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New iPad Retina Display, Comixology make a potent mix

Updated: March 16, 2012 10:50PM

Name any kind of media. It’s almost certain that the iPad’s the mobile device that does the best job of playing or displaying it. The new iPad’s three megapixel screen just makes the experience even better. It’s still a book page, but on the new iPad, it’s as good as print. It’s still a movie, but now it’s in full HD.

But the iPad’s new Retina Display throws the door to digital comic books wide open. The experience of reading a comic book on either of the first two generations of iPads was, at best, adequate. If your vision is good and you’re willing to squint a little, you can possibly read comics in fullpage mode. Halfway through the first issue of a story arc, though, you’ll stop being a hero. If you’re using an open comic book editor, you’ll start zooming and scrolling. If you bought your comics from the Comixology mode, you’ll switch to their guided panel view mode.

On the new iPad . . . you can stay in fullscreen mode through all 100 issues of “100 Bullets.” The art and the lettering is slightly smaller than a standard printed comic book page, but it’s perfectly crisp and readable throughout.

Comixology is right on board with a new edition of their Comics app, which is currently inside Apple’s App Store approvals process. The company provided me with a beta and a sample comic (Jonathan Hickman’s “Pax Romana”) rendered in high definition. It’s a delight.

“Pax Romana” tells most of its story through dense blocks of tiny, sans-serif text. Not only was it easy to read, after a few pages I even forgot I was reading a digital comic. It simply felt like any other comic. Albeit one published by a company that tried to cut printing costs by printing on slightly smaller pages.

The only tradeoff is the obvious one: download speeds. On a bad hotel WiFi system, “Pax Romana” wasn’t downloading pages as fast as I could read them. When you’re connecting to the via LTE or, better, a proper WiFi, it’s a fair fight.

The company planned well ahead for the release of ultra-high-definition devices like the new iPad. Marvel, DC, and their other publishers have already been providing them with comics files rendered in more than enough detail. The company is steadily upgrading its catalogue to high-def content, a format they call “CMX-HD” to differentiate it.

Low and high-def comics are the same product at the same price. The comics you’ve already purchased will be upgraded free-of-charge when CMX-HD editions become available.

All of this will indeed require that you update your Comics app. The same’s true of many other comic book readers, some of which are hardwired for the resolution of the previous generation iPads. ComicZeal 4 — my favorite CBR/CBZ file reader — appears to be an exception. I loaded up a copy of “The Killing Joke” that I built from high-resolution scans and Brian Bolland’s exquisite linework is rendered as linework . . . not anti-aliased pixels. Glorious!

This is another leap forward in the development of digital comics. The new iPad might even color the announcements that Marvel made last week about their new direct-to-digital Infinite Comics line. Their bold presentation at SXSW promised to fully exploit interactive mobile devices like the iPad through new levels of social interaction and motion within the comic.

Well, that’s lovely. But the new iPad can present a full traditional comics page in glorious color and detail. It’s a single, sedate window through which artists and writers can present stories told via the same reliable techniques they’ve used for nearly a hundred years. And you’ll never be freaked out by the sight of the eye lenses in Spider-Man’s mask blinking.

I mean, with a new iPad and a box of HD comics . . . who needs the glitz and the flash?

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