Friday, August 28, 2009

More Thoughts on iPod Reformatting

I mentioned that I'm planning on distributing the Flashback Universe comics via ComiXology, which is by far the slickest comic viewer/distribution application on the iPod market right now. In preparing the files, I've spent a TON of time examining what works and what doesn't on the iPod.

Listening to ComiXology CEO David Steinberger on Comics Geek Speak, he made a point at saying that he really wants the comics on the iPod to make the best reading experience possible. To that end he's spent some time coaching many creators in the proper way to format their comics on the iPod.

From what I can tell, for the most part all of the contributors took his advice and have done an outstanding job converting their comics over to this new format.

However, there are a few that didn't do a very good job. I'm not going to name names, but let me explain a very common mistake I've seen, and show how I've tried to avoid it with our comic.

Too many screen rotation.

A few months ago, Sean Kleefeld commented on another article from this blog about iPod comics wherein he made this excellent observation:

I think any option where a user can only read one panel at a time is inherently too frustrating from a time-spent-between-scrolling-actions point of view. Even the most copy-heavy panels take a moment or two to read before a user would need to scroll/click/slide on to the next panel, meaning they'd have to spend as much time navigating the document as they do reading it. That's the killer for anything done on the PSP or iPhone or whatever. Movies are okay because you hit "play" and let it run. But unless you're running a literally constant interaction with the display unit (as in a video game) the navigate/read/navigate/read is going to prevent current system from being really effective. Users won't latch on until you can navigate/read/read/read/read/navigate/read/read//read.

I think he has a point, but the navigate/read/navigate/read experience feels like a bubblebath compared to the navigate/TURN/read/navigate/TURN/read experience I've seen with some iPod comics (not just on ComiXology but from many other iPod comic vendors.)
While it's nice that the iPod will automatically rotate the page when you flip it, I sure as hell don't want to have to flip it 6 times to read 6 pages (see below).

Way too many rotations

I say, pick a screen size (wide or tall) and do your best to stick with it. Here's how I reformatted a few Tall Pages. Here is a page from Saturn Knight - Same Time, Next Year

Kondorr the Killer in cbr format

Now both of these panels would be excellent candidates for a TALL orientation on the iPod. However, I've chosen to present the comic in WIDE Orientation, so I reformatted them into three wide panels.

Kondorr screen 1

Kondorr screen 2

Kondorr screen 3

I believe that this will accomodate larger text and an easier reading experience than zooming in and out of Tall panels with smaller text.

In some cases, I've had to crop out or remove elements that proved distracting when the page was reformatted for the 320 x 480 aspect ratio. LIke the page with The Vanguard. Here is the original.

Vanguard vs Tiamatrix

Because The Yeti (the furry white guy in the purple garb) was going to be mostly obscured by a caption balloon, I decided to completely remove him.

The biggest challenge I've had is in adapting the big Splash page layouts Pierre and I like to use for the iPod screen. Check out this page as it originally appeared.

Prometheus vs Terrorsaur Rexx

On the iPod, the caption balloons are positioned in such a way that if I just crop in/zoom in on them, the reader won't get a very interesting image. So I decided to move and resize the balloons like this:

All this photoshop manipulation and relettering is time consuming and the question I get a lot of times is: Is it really necessary?

Well, Pierre and I have always prided ourselves on being the first (if not only) guys to specifically design our comics to be read in cbr format, utilizing the wide ratio and transitions to give readers the smoothest reading experience possible.

We could have gone with the traditional Portrait/Tall comic page like I've seen some comics on the web use. Certainly this would make going to a printed version much easier (if we ever decided to do that.)

However, I've never liked scrolling down to read a cbr comic. I understand it's necessary when you are reading comics that were first print comics THEN became cbr comics, but for a NEW comic which is not in print - I just don't see why one would adhere to such an outdated format - unless they ultimately intended to make a printed version.

So, now that we are talking about migrating our content to the iPod, I really want to do the same thing for this format. To provide the best reading experience possible. I think when we are done, it will be well worth the effort! :)

Have a great weekend!

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