Scribd Review: Comic Reading, Subscription-Style

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I read my first digital comic a few years ago, back when I used my Nook. There was no charge for certain comic titles, and I loaded up on issues of Superman and Spider-Man, the only titles that  stuck out in a sea of independent publishers and off-brand comics. Not that I am against indie titles. Quite the contrary in fact. But I figured that my first foray into the mixed media of digital comics ought to be heralded in by some familiar faces.

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I was excited, I remember, as I downloaded those titles to my device, opened my first digital comic, an issue of Action Comics. Such bright colors, such sharp lines, but as engaging as the visuals were I found the interface less than enjoyable. Swiping from page to page was clunky, splash pages did not display as intended, and I lost track of where I was in the story. We could argue that what I was missing was the tactile sensations of interacting with a paper and ink comic book, and we would probably be right to some degree.

Unsatisfied, I set aside my digital comics and more or less forgot about them until a few weeks ago when I signed up with Scribd, another in a long list of e-book providers. I browsed their comics and graphic novel catalog and was sufficiently intrigued to try them out. I am glad that I did.

For one thing, the Scribd comic book and graphic novel catalog is large and varied. The big publishers are well represented, but BOOM!, Valiant, IDW and other smaller publishers offer several titles as well. With Scribd, I have access to titles that I would usually avoid based on personal finances. We know how it is at the comic shop: so many titles, so few dollars. Scribd lets you break out of that behavior and allows you to sample those nooks and crannies of the comic publishing universe.

For me, I was happy and surprised to find work by the illustrator Fiona Staples, the artist behind one of my favorite comics, Saga. From there, I had a new writer to follow up on, as well as other titles in the publisher’s catalog. Talk about something I could sink my teeth into. I jumped into catching up on titles I had let slip (Matt Fraction’s The Defenders), crossover events that had seemed too onerous at the time (Annihilation), and comics that were totally out of my wheel house (Archie, anyone?). In many ways, it felt as if I had been given the keys to the comic shop.

As for the interface, reading comics through Scribd does seem much more fluid than what I had experienced through Nook. Pages appear quicker, it seems, and scrolling from one page to another did not feel as jarring. Splash pages still don’t present the way the creators would like, or easily anyway, and perhaps that is an aspect that future developers can figure out. While I do not expect my digital comic to feel or smell like the real thing, I would be happy if we could get them to look right.

Functionally, Scribd has been compared to Netflix. There are some similarities. You can scroll through titles in similar fashion, but Scribd requires that you click on the title to learn more about it, while Netflix presents a floating blurb. Your library in Scribd is likewise similar to your list in Netflix, but accessing titles requires a couple more mouse clicks than what you may be used to. The search and browse options in Scribd could indeed be a bit more intuitive.

At $8.99 plus tax a month, a subscription to Scribd will run you a little more than your Netflix membership. And while the comic book and graphic novel catalog has a long way to go to match the titles at bigger comic shops, Scribd is off to a great start.

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