The iPad is a boon not just for e-books, but for comics as well. Or, at least, for comic publishers—comic book stores are starting to get a little worried. With that in mind, this time I’m going to look at Comic Zeal 4, the $7.99 CBR/CBZ comic reader for the iPad.
Unlike my other reviews, which covered both iPhone and iPad versions when both were available, I am only able to review the iPad version in this case. (Though you can of course assume the iPhone version is mostly similar.)
At the moment, Comic Zeal 4 is an iPad-only app that the developer promises will eventually gain universal capability and work on the iPhone. Consequently, I’m disinclined to shell out another $3.99 for Comic Zeal 3.2.2, the current iPhone version. I can’t imagine reading full-sized comics on the tiny screen of my iPod Touch anyway; I can wait.
Unlike the Marvel or Panelfly Readers, Comic Zeal is not partnering with commercial comic book publishers (that I am aware of). This isn’t surprising; CBR files do not come with DRM, which it stands to reason publishers would want. In fact, all they really are is a collection of image files named in order, compressed with RAR (for CBR) or ZIP (for CBZ), and then renamed.
The vast majority of CBR files on the Internet are made by fans who scan and upload the comics they buy, and a quick BitTorrent or RapidShare search will uncover many collections of commercial comics available for illicit download. I anticipate comic book piracy will suddenly start getting a lot of attention now that such a fine comic-book-reading platform as the iPad exists.
However, some webcomics—such as The Ten Doctors—have also posted compilations of their strips as CBR files. And Comic Zeal’s developer, Bitolithic, has a number of public-domain comic books compiled into CBR files that can be downloaded directly into the application, as well as landscape-format issues of Flashback Universe webcomics.
The iPad screen is not that much smaller than an ordinary comic book page. As a result, it should not be surprising at all that most comics are almost as readable in portrait form on the iPad screen as they ever were on the printed page.
For comic panels with small print, however, Comic Zeal fully supports the standard widen and pinch zoom gestures, and can also be rotated 90 degrees to read in landscape mode.
The portrait-screened iPad makes a great way to read comics, in contrast with a landscape computer monitor which can only show part of the page at a time, or else a two-page spread that’s too small to read the words.
I should add a word about the Flashback Universe issue I downloaded for trial reading: it was formatted in landscape mode, presumably intended for screen reading since it started out as a webcomic. It worked well, possibly even better than reading an ordinary comic book. I might just have to read some more of their issues.
Ease of Use
I found Comic Zeal to be quite easy to use, for the most part. Paging is done in the same way as with most e-book apps: swipe right-to-left to page forward, left-to-right to page backward. There is also a small control toolbar that can be summoned to the bottom right corner that has left and right arrow buttons to page backward or forward. (The next version of Comic Zeal, just sent to Apple a few days prior to this review, will allow paging by tapping the edge of the screen, too.)
Said toolbar also contains an “eject” button to close the comic you are reading, a screen-lock button so that you can turn the page sideways without changing orientation (a bit redundant given the iPad’s hardware switch for that, but I suppose taking it out would have required more effort than leaving it in), and a “camera” button for saving a screencap of the page you are currently viewing. It also features a volume-control-style slider for flipping rapidly through the book.
There is also an upper toolbar containing icons to open your on-board comic collection, list comics you have viewed recently, view recent downloads, and download comics from the desktop sync application or Comic Zeal’s on-line servers. At the far right of the toolbar is an up-arrow button, which hides both toolbars and then turns into a down-arrow that can be used to reveal them again.
The screen-lock button gave me some confusion when I was first using it. When the lock is disengaged, the button shows up highlighted in white: a three-quarters-circle arrow with a tiny padlock in the middle of it. When the lock is engaged, it is grayed out.
One would think that when it’s grayed out, the lock should be off, but if you look closer you will see that when it is gray, the hasp of the lock is closed, and when it is white the hasp is open. A hasp that is all of 1 or 2 pixels wide. Um, yeah. But again, given the iPad’s hardware lock switch, there really is no reason to use the software lock anyway.
There are two main ways to add content to Comic Zeal (or three if you count the public-domain comics that can be downloaded direct from the developer): using the Bonjour Comic Zeal Sync desktop app or using the iTunes app tab file sharing pane as with GoodReader.
The Comic Zeal Sync app is, like the apps for Stanza and Bookshelf, a sync conduit that uses Bonjour to upload content into the device. Before uploading, it first processes the CBR file (it will also work with PDFs) to shrink it down—this is mainly intended for reading on the iPhone, which doesn’t need comics to be that large anyway, but it also works with the iPad version.
The other method, iTunes file sharing, works as usual: you plug the iPad into USB, open the “Apps” tab in the device window, scroll down to the “File Sharing” section, select “ComicZeal4”, and drag and drop your files into the right-hand pane. It should be noted, though, that you should be sure to exit Comic Zeal on the iPad before doing this (or else exit it after the sync finishes and go back in). The comics won’t show up in your collection list until the next time Comic Zeal launches and processes the CBZ files for viewing.
Comic Zeal’s “Collection” listing, a panel that takes up the left half of the screen, has several options for listing the collection. It can list the titles in text form (where it also shows the page where you stopped reading each book, or if you have not yet started it), or it can display thumbnails of the covers two, three, or four thumbnails wide. It also supports folders (which get a nifty little comic box-style icon), but I’m not sure how to make folders; all the comics I uploaded myself through iTunes simply showed up as individual issues.
The third method involves clicking on the “Featured” icon from the upper toolbar, navigating into the “Golden Age” or “Flashback Universe” folder, and tapping an issue to download. A progress bar will appear as Comic Zeal downloads it, and it will then show up within a folder in your collection. (The “Connect to ComicZeal Sync” button, used for downloading from the Bonjour conduit app, is here, too.)
The downloading process was quick and easy, and I could see myself snagging more comics this way. It’s too bad there isn’t a wider selection available for downloading from Comic Zeal’s servers.
Comic Zeal is a great way to read comics, and it would be great if more of them were legitimately available as CBR files. Whether to download illicit CBR files is a moral choice everyone must make for himself, and I can’t condone it—but if you are into reading CBRs you download off the Internet, you won’t find any finer way to do it than Comic Zeal on the iPad.