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Are Graphic Novels Ideally Suited to Digital?

by Edward Nawotka

Today’s lead story by Alex de Campi describes the publication of Valentine, a serialized, digital-first graphic novel that is being translated and published simultaneously in 14 languages. It’s an amazing feat, and one that makes sense when one considers the relatively small amount of text on the typical page of a graphic novel.

Valentine for the iPhone

Valentine for the iPhone

At the same time, de Campi also points out that the digital format allows “a true right-to-left reading experience for our Japanese, Hebrew, and (eventually) Arabic readers as well as our native left-to-right.”  What’s more, she writes, “each ‘screen’ is a stand-alone comics panel. There are no ‘pages’ of multiple panels,” which can force the eye to jump around, disrupting the narrative flow.

Reading this description it sounds as if graphic novel or comic book is ideally suited to the digital format, possibly even more so than for books that are all text. Could it be so?

Tell us what you think in the comments below or via Twitter using hashtag #ppdiscuss.

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  1. Posted February 4, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Hi everyone – I’d say there are advantages and disadvantages to each.

    Graphic novel advantages:
    – much easier to translate and localise (frankly, we have a lot less words on the page)
    – more accepted as a serialised storytelling medium
    – ability to support language groups not normally supported by USA e-Readers as text is embedded in images.

    Book advantages:
    – reflowable text adapts to diverse devices a lot more easily than images do. The lack of a solid epub standard across different devices means I spend a *lot* of time processing and re-processing images.
    – At present, legacy graphic novels originated on paper are very difficult to release wirelessly, except via iPhone/Android. (The iPad as a colour e-reader holds promise for this). Ours overcomes some difficulties of the medium by the one-panel-per-screen thing, but what we have done is only one potential solution. Support of SVG images across ePub would help, but it seems these days that it’s “dogpile on Adobe” time and accepting their plugins/quirks is not the done thing

  2. Posted February 10, 2010 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    I have a free Hellboy sampler on iPhone, and have to say it’s pretty good.

    Sure there are some extras I’d like, such as zoom and maybe a few surprise-and-delight Easter Eggs, but the basics are there.

    And from an ecom perspective, at the end of the read, the temptation to tap the buy button and purchase Issue 2 is almost overwhelming.

  3. Posted February 10, 2010 at 9:06 pm | Permalink


    I think this little bit is missing the point:

    “What’s more, she writes, “each ’screen’ is a stand-alone comics panel. There are no ‘pages’ of multiple panels,” which can force the eye to jump around, disrupting the narrative flow.”

    Treating each screen as a stand alone panel is a *weakness*, not a strength. Part of the magic of comics is in exploring the relationship *between* panels. Taking that overall composition and those relationships away, reduces the richness of a comic.

    This has been well covered before though. See this classic text for more about that :

    In particular, the section on ‘Closure, reader participation between the panels.’

    Digital is just different than paper, and needs a separate design and consideration to take advantage of the different ( aesthetic, technical, economic ) characteristics of digital.

  4. Steve
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 2:29 am | Permalink

    This is only somewhat off-topic. I have thought for a while that a major unrecognized opportunity for e-reader devices is the classic “Text Adventure” genre of story-driven games, such as the old Infocom games. (Zork, A Mind FOrever Voyaging, etc.). I would also include “hybrid” text-graphic story games such as Myst.


  5. Posted February 15, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    @ jean poole: I think perhaps there’s some mutual point-missing here. When you’re trying to create a story for display on a 480×320 screen, it is very hard to reproduce a paper-comic panel experience. Different formats do sometimes require different methods to achieve a similarly pleasurable result for the reader.

    There is still storytelling “space” between the panels of Valentine, whether they are arranged next to each other on a page (as they will in the printed edition) or strung out behind each other digitally (as they are in the iPhone edition).

    I suggest you may also wish to explore Scott McCloud’s writings further, especially his “classic texts” pertaining to webcomics rather than paper/printed comics.

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