iPhone + Comics: (Not) Seeing the Big Picture

October 4, 2007
cover art

Cover art (above) displays beautifully, but text in the interior pages (below) is illegible without zooming.

interior page, portrait orientation

After some extended use, I’ve found that the iPhone has the potential to be a surprisingly good ebook reader. This is true for immersive text reading, such as fiction… but how about comics and graphic novels? The demo photos looked good, but how is it in real life?

To test this out, I loaded the comic A Bit of Madness (which, as an aside, has some of the most gorgeous comic art I’ve seen, and a richly-textured story to match) on my iPhone. Well… attempted to load would be more accurate, because Mobile Safari was unable to display the graphics-heavy 25MB PDF (the largest file I’ve been able to open is 7MB). The file was too large for email, so the backup plan of using Mail’s PDF viewer was out, as well.

Assuming that Apple or a third party will someday develop a true PDF reader that can handle the complete book, I decided to use a smaller 2MB excerpt just to test the display hardware and interface.

The results are beautiful to behold. When viewed in portrait orientation, the entire comic page can be shown and the iPhone’s sharp, rich-color display shows off the art beautifully… with one significant problem. The text is simply too small to read. The infinitely variable zooming allows it to be made legible, but actual reading requires a fair amount of scrolling. While the fingertip motion is very natural, it’s impossible to get a sense of the whole page and the integrated, flowing nature of the book’s layout is lost.

Switching to landscape orientation helps legibility, but again, the visual flow is definitely compromised.

landscape view

On the other hand, a more sequential, panel-oriented comic like retro superhero Pistolfist (below) is much more amenable to the iPhone display’s limitations.

Pistolfist page, landscape view

The iPhone’s limitations with storing and displaying documents continue to be a problem, but these are fixable in future software upgrades. However, the reader experience with page-oriented comics is hurt by the small physical size of the display, which can’t legibly display text in a full-page view. Unless your comic reading is limited to panel-oriented titles, you’ll definitely want to consider a larger-screened alternative or wait for Apple to release an iPhone-like device with a bigger screen.

Related Posts

iPhone and iPod: Dense Pixels, Happy Eyes
eBook Reader Technology Scorecard
iPhone Reader: The Long Sessions


  1. Or, as has been suggested, a screen that rolls out, like unrolling a scroll, to the right length to read anything with a larger format. Or a visual display projector, that can display the comic on a wall. The the Sci-Fi imagination at work 🙂

    Or a holodeck to be part of the action 🙂

  2. excellent review, this is good to know. I can’t really see myself developing content for iphones until they fix that pdf issue.

  3. Irving, why use a wall at all. You can just project it into the air, Star Wars style.

    Jeremy, I totally understand your reluctance. Standards in the ebook field in general are still so soft — it’s very difficult to commit to immature technologies or file standards. Are you developing content for any specific device now?

  4. Wow. Those comics look amazing. Just makes me realize how bad I need (and can’t afford!) an iPhone. Interesting review…

  5. I just made this as a quick test, based on some old comic pages I had created during college:


    (I may delete this test soon, but refer to either idreamseed.com, i.dreamseed.com, or http://www.dreamseed.com in the future, as I intend to make iPhone comics soon – also, the point of this is not my art… it’s the functionality I wanted to implement and share with everyone)

    I constructed this test as follows:

    I took the iPhone dimensions (320×480) and multiplied them up to 700×1050 to get a fairly high resolution, knowing we would be zooming into panels.

    I then took my Photoshop files of each page, flattened them, sized them down to 700×1050 at 72dpi, and sliced them in Imageready (or straight up Photoshop CS3)

    I exported the images as GIFs and the slicing structure as an HTML file directly out of Photoshop/Imageready with one click. The slicing structure was automatically built out as a table system in the HTML page during this export save.

    I opened the exported HTML page in Dreamweaver. I made the page have zero margins and a black background. I then linked each sliced panel to go to the next comic page, or the next sequential HTML page containing the next comic page.

    I repeated this for a few other pages.

    The end result was my web-comic was even optimized for the slow EDGE network if you don’t have a Wi-Fi connection. Each panel loads in one by one, and you only have to load in one page at a time (instead of a massive PDF). And functionality is automatically built into the page as follows:

    Two taps onto a panel:
    Zooms you into the panel, because it is an image contained in a table cell. iPhone looks for DIVs or table cells to zoom into upon double-tap.

    One Tap onto any panel:
    Takes you to the next page.

    This is, of course, in addition to rotation of the iPhone to get optimized cropping and zooming. With the slice and double tap functionality now, it’s much easier to rotate and double tap to get a full-screen view of a panel. I barely have to pinch and shove the page around with this method.

    I’ve been thinking for years that DC/Marvel/Image were idiots for not making a deal with Apple and getting onto iTunes. My father (a professional comic book artist, Dan Davis: http://www.dandavisart.com ) doesn’t want to read comics at his computer, but always said if there was some kind of tablet, he thought comics could go online and digital with success.

    The iPhone is that tablet. At least, it is a first step. Are these called iComics?

    Also, this entire iPhone optimized web-comic is 2.59 MB, covers five pages at 700×1050, and can thus be viewed on both the iPhone (even over EDGE) and a traditional high-resolution computer monitor to satisfaction.

    Xander Davis

  6. If you have a jailbroken iPhone/iPod touch there are now two comic viewers available in installer. The first iComic reads zip files (rename your .cbz files) and uses safari to view the files, while the second jcomix allows you to use .cbr files natively. Both are pretty good esp with zooming and hopefully they’ll join forces soon enough!

  7. […] | Gizmodo. Sitio oficial | Marvel Digital Comics. Más Información | The Reader. trackback ¿Recomendarías este post? Más noticias sobre: Aplicaciones, Móvil y […]

  8. I searched thru google found one website review about windows based application called “iphone manga converter”, what it does is to convert comics,manga or any image into html format that ready to view by safari on iphone. check it out http://iphonecomicbookreader.com/iphone-apps/iphone-manga-converter

  9. FileMagnet App is the best solution at the moment for reading your comics. It does not degrade the JPGs or GIFs at all so zooming in is a sharp as your original image. You cannot flip through the images but have to go back and reselect but I have to say this is the almost the best solution. Only problem is that FileMagnet runs out of memory after opening many images. I opened about 60 before it ran out. It also cannot handle big PDFs (I tried a 12Mb one) which a problem native to the iPhone itself anyway.

  10. For your information the iPhone has a possible 10Mb file size limit imposed. I guess that’s why you can’t open files more than 10Mb. Found the info in one of the iPhone developer’s video in ADC website.

  11. the iPhone has a possible 10Mb file size limit imposed.

    Nonsense. The iPhone can load files of almost any size (look at movie files). The 10 MB limit is for App Store titles brought down over the air. For larger files, Wifi and sideloading via iTunes is still possible

  12. Have you considered Stripr? It’s a fantastic little app for the iPhone.
    Tons of feeds to choose from (and you can add your own)

    take a look here: http://dbelement.com/apps/stripr.php

    The community on Stripr is just great, the rating system let’s you discover all new comics.

  13. Thank you for your site 😉
    I made on photoshop backgrounds for youtube, myspace and even more
    my backgrounds:http://tinyurl.com/6kw9wq
    have a great day and thank you again!

  14. Check out comiXology’s iPhone app for tracking shipping comics:

  15. […] lezen is als luisteren naar een robot die een gedicht voordraagt.  Alternatieven, zoals strips in pdf-formaat , botsen dan weer op de beperkte cache van de […]

  16. I know exactly what yall mean about the page views on the iphone. Right now I am developing a unique way to view comics on the iphone and other mobiles and would like you to be apart of it.

    My company is currently designing applications and we are looking for creators to publish their work on it. Your work can either be published for users to buy or for free. I am really excited about this and I hope to hear from you guys soon.

    More information on our temporary website


    Please email me


    Thank You,

    Joseph Pais

  17. LCD monitors are the de factor standard these days because they do not consume too much electricity.””

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