It’s been a few months since we first heard about digital comics coming to the PSP, but today they finally arrived. With eleven different publishers, and more than 80 different titles, Sony’s portable opens with a strong showing. Want to know what we thought of the service? Read on.
I haven’t been the biggest supporter of digital comics, as I prefer my comics full-sized, and occasionally, I do like to chop them up for the interior art. That said, the PSP’s digital comics reader is pretty simple to use once you install it, and accessing the PlayStation Store to download comics to read is as easy as hitting one button. The books are fairly small when it comes to file size, so even people with smaller memory cards will at least be able to enjoy a decent selection of comics should they choose to download them. There’s actually a really good selection available for the service having just started. Publishers like 2000 AD, Marvel, Red 5, and IDW have a solid representation of their current titles, with Disney, Dabel Bros., Insomnia, Image, Archie, Ape Entertainment, and Titan Comics rounding out the stable with fewer options available. Marvel makes the biggest showing, providing the PSP store with lengthy runs of Amazing Spider-Man (silver age and current), Captain America (golden age and current), Fantastic Four (current), and Astonishing X-Men (the near-complete Whedon/Cassaday) to name a few. As great as it was to see Marvel really push their product, getting glimpses of some of the IDW and Red 5 books was even more impressive. Many of these smaller publishers (though I guess it could be argued that IDW isn’t that small of a publisher when perusing their portion of the monthly Previews Catalog) just don’t see their book ordered at smaller comic shops, so this is potentially the first time people are even seeing these books. If these publishers continue to release anywhere near this amount of comics (currently there are more than 560 available on the PSP) on a weekly basis (the PlayStation Store is updated every Thursday), by the time 2010 starts, there will be over 1600 comics on the store. That’s if the comic portion gets updated every week, and also if that many books become made available. I don’t know about you, but that’s a pretty impressive catalog.
Now, comics on the PSP range from 100% free to what appears to be the current max price, $1.99. Pretty much everything Marvel and IDW have to offer will run you $1.99, which is anywhere from $2-$3 cheaper than cover price. Granted, many of the books currently available are months, even years old, so if you were hoping to read the latest issues of Amazing Spider-Man, you’re still going to have to track them down at your LCS. I’m assuming this is the way publishers are trying to advance to digital distribution while also keeping the brick and mortar stores alive. If you get hooked on older, tougher to track down issues of a comic, you might be so inclined to head down to the comic shop to pick up the latest book starring your current favorite character. Again, the only issue with that is many of the books from the independent publishers won’t be so easy for new readers to track down. That’s not just an issue for people getting turned onto comics by reading them digitally, it’s an issue that also plagues those of us who visit shops on a regular basis. The price point is pretty tough to beat though. If I can get the first 25 issues of the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Amazing Spider-Man for $50 on the PSP, compared to the first two $24.99 editions of Marvel Masterworks Amazing Spider-Man, which only contain the first twenty issues, the savings might not seem that great. Spread savings like that out over the entirety of the catalog, and it’s easy to see how attractive getting your comics like this could be. Of course, you’re still missing out on all the great new monthlies publishers are releasing, but if you don’t mind waiting for a year or so to get your hands on what many people are reading today, I guess that’s not such a big deal… for you. There are a ton of comic fans who trade-wait, which many die-hards view as a way to slowly kill the industry (I disagree, but that’s a blog for another day), and while it’s true that many monthly books do get canceled due to low readership month-to-month, those same people are eventually buying the book. I can’t see the phrase “digi-waiting” catching on, but anything’s possible.
Of course, you’re probably wondering, “But how well do the comics translate to a 3 3/4-inch screen?” From the five digital comics I’ve downloaded and read, they appear to translate pretty well. Once you choose a book to read, the PSP gives you the option of perusing the pages on your own using the analog stick to move the page around on the screen, or by using Auto Flow, which focuses the page on one panel at a time, moving from dialogue bubble to dialogue bubble accordingly. It works pretty well, and I only encountered one flub, during the final pages of the Atomic Robo Free Comic Book Day issue, where the Auto Flow sent me to the wrong word balloon first. Though from what I understand, it’s up to the publisher to translate their print comic to the digital form, so that was likely a mistake on Red 5′s part. I was intrigued by the free offerings, and had a few dollars of credit on my PSN account, so I picked up a few other books (including the impossible to find Super Human Resources #1) to see how well other publishers fared. All in all, each of the books was represented pretty well, and even though the artwork was much smaller than what I was used to, it wasn’t difficult to read. I really didn’t think reading comics on the PSP was going to work, but in all honesty, they’ve managed to do a really nice job. That compliment stretches from the publishers to the people at Sony behind the digital comics reader. There are bookmarking tools, and you can listen to the music you have on your PSP while reading, so all in all, the program and the presentation work really well.
Before today, I had zero interest in digital comics. I’m in no way shape or form going to stop going to my LCS every Wednesday, but I can now see the appeal of digital comics. They’ve got a decent price point, and it’s much less cumbersome to use a PSP on public transportation than it is to whip out a comic. Though flashing $200 worth of technology around may not exactly be the smartest thing to do on a crowded subway. I’m not hooked yet, but I’m definitely going to be paying much more attention to the digital distribution of comics, and just how they’re supported on the PSP. Hopefully, other people use these comics as a jumping on point to go to a retail store, rather than going digital only, like when the MP3 murdered the CD industry.