How the iPad Has Totally Upended the Comic Book Industry

For artists and readers

  • The iPad is the perfect portable comic book library.
  • The Apple Pencil revolutionized comic creation. 
  • Accessible tools mean marginalized groups can reach big audiences.
Person reading comics on the floor of a bookstore

Joe Ciciarelli / Unsplash

The iPad has upended the comics industry from both ends. Comic book artists use it to draw and paint, and comics fans use it to read.

And unlike magazines and newspapers, which were slowly throttled by digital publishing, paper comics continue to thrive and may even benefit from the extra exposure. One of the best iPad comic-reading apps is YACReader, which has a crazy new panel-by-panel navigator coming up in its latest version–a feature already found in rival readers, but YACReader’s is driven by AI.

“A lot has changed since the very first version I released for desktops in 2009. We have moved from an activity mostly driven by fans (e.g., communities scanning and trying to preserve in a digital archive golden era comics) to a world where mostly all the publishers offer their catalogs in digital format,” Luis Ángel San Martín, creator of YACReader, told Lifewire via direct message.

Screen Reader

Comic books on iPad via YAC Reader

YAC Reader

When the iPad arrived in 2011, comic book fans—including this author—saw immediately that its relatively large screen was perfect for reading comics. Screen resolution improved, comic-reader apps bloomed, and a new platform, Comixology, arrived to let readers buy official titles.

An iPad is perfect for comics because of that beautiful screen and the fact that you can carry thousands of titles without any extra weight. And the easy availability of existing comics franchises, graphic novels, and webcomics led comics into a much more mainstream market. 

“People that might normally not venture into a comic bookstore can now look through multiple apps and sites to find the comics that would appeal to them,” comics fan and filmmaker Michael Ayjian told Lifewire via email. “This opens up the comics world to a wider range of creators that might not otherwise be published in a national outlet. Digital comics have created more opportunities in the comics industry.”

Continue Reading title on YAC Reader

YAC Reader

"The advent of the iPad has caused an explosion in the self-publication of comics on the internet, using the webcomic format. There is an unprecedented amount of freedom for independent comic creators to innovate on style and content," Grace Moon Zao, author of illustrated lesbian love poetry site Sappho's Dreams, told Lifewire via email. "In general, this helps any creator whose comic style and content cannot easily break into the mainstream. I believe it especially benefits historically marginalized voices."

At the same time, technology meant that we could do things not possible on paper, like YACReader's upcoming AI-powered view that automatically detects panels and lets you read them one by one.

"Things like having dedicated neural engines integrated in a mobile device sounded like sci-fi when I released the first iOS version, and now YACReader can take advantage of those advances to provide panel-by-panel reading with an astounding performance and precision," says Mr. San Martín.

Comic Creators

But it wasn’t until the Apple Pencil in 2015 that things really got interesting for creators. Until then, comic artists worked either on paper or used a computer hooked up to some kind of graphics tablet. The tablet was probably from Wacom, and was either a kind of mousepad with a wireless pencil or an expensive Cintiq model that let artists draw directly onto a screen. It still required a Mac or PC running something like Photoshop. 

But the Apple Pencil was different because it combined the computer and drawing parts into a device that was as portable as a pad of paper. With pressure sensitivity and angle detection (like tipping your pencil to make a wider mark), it changed how artists could work and was a lot cheaper than the old way. 

Established artists, like DC, Marvel, and 200AD artist PJ Holden, took to the Apple Pencil immediately, and as we have seen, web-comic artists who would never have invested in Photoshop and a Cintiq also jumped in. 

YAC Reader reading settings

YAC Reader

The next step is already underway. The latest iPads, as powerful as modern Macs, remove even more barriers.

“An iPad is a great device to draw/paint on, but one of the main issues for many years has been the amount of RAM required to produce professional content. Templates for comic pages use a really high pixel count, and when you start drawing and creating layers, you are going to hit a hard limit soon because of the amount of available RAM,” says Mr. San Martín. 

In iPadOS 15, Apple upped the RAM limits, which made a huge difference, and with iPadOS 16 coming this fall, the iPad is even more suitable for pro work. And, of course, it will still be just as good for reading.

Correction 9/15/22: Corrected San Martín's family name.

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