Some thoughts on a mini-comics viewer

17 Jul

So now I have taken it upon myself to write a comics viewer as a web application, what are the considerations for a first version of such an application? I will try to document my thought process through this post. It is most likely more posts like this will appear in the near future. So, please stay tuned for that.

To start off, as a general rule of web application programming, versions should be released early and often, so the people who are going to use your application can provide feedback, make it fit their needs. It doesn’t have to be perfect or feature-rich at the outset. On the contrary, the simpler the better.

Then there are the architecture considerations, which include security. You want to be as flexible as possible where you host your content (so it’s easy to change hosts), but also prevent that bad guys find flaws in your app, and take advantage of those. The Web can be a scary place if you don’t take good care of your data and the program code using that data.

Now about the features, for which I really want your input, dear reader. What should I include in a first version at the minimum?

Here are some of my ideas.

  1. It should be easy for a less tech savvy comics creator to determine the content (basically, where the comic’s image files are located on the Web). For version 1, I’m thinking of a text file on a server, containing a list of Web links to the image files.
  2. Once the comic is loaded into viewer, the comics viewer should be able to work as a stand-alone application without network connection.
  3. The controls should be simple and obvious, and very much like a native application.
  4. It should have some fluidity to it, so the reader will enjoy the content as much as possible.

Of course, we all want as much features as we think we need, but consider that each feature will take both time, but, more importantly, energy to execute. That is why I opt for an app that has the fewest number of features, and still feel rich and worth while using.

I suppose this also implies that in future versions, the comics creator should be able to customize his or her app for a specific experience that makes sense for a particular comic. We don’t want a bunch of bells and whistles, but we don’t want it barebones either. Each feature has to be considered and make sense for the reading experience. I suppose that would require a separate application to produce a customized version of the comics viewer. However, all of this will not be included in version 1.

What we certainly don’t want is a generic comics browser that doesn’t stand out from the crowd. Such a browser is not worth using, hence not worth creating.

Also, I suggest for version 1 to limit ourselves in our designs to mini-comics suited for small screens, like the iPhone. The person reading a mini-comic should be able to finish it in a few minutes (the typical time people are waiting in line or are having a short break at work to re-energize). This means a vertical format (portrait orientation) is preferred and page spreads are discouraged. Preferably, readers are going to see one page at a time, and shouldn’t be required to zoom in and/or pan to be able to read the comic.

The constraints on format and layout may come over as a severe limitation, and you would be right there. However, I think independent comics creators should be able to adapt themselves to a new medium, what mobile devices actually are part of. The rules of print media have to be re-evaluated and adjusted. You can’t expect what works in print to work on a small size screen.

I personally see the mentioned constraints as a challenge. It is something where independent creators can distinguish themselves from large comic book publishing companies, who are still heavily invested in traditional comics on paper. Their digital comics are mere facsimiles of a print version, instead of being tailored towards the new mobile medium, with its short attention span of people on the go. If you need to sit down to have the “full experience”, you are missing the point of having a device in your pocket.

Those are some of my initial thoughts. Please provide some feedback, so I’m able to steer myself in the right direction. I can’t do this without you!


3 Responses to “Some thoughts on a mini-comics viewer”

  1. Demophon July 17, 2010 at 4:32 pm #

    Great! Looking forward to seeing what you come up with. I will happily help!

  2. Zach Bosteel July 17, 2010 at 9:31 pm #

    Yeah, dude. This sounds awesome.

    I think the constraints you mention should just be seen as parameters. I mean, the specific challenge you’ve set for yourself (and others), is to create a method of delivering content to small-screen portable devices, and creating content that SHOULD be delivered there. I think this is a great idea.

    It’s kinda like a brand new format. We should get Kevin to add it to the lexicon, and call it the Rene!

  3. Rob Stenzinger July 26, 2010 at 3:55 am #

    I’d be happy to assist with this as well. The prototype of my game I recently finished was built with HTML5 and some of the parts of it I was planning on reusing on a project similar to what you describe. I ended up porting the game to the Corona SDK due to the animation performance constraints – it just didn’t run fast enough to feel like an intense game in HTML 5. However it ran plenty fast to handle comic navigation and image transitions. I was using JQuery and the RaphaelJS libraries to make it work both on mobile devices and standard web browsers.

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