I wanted to operate an experiment on digital comics and compare them with an identical printed copy.  I don't generally hold with downloading comics and have limited my use of torrents to work that is unavailable in printed form and pretty old.  Mostly it's been 50's DC stuff like Bob Hope and some of their westerns and some of the Richie Rich books to get a better feel for stuff of historical value and fantastic artistic quality.

But there's been a lot of talk about digital delivery of comics and various comics reading software that I wanted to take a look.  Captain America Reborn was incredibly easy to find on a number of torrent sites and very quick to download.  I downloaded the first two issues and then borrowed the collection from my local library to make thecomparison.  This is not a book I would have bought at any point.  I pick up a lot of the trades through local libraries and read as much superhero stuff as I can generally find that is entertaining.  Money, when I have it, goes on books with a repeat reading value and superheroes no longer have that for me.

Anyway, to get back to the point.  A lot of the software designed for reading comics on screen is professionally put together.  You can view 2 pages spreads, zoom in on panels, change image size and skip back and forth pretty easily.  It was a fairly comfortable read on my pc, I missed lounging on the sofa but it was okay.  The drawback with the pc screen was that I couldn't read the full page on screen comfortably so with double page spreads, of which there were a lot in Captain America Reborn, I had to view the pages first in 2 page mode to figure out how to follow the action and what the flow was.  The I had to work my way around the page on a larger image to read the story.  Reading more basic comics, such as Richie Rich, where the story is told in six panels a page that's not a problem but with a modern work it definitely was.  For the second issue I moved over to a laptop, held it like a book on my knees, while relaxed on the sofa, and changed the orientation of the page.  This was, in many ways, a big improvement as I was now looking at the page in slightly larger than print size and could view the whole thing on screen.  Unfortunately it fell down again thanks to all the two page spreads in the book.  The Ipad and the generation of similar devices that follow it will be excellent for comics reading, based on my experience with the laptop, but to make best use of them for consumers, artists will have to move away from the 2 page spread.  It simply doesn't work with current hardware unless you're using a massive screen.

The print edition worked much better as a reading experience simply because you could view two pages at a time and let your eye wander across them with no difficulty.  Modern comics in the superhero genre have a tendency, more than ever, to be wide screen experiences and often action will carry across from one page to the facing page and you need to be able to follow it with ease or lose the reader.  The tactile issue aside, and I'm old enough to recognise that's important to me and ignore it for the purposes of this experiment, print wins hands down in terms of simple readability.  If you want to view digital as a cheap, disposable alternative, to bring in more casual readers and lessen the collector mentality then comics have to be drawn to to play to that.  Page layouts and panel transitions are going to need to be clearer and colours are going to need to be approached differently. While Captain America reborn's limited colour pallet worked well in print, digitally the reproduction was variable.  On my higher spec PC screen the colour was pretty close to the printed version but on my lower spec laptop the colours often looked muddy and verged on the illegible.  To me these are key issues but they seem to be largely ignored in terms of the current digital discussion. 

If cheap digital delivery was available there are a handful of superhero books I'd read on a regular basis for mostly nostalgic reasons, but even at a minimal price like a dollar a book trying to follow a book like this would have left me not bothering with the second issue.      

Just for the record the digital versions of Captain America reborn have been deleted from my pc and laptop, an act which was far easier than returning the printed edition to the library, but that's a very different story.