07 April 2012

The All-Important Page Turn, in Digital Form

On Mark Waid’s blog, John Rogers shared some principles for digital comics, including:
4.) Information should be dumb.

By dumb I mean "as platform independent as possible." Your comic should work well in a pdf reader on a tablet or laptop or desktop computer, on a website, in an app. Your workflow should allow you to easily slot your comic into as many different platforms as seamlessly as possible. As cool as that Infinite Comic Nova comic is, there's nothing in there you can't do with a bone-dumb pdf- reader. It's all about execution.
I’ve downloaded Waid and artist Jeremy Rock’s digital comic “Luther” on both my desktop computer and my iPad, and wrote about it here.

I found a significant difference in the reading experience on the two platforms even though Waid followed Rogers’s advice by offering the story as a simple PDF file rather than something designed specifically for one machine or operating system.

Waid and Rock designed their comic so that some “page turns” lead to the same image as the previous page but with a significant new element: another panel, word balloons, more visual details. That sort of transition works best when one panel is instantaneously replaced by another. That’s how my primary PDF-reading program on my desktop (Preview for the Mac) works.

However, the iPad is programmed to highlight its “sliding” interface. Moving from one page to the next in a PDF file means that the first page disappears off the left side of the screen while the second slides in on the right. This can look cool, no question.

But instead of seeing a word balloon, caption, or shovel appear in the image in front of my eyes, I see the first image move away wholly and another, similar image arrive. Every element moves, making the new elements harder to spot.

I’ve tried two or three iPad apps that reads PDFs, and they all work by sliding. (Does anyone know of one that can be set otherwise?) Will this apparently inherent programming undercut what Waid and his team are trying to do? Can a story appear on all platforms equally when some platforms are more slippery than others?


Maykv6 said...

Page turning effect looks nice compared with plain text.
I searched, it seems that turning page magazine software can do such work excellently.

J. L. Bell said...

Actually, I find this sort of animated page turn unnecessary and distracting, much as the visual effect might please the software designers who find the mathematics to achieve it.

For Waid and Rock’s digital comic, that sort of page turn would interfere even more with the storytelling than the iPad’s sliding interface.

In this regard, a page turn isn’t a visual effect. It's just a moment of revealing new information.