Opinion: Do comics make good mobile content?

September 17, 2007 at 6:12 pm

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We’ve touched on the topic of mobile comics in the past, when we looked at a service from Rok that allows users to create and submit their own material for consumption on mobile devices. uClick have a more conventional approach, basing their ‘GoComics‘ service on established titles such as Garfield, and Calvin and Hobbes. But now they are expanding their portfolio to include titles such as Thunder Road that have been developed specifically for consumption on mobile devices and which don’t exist in print form. The question is are comics and mobile phones really a good match for one another?

uClick is the digital business unit of US newspaper feature distributor Universal Press Syndicate, and its mobile comic book service has attracted around 55,000 subscribers in the last year. The service is available through the three major US mobile operators, costing $4.49 per month on Verizon Wireless and $3.99 per month if you’re a Sprint or AT&T subscriber. Users receive around 12 comics per month, with new chapters added on a weekly basis.

One of the key challenges in designing a comic to be viewed optimally on a mobile device is how to adapt it to the limited dimensions of a typical screen. The GoComics service addresses this problem by allowing users to view one panel at a time and, if the title has been converted from a print edition, making the speech bubbles larger so that they are easier to read. The single panel approach has the additional benefit of maintaining suspense throughout a story because a reader cannot easily skip to the end of the story at a glance, without having to scroll through the intervening panels.

The question of how suitable printed material is for consumption via mobile phones is an open one right now. Many operators and manufacturers, including Apple, are experimenting with making a variety of print-sourced content available to view on mobile handsets. It seems logical to assume that the shorter the story, the more likely it is to provide an enjoyable, user-friendly experience. The idea of reading through hundreds of pages worth of text or scrolling through dozens and dozens of individual comic book panels just doesn’t seem credible to us. One exception might be arise if both the material and device screen are suitable for high-definition images that enhance the user experience beyond what is achievable via a printed page. Animation and/or sound effects might also contribute in this regard. Then again, developments in “electronic paper” technology might enable a far superior reading experience in the future without the screen size limitations, making it a more likely alternative to traditional paper than a mobile phone.

Comics are a perfectly valid form of mobile content, especially if the focus is on short strips and stories. But we don’t think any electronic medium, be it a mobile phone or other electronic display is likely to replace the printed word, or comic in the foreseeable future.

Hamish M.
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Entry filed under: gocomics, mobile applications, mobile comics, mobile content, rok, uclick.

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