Can Double-Page Spreads Make the Jump to Digital? Should They?

We’ve barely scratched the surface in terms of what artists can accomplish in digital comics, free from the innate restrictions of print. But there’s also a few elements from traditional comic storytelling that don’t always translate so successfully to the screen on your mobile device. Take, the double-page spread, which some readers find cumbersome and difficult to navigate on a phone or tablet.

We talked to three creators about the problem and how they’ve adjusted their process accordingly.

This beautiful spread from Dixon's Notch #1 benefits from Graphicly's Flow View, which presents the full spread and then zeroes in on those captions.

Doug Hills has been experimenting with webcomics longer than many readers started bookmarking their favorites. He’s currently working on Dixon’s Notch, a tale of mobsters in Maine, with writer Josh Flangan. You can buy the first issue on Graphicly.

“I’ve had issues with double-page spreads ever since I started doing webcomics 10 years ago. Back then, it was an issue of making sure the filesize wasn’t too high, and the page fit the screen properly. Eventually, I gave up on doing two-page spreads, and focused on doing the best I can with the medium I was working in.

“It’s pretty much the same thing, nowadays, except now I’m expending to creating comics that will be read on tablets and phones. I probably wouldn’t do a full two-page spread for something that was going to be exclusively digital (if it was something for print and digital, that’d be another matter). I try to work within the medium I’m publishing on, rather than make the medium follow the “traditional” route. So, that could mean I just make the best “one page spread” I can in portrait mode, or I take advantage of page rotation, and make a good landscape page that mimics the two-page spread format, while not making things so small on the screen you can barely make out what’s happening without zooming in (which is what I see now with digitized two-page spreads). I’d like to make the experience as uncumbersome (which may or may not be a word) as possible for the reader.

“Odds are, though..I would stick to one orientation if possible when producing a digital comic. Again, this helps to make the experience better for the reader because they don’t have to constantly shift the mobile device to fit the panel or page they’re viewing. So I’d either do a comic purely in portrait mode without any two-page spreads, or purely in landscape mode, and give the reader an almost “widescreen movie” experience.”

From Echoes by Joshua Hale Fialkov, Art by Rahsan Ekedal

Echoes writer Joshua Hale Fialkov doesn’t see much of a problem in the device and its transition to digital. “I don’t know that it matters. Especially with the iPad where it so easily shifts from horizontal to vertical layout.”

Regarding the smaller scale of devices being used to read digital comics, he says it’s mid-ground. “Just like when you write knowing there will be ads inserted, or knowing the TPB layout matters. We’ve been creating for multiple formats already, I guess is what I’m saying.”

For Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes co-writer and artist Gabriel Hardman, the problem isn’t the platform, but in the concept of the double-page spread itself.

“I’m biased on this because I don’t like two page spreads in the first place. I think they’re only effective when presenting one big Kirby-esque image across the two pages. Multi-panel spreads are too often confusing and break the flow of the storytelling. This problem is only increased when you have to turn a digital tablet on it’s side to read the spread. Not to mention how small the image becomes.

“People point to the two page spread display on tablets as a down side of digital. What they neglect to mention is that digital has a huge up side for storytelling: on a digital tablet, ever page is a reveal. Every time the reader turns a page there is an opportunity to surprise them. I’ll take the over a couple flashy or potentially confusing two page spreads any day.

“I never use 2 page spreads in the comics I write. I feel like it’s an ineffective use of the limited space. We have a story to tell!”

 

Where do you come in on the debate? Should splashes and double page spreads continue into the new wave of comics available digitally? Or should we embrace widescreen storytelling and format comics as such?

 

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  • http://twitter.com/daniel_warner Daniel Warner

    Your average, open, paper comic book is always a ‘landscape’ layout (13.75″wide x 10.5″tall). The only time you truly see a single page layout in a paper comic is on the cover when the book is closed. Of course, the story content is usually organized on either side of the spine in half or ‘single’ pages — It’s a very readable, highly evolved, and user-friendly format. Still, we are always looking at two halves of a landscape layout.

    Even if we can only read one single page at a time, the second unfocused half of the page still affects our experience (weather it’s an ad, or connected narrative, or a single-image splash). I don’t think anybody has ever done an eye-tracking study on how readers read comics but it’s pretty clear that a comic page is absorbed on three or four different levels. So, I think the question your asking has impact beyond the double-page splash…

    What do we lose when we drop the unfocused half of the comic book layout?Nothing that’s more valuable than an ad for a car or Atlas Fitness program — that’s been the answer from publishers of paper comics for years now and it’s probably the right one. Comic books have a long history of conforming storytelling elements to the economic constraints of the medium.

    It’s a painful idea but the sooner the 14×11 comic book layout takes it’s place next to LP covers and CD booklets in the Nice-To-Have Museum of Art, and we get on with the business of finding sustainable ways to maximize the dimensions we are dealing with, the sooner the medium will be able to thrive and grow.

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  • Thomas

    Geez! I sure hope that the panoramic view, the centrefold, regardless of publication can be accommodated in the digital age. Reading fine text, well, that is another matter. I suppose the rotate function is the best we can do to deliver a wider image which loses impact on the tablet. As far as Smart phones go? It’s really settling for a lot less until they can come up with digital foil display screens (DFDS). They will be ultra light plastic wrap thin digital screens which fold up to fit in shirt pocket and unfolded whenever you want to view content. PhasE 2 will be the crumple-wrinkle free version which will survuve being scrunched up in your pants pocket (like a used nasal tissue). This too will be able to be opened up and read to the enjoyment of those with the financial resources to be able to afford one. Estimated price $10,000 US. (PS: We aren’t going to Mars anytime soon. LOL)