Surprise Kindle Comics Update

By | Friday, March 15, 2013 Leave a Comment
I flipped my Kindle on to read a bit during dinner tonight, and was surprised to see a noticably new interface on the screen. Not radically different, but not so similar that one might accidentally not notice. And sure enough, there was a new file downloaded called "Your Kindle is updated!" I'm not sure exactly when the update was released -- I had my Kindle out of wifi range from Tuesday through last night, and then only turned it this evening -- but I don't recall seeing any notices about it before discovering that my device was already updated.

So I'm scanning through the update notes, and they mostly look like some new minor functionality that I have no interest in -- a cover browser, parental controls, and the like. But the last update caught my eye:
Comics: Comic books can now be read with Kindle Panel View, which allows you to read a comic book panel by panel.
Previously, comics would display one page at a time over the whole screen, with no real ability to zoom in. The high resolution of the screen often made the text surprisingly clear, but a traditional comics page, shrank down, still got pretty small. So the promise of a panel-by-panel display option is enticing.

The first interesting thing I noticed was that this didn't seem to be a function inherent in the comics themselves. That is, it didn't require any additional effort on the publisher's part; the programming seemed to be running automatically from Amazon's end. As far as I can tell -- and mind you, this is only based on my experiments from this evening -- Amazon seems to written some software that looks at a comics page, analyzes how the page is constructed visually, and dynamically creates a series of zoomed-in images based on the panel flow. I saw this because this new option seems to be available retroactively to comics I had looked at some months ago. It's possible, of course, that functionality was being touted to publishers before they could see it fully in use, and I was unaware of that, but I don't believe that to be the case given what I've read on converting comics into a Kindle format.

Now, with the comics I tried, the results were mixed. Comics that followed the classic pattern of white gutters with a good amount of space between panels seemed to run pretty smoothly. Comics that utilized more creative panel structures -- for example, this type of thing...
... where the final panel bleeds behind the previous one -- seemed to cause the software a bit of confusion. As did pages where there wasn't as much contrast -- like a night sequence with panels butting up against one another. I didn't have any comics readily available that had really unconventional layouts or reading sequences, but I suspect there would be issues there as well.

Despite some of the problems, though, it's really kind of remarkable that it works. I suspect you'd have very few problems with any Golden Age material, and probably most of Silver Age stuff would be fine as well. I've largely avoided reading comics on my Kindle thus far because of the legibility issue mainly, but with this option now on the table, I definitely have a greater liklihood of picking up some actual comics to read as well.
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