Great apps for reading comics and graphic novels

Last week I griped about the problems reading graphic novels on my iPad (gentle rant here). While I haven’t solved the problems of the portrait-only-and-can’t-zoom Kindle app, I found two others which are even more awesome than Cloudreaders (it’s still good, if less polished, and has some unique features – you can get it here). Neither can read the DRM-crippled Kindle comics.

Chunky Comic Reader

Screenshot of Chunky Comic Reader for iPad.
This app is brilliant. Really, really great. It has an interface that effectively disappears while you’re reading. I don’t just mean that the icons and buttons aren’t visible; I mean that you forget that there are controls because everything is so completely intuitive.

When I finish a book, it brings up a thumbnail of the cover of the next book. Tapping it takes me there.

When I read in landscape mode, I scroll down the page. Swiping brings me to the top of the next page, which is exactly the behaviour I want (Cloudreaders doesn’t do this).

It integrates with Google Drive, Dropbox, and a few other services, as well as Mac and Windows shared folders, FTP sites, and more.

Apparently there is right-to-left reading for all you manga aficionados.

The developer is responsive on Twitter (@ChunkyReader) and seems friendly (I didn’t have a problem; I just tweeted some kudos).

The app is $2.99 now FREE, which is a great price for such a seamless interface. Plus it has a nice icon (actually, I liked the previous icon better).

Darkhorse Comics

Screenshot of the Darkhorse Comics iPad app.
I haven’t tried the Android version, but the iOS version is sweet. I bolstered my library on Free Comic Book Day and now have 32 titles to churn through. It won’t let you import non-Dark Horse comics, but they have an extensive selection, so I’m okay with that for now. Otherwise the app functions exactly as you’d expect (that is, like Chunky Comic Reader but for DH’s DRM titles).

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Troubles reading digital graphic novels

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I’ve recently started reading graphic novels in both print and digital forms. I borrowed Ember and Buffy Season 8 Volume 1 from the Sault Public Library; I bought Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi Volume 1 – Force Storm in print; I purchased several comics for Kindle from Amazon (Star Trek Vol. 5, Star Trek: Countdown, Fray: Future Slayer, and a few more); and I bought this week’s Humble Bundle, which was a nice collection of Image Comics.

I like the print books in some ways. I find I take the time to look over the pages a little bit more, and it’s nice to be able to flip back quickly to review a previous scene.

I like the digital form for portability and selection. Plus I can buy them any time I like.

But there is a problem that prompted this post. Unless there is a magical setting I can’t find, the Kindle app is terrible for viewing comics.

When you try to zoom (pinch-style) a single panel remains visible and sometimes zooms in closer on any text. The remainder of the page is greyed out. You can’t zoom further, and you can’t pan around the pan or panel. Swiping will shift focus to the next panel (or a different part of the same panel) in sequence.

This is a brutal problem when a panel stretches across the entire page, because selecting a panel doesn’t necessarily make it bigger. I’m also using an iPad Mini, which has only 768 pixels across horizontally. The app only lets me view graphic texts in portrait mode (I could get 50% more pixels horizontally if I could rotate). On an iPad Mini (or even a full-size, Retina iPad) the text is often still difficult to read for me. I also can’t zoom in to view the artwork in detail.

And not to be overly picky, but I don’t like how greying out the inactive panels obscures the rest of the page. That’s just preference, I suppose.

On the other hand I use Cloudreaders for iOS to view other formats (like PDFs, CBRs, and CBZs that the Humble Bundle provides). This app gets things right in many, many ways. Swiping, zooming, and more work as I would hope. I can really get close to the artwork, and I can read the tiny text. I can use it in landscape or portrait orientation, letting me decide how best to use the pixels at my disposal. Unfortunately it can’t be used for those pesky, locked down Kindle books.

Until Amazon fixes the problems with the Kindle app for comics, I’ll be buying my graphic texts elsewhere so that I some freedom to view them the way I’d like to. It seems odd that they’ve made the design choices they have; hopefully they change things soon.