The First One’s Always Free: Robot Comics for iPhone

Geek Culture

A frame from Eternal City by Sergio CarreraA frame from Eternal City by Sergio Carrera

A frame from Eternal City by Sergio Carrera

I haven’t quite gotten into the world of e-books … yet. I’m still too attached to the idea of books as physical objects, with a heft to them, a feel and a smell and color. But I’m also drawn to the possibility of carrying a bunch of books on one device and not worrying about how many books to carry with me whenever I travel. I loved Dan Clowes’ New Yorker cover from last June, depicting an alien sitting in the rubble of New York, surrounded by broken electronic gizmos and gadgets, reading a dead-tree book. However, one type of book that I have been enjoying electronically is comics. I never really bought comics issues, partly because I wasn’t interested in having to figure out how to store them and keep them in order. Most of the comics I own are either book-length graphic novels or the collected volumes of various storylines. But in electronic format, I don’t have to worry about pages tearing out or some issue getting misplaced.

Robot Comics Index pageRobot Comics Index page

Robot Comics Index page

One of my favorite sources of comics for the iPhone (and iPod touch) is Robot Comics. They have a decent catalog of titles, and the best part is that most of them start off free. For comics with multiple issues, the first one is usually free and the rest are available for $.99 each through an in-app download. There are several single-issue comics that are free as well, including several adaptations of Cory Doctorow stories. (“Craphoundiconicon” is one of my favorites.) When you purchase a later “episode,” as they call them, it simply shows up in the index. Each comic has its own app icon on your home screen which contains all the issues. It might be nice to be able to combine them into one Robot Comics viewer app, though I suppose the new iPhone OS will allow you to group them if you choose.

Some of the comics I’ve reviewed previously have been through Robot Comics: Erfworldiconicon and Robot 13iconicon, for instance. A more recent release is Valentineiconicon, a fantasy-horror set during the War of 1812, which was simultaneously released in about a dozen languages. I compared the English and Chinese versions, and was pretty impressed with the way both of them looked.

The app itself is very simple: tap the bottom left and right to flip forward and backward through the comic. Tapping anywhere else on the screen brings up some additional menu items, including the ability to listen to your own music while reading and turning off the little page-turn indicators in the corners.

One thing that I like about Robot Comics is that they do a pretty good job of cutting and cropping panels to make them fit the iPhone screen, even though the original comics may not have been designed to fit in the 320×480 screen ratio. Occasionally you do get frames that would have been better vertically, but the newer comics have included panning across large panels as part of the screen transition. While I’m not sold on the idea of the iPad as a regular e-book reader, I do think that reading comics on an iPad is something to look forward to. While Robot Comics hasn’t released any iPad apps yet, I imagine it’s only a matter of time before they start porting their comics to the bigger screen.

Robot Comics also has a comics viewer for Android phones but I’ve only peeked at it briefly myself. It does seem to be pretty similar to the iPhone version. For more about Robot Comics, visit their website or browse their catalogiconicon in the App Store.

Wired: Lots of great comics, and the first episode is usually free. Hours of reading that fits in your pocket.

Tired: Would be nice if each comic didn’t take up its own app space; there’s only so much you can do to get around limitations of small screen size.

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