Since e-readers and smart phone apps began turning our tangible reading material into ones and zeros there has been push back. Many claim a deep human need to smell, touch, and hold their comics, books, and newsprint. And let’s not forget the apocalyptic rumbles that our embracing of e-reading will lead to the eventual demise of libraries. But, well meaning concerns for the future of printed words aside, reading on digital platforms presents us with another mode of interacting with the media that shapes and informs us.
Years, and poorly designed e-reading apps, have passed into oblivion while we have been accessing graphic novels, comic books, and other visual art focused literature in digital format. Whether for organizing and reading the collections we already have or for purchasing new, distributors of the visual genres have always been lock-step with the rest of the e-book market. Yet, the options haven’t always been to a standard of design that showcases the quality of the titles being produced. Clunky e-readers, limited colour saturation, and screen limitations are all tagged as reasons why comic readers eschew collecting and reading in digital formats.
But, wait. Nobrow, a press and publishing house that operates with an agenda of privileging stellar beauty and innovation, has taken their handheld comics and graphic collections and put them into an app that promises to deliver the same amount of quality and ingenuity as their current library.
Someone wanting to take their love of Nobrow onto their iPad doesn’t make any initial investment. The app is free in the Apple Store (but not available on Google Play or Android), with users paying only for comics that they purchase. The app is currently stocking six authors with indication that this will grow throughout the year.
True to their promise to “bridge the gap between digital and print and demonstrate how both mediums can work symbiotically to complement each other,” Nobrow surpasses other platforms attempting to deliver a digital version of the medium. Although a small library of choice currently sits in the app’s shop, the choices have been curated with attention to showcasing the app’s capabilities.
Readers with a dedicated interest in the craft are able to select viewing layers and witness the development of the final product. Perhaps the most gorgeous aspect of Nobrow is the panel zooming capability. The vibrant and hand-press quality of Nobrow’s handheld editions come through with startling clarity.
Readers navigate panels and pages with the expected finger slides and swiping of any e-reading app. Different to most apps, Nobrow allows you to toggle between panel and page mode ensuring a different reading experience depending on the title and individual reader.
The magical qualities of Luke Pearson’s Hilda are accentuated in digital form as her natural dancing from panel to panel becomes even more delightful on the iPad. Pearson’s art loses none of its depth or crispness when viewing on the app.
Sure, comics and novels are in-app purchases, but Nobrow’s sleek and thoughtful design makes for a user experience that is free of annoying fly-ins or pop ups. The library and shop are nested in a user-friendly and non-aggressive manner allowing the reader to properly sink into the titles, letting the functions of the app rest in the background without taking away from the viewing experience.
As a frequent traveler and café reader, I deeply appreciate the gift of Nobrow, allowing me to download and cart around indie comics from an arm of the industry that is pushing boundaries and exploring the nexus between new and nostalgia.
It was certainly in their meager selection that I found a seed of disappointment with Nobrow’s digital adventure. Surely, the reader will appreciate the dynamic panels and thoughtful stories of the authors on offer, but there is a noted absence of female creators. It becomes a quiet statement when a press launches a new project and out of six potential downloads I have no female authors to select from. Without a doubt, I adore the confidence of Hilda, but as a reader, I want something more than female characters written by men. I crave the optics of women writers and artists; Nobrow seems to have been remiss in considering the role gender plays in reader purchases. I hope that the press considers the lack of female representation in their digital environment and makes some swift changes before becoming a part of the industry that pushes the idea that women don’t read (or write) comics.
I’ll never stop buying my handheld copies of Hilda, but Nobrow is giving me what is, to date, the most intuitive and gorgeously designed app for reading comics digitally. It’s fair to say that even with this app you can’t feel the crisp paper of these editions, but the art and stories aren’t sacrificed for digital ease.
Perhaps more importantly, Nobrow’s consideration of reader’s needs has created an environment that adds to the atmosphere of the genre, rather than subtracting with the ofttimes annoyances of digital platforms.