the site also has a Marvel Events app for conventions. DC Comics has other apps as well, like the family-friendly DC Nation. And DC has two apps tied to The Dark Knight Rises, but they only work on Nokia Windows Phones.
Some comic-book publishers have their own standalone apps, like Dark Horse and Star Trek comics. Other notable comics apps for iOS and Android include Comics+ and Komik Reader for Android and Panefly for iOS. You can also find some trade graphic novels in Apple’s iBookstore, Amazon’s Kindle Store and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Store.
Even if you read your comics on your phone or tablet, you may find yourself missing the hustle and bustle of your favorite comics shop on a Wednesday afternoon. If you want to mix and match your media, check the app store. Your store may have an app of its own — like good ol’ Midtown Comics here in Manhattan, which has an app for pre-orders, pickups and product searches. It’s the best of both worlds, and we’re not talking about Earth 1 and Earth 2.