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By Jason Snell

Reading comics on the new iPad Pros

Comixology on the 12.9- and 11-inch iPad Pros.

I love reading comics on my iPad Pro. The iPad is the best thing to happen to comics since four-color printing. Now that the new iPad Pro models are out, I thought it was worth revisiting the current state of the art in iPad comics to see where things stand.

The reader apps

The three apps I use to do most of my comic reading on iPad are Comixology, Marvel Unlimited, and Chunky Comic Reader.

Comixology, owned by Amazon, is the leading digital comic-book storefront. Because it’s an Amazon property, you have to buy comics on the Comixology website and then switch to the app to download them. It’s an extra step, but it’s easy to buy comics in Safari and then read them in the app.

If you prefer in-app purchases, Apple will sell you comics inside the Books app, though I find Comixology’s reading experience superior in almost every way. (Books wants to pan back and forth across comic book spreads, which I just don’t like - I prefer to see just the current page I’m reading.)

Amazon’s Kindle app will also let you read comics, and it uses the same technology as Comixology, so it’s a good reading experience, other than needing to buy comics via the web. I prefer using Comixology for comics and Kindle for books—Comixology’s organizational system is built around comics, so it works better if you buy a lot of individual issues or collections in a series. But if you’re a heavy Kindle user and don’t read too many comics, reading in the Kindle app could be more convenient.

Marvel Unlimited is Marvel Comics’ subscription service, featuring more than 20,000 digital comics including old stuff from the catalog and new issues released between six and twelve months after initial release. At $69 per year I think it’s a spectacular deal if you’re a Marvel fan—it’s easy to read $69 worth of comics in a single sitting. The app was pretty rocky when it started out, but it keeps getting better.

dc-universe-ipad13
DC Universe mixes subscription video with comics old and new, but it’s a good deal if you’re a DC fan.

Chunky Comic Reader is an independent comic reader app that you can load up with comics in CBR, CBZ, and PDF formats. It’s got spectacularly good network integration—you can add comics directly into Chunky from most cloud services as well as local file servers and even remote FTP servers. It has a bunch of friendly reading features, including the ability to automatically crop blank page borders to fit more comic on screen and dynamically calculate a background color that matches the color of the comic page.

Where do you get comics for Chunky Comic Reader? While piracy is definitely what comes to mind, there are actually lots of legal ways to get digital comics. I’ve bought numerous Humble Bundles of comics, as well as indie comics, that offer PDF and CBR/CBZ downloads as options. And while it’s not widely known, Comixology will let you download the comics from many independent publishers as DRM-free files. (Go to My Books on the Comixology website and click Backups for a list of your downloadable comics.)

While I’m not an ongoing subscriber of DC Comics’s new DC Universe service, which bundles TV shows, movies, comics, and a bunch of other stuff into a single $75 annual (or $8/month) subscription. It’s a much smaller selection of comics than Marvel offers, but if you’re a DC fan it won’t take much—again, a few comics a month and the occasional TV series—to make it worthwhile.

New screen sizes

chunky-ipadpro
Chunky Comic Reader is great, though it doesn’t hide the Home Indicator.

Apps need to be updated to take advantage of the displays on the new iPad Pros. The 12.9-inch model’s display is the same size as the old one’s, but it’s got curved corners and a Home indicator at the bottom of the screen. The 11-inch model is a completely different aspect ratio, plus it has the curved corners and Home indicator.

The whole point of reading comics on these new iPads is to take advantage of those screens, and the good news is that most apps have been updated for the new hardware. However, some quirks remain.

Comixology fades out the Home indicator when you’re reading, as is only proper, but still doesn’t display pages all the way to the bottom of the screen—so there’s wasted space down there unless you zoom in. Chunky fills the entire screen from top to bottom—but doesn’t fade out the Home indicator, so a wide black horizontal bar hovers over the bottom of the page. DC Universe does the right thing and displays the pages top to bottom and fades out the Home indicator. Marvel Unlimited and Kindle haven’t yet been update, which is a bummer—especially on the 11-inch model, which can really take advantage of the extra space.

Which model is best?

I’ve been a user of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro since the first generation, and that hasn’t changed with this new third-generation model. I like the larger screen for multitasking, for reading, for watching video, and for reading comics. The size is especially great for reading two-page spreads, which are too small to be readable without zooming on smaller displays.

That all said… if there’s an ideal comic-reading iPad, it’s the new 11-inch model. That new aspect ratio, which is taller when held vertically, gives comics far more room to breathe. And the device is thin and light enough to be held comfortably with one hand while reading, which isn’t really the case with the larger model. I’m sticking with my 12.9-inch iPad Pro, but the size increase on the smaller model makes it a much closer thing.

I can’t advocate buying a $799 iPad Pro just to read comics—if you don’t use an iPad for anything else, maybe consider the sixth-generation iPad?—but evaluated just as a reading device, the 11-inch iPad Pro is the best combination of screen size and weight.

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