Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Diving Into Digital Part 2: Size Matters

I read my digital comics on the 17.3" screen of my HP Pavilion dv7 laptop. I had to buy a new computer for work recently (I work from home for a virtual company) and I specifically looked for a large screen laptop with comics in mind. Until then, I'd been reading either on a desktop, which had a large enough screen, but who wants to read comics while sitting at a desk?, or on a 15.6" laptop. I found the 15.6" screen just a little too small. Viewing an entire two-page spread, I could make out most of the print, but I had to squint in some cases and in other cases it was just plain impossible. You can zoom in on any part of the page, but then moving around the page is cumbersome--with so much clicking and dragging, I can't just enjoy the comic.  

I experimented with Comixology's Guided View, which shows the panel one by one so that they can be displayed larger, but I found it too constraining: I felt claustrophobic, like I was trapped in this little box and I knew something was happening outside, but I wasn't sure what. Guided View zooms in and out of panels and pans across the page as it goes from one panel to the next, but you rarely get to see the entire page as a whole, unless you exit out of Guided View. This would be fine with comics that were created to be read in Comixology's Guided View, but so long as comics are created to be printed on paper, Guided View simply doesn't capture the full experience. Part of comic book art is the page layout--you couldn't shift panels around on the page and have the same work of art.

To see what I'm talking about, take a look at this two-page spread from Flashpoint: Hal Jordan #1, by Adam Schlagman and Ben Oliver:

These two pages are meant to be seen side by side, so you get that zig-zag effect. Each panel tells part of the story, but together they tell a larger story--not just sequentially, but also simultaneously. Here's the same page as seen in Guided View:

You get an idea of the overall motif, but just barely.

So I decided I needed a big screen. This ruled out that iPad I'd been coveting but couldn't really afford anyway. (Yes, the laptop cost more than an iPad would have, but I needed the laptop for work, remember? Plus, my employer paid for the laptop. [And if you're reading, dear employer, rest assured that I do use the laptop for work nine hours a day. You aren't paying me to read comics. (But if you ever want to, just let me know.)])

The 17.3" screen works well. It gives me 8.5 inches of height, compared to the average 10" comic book spine, which means I'm seeing comics at 85% of their natural size. Definitely readable, no squinting necessary. At 6.72 pounds, the laptop is a little heavier than the average comic. Okay, a lot heavier. I won't be reading digital comics in the bathtub. And laptops do get hot when you actually have them atop your lap for an extended period of time, but a lapdesk solves that problem, and alleviates the weight with a little cushioning. I bought the LapGear Deluxe Computer Lapdesk on Amazon for twenty-five bucks, and it does the trick. I can now comfortably read comics sitting on the couch, lying in bed, or, most likely, slouching in such a way that will have me looking like Harold Allnut by the time I'm forty. (Who knew his last name was Allnut? Wikipedia is awesome.)

Still, I'll be the first to admit that reading comics on my laptop is not quite as natural-feeling as reading comics on paper. I think my ideal would be an iPad with a 20" screen. Until Apple makes one of those for me, though, I'm willing to make the compromise. Why? We'll get there in Part 3.

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