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iPad might breathe life into digital comics

The Kindle was not the savior of digital comics because it doesn't support color. The iPad, with its beautiful color display, might.

One of the key features of the new Apple iPad is the introduction of Apple's new iBooks application, which promises to be both an e-book reader and a storefront for digital books. This obviously leads to a comparison between the iPad and that other famous e-book reader, the Amazon Kindle. But it seems to me that the only real advantage the iPad might have over the Kindle is that it's in color, which doesn't make much of a difference with simple black-and-white text.

Is the iPad the perfect platform for digital comics?
Is the iPad the future of comics? James Martin/CNET

But what about books that depend on color, art, and illustration? Indeed, what about graphic novels and comic books? That seems to be where the iPad could really shine and knock all of the other e-book readers out of the competition. When we took a look at the Kindle app for the iPhone, for example, we noticed you can view comic books in full color on the iPhone when they would only be in black and white on the actual Kindle hardware. You can also buy a few comic books through iPhone apps like Comixology and iVerse.

But reading comics on such a small screen can be tedious. You have to keep scrolling and zooming in and out just to read the speech balloons, and the small display is often ill-equipped to handle full-page art.

So imagine your favorite comic book or graphic novel on a gorgeous 9.7-inch LED backlit display instead of the dinky 3.5-inch one on the iPhone or iPod Touch. It would look fantastic. Perhaps the only issue would be that publishers would have to reformat them to fit in the new screen size--most American comic book pages measure 6.625 by 10.25 inches--but that doesn't sound so bad. And if you could rotate them, or view two pages at once, that would be even better.

Comixology is an iPhone app for reading comics--they are already working on an iPad version.
Comixology is an iPhone app for reading comics--they are already working on an iPad version of their app. Comixology

Already, developers are getting on board. Soon after the iPad announcement, Newsarama reported that Comixology will have an iPad version of its popular iPhone comics app. I wouldn't be surprised if similar comic apps are already on the way, and maybe Apple's own iBooks store will feature a few graphic novels in there, too. Certainly, I would prefer if there were a way to sync up the comic collection to your own hard drive via an application like Longbox, and I would love if it there wasn't any DRM involved, but this is a step in the right direction.

The worry behind a digital comic reader used to be that it would be too expensive. But at a relatively modest price of $499 to start, the iPad might just be the definitive digital comics reader, especially if big-time publishers like Marvel and DC get on board with their own apps. And if the reaction by comic book professionals are any indication, it seems like we're well on the way to that happening.