When webcomics first became a thing, there was pretty much only device you could view them on. Readers mostly all had a desktop computer with a chunky CRT monitor. Some people did have laptops, and the screens were fairly small. But since webcomic creators were still trying to figure out best practices on how webcomics should be presented and navigated, any given webcomic was kind of hit or miss as to whether it was easy to read or not.

Today, while a number of best practices have been more or less established, the differences in available devices is staggering. Desktops and laptops are still around, of course, but tablets, phones, televisions, watches, and more are all capable of delivering webcomics to potential readers. My wife even just pointed out to me a hotel that has touch-screen monitors built into the bathroom mirrors.

Over the years, I’ve tried a number of different devices (though not a bathroom mirror yet!) and I have not found one that works well unilaterally. My favorite thus far is my current laptop, which is built so the keyboard can be folded flat behind the monitor, and navigation can be handled mostly with the touch-screen. It’s light enough to weigh less than a thick book, and I can tap through installments about as easily as flipping pages in such a book. And since the screen auto-rotates depending on if I’m holding the unit vertically or horizontally, it works pretty well for a wide variety of webcomic formats. The occasional difficulty comes when a comic uses some navigation that requires extremely precise accuracy with your clicks—it doesn’t happen often but I was going through a comic today whose chapter-to-chapter navigation required more precision than I could achieve, and I resorted to keying in the URL of each chapter.

Given their limited screen size, phones only seem to work well (for me) with three- and four-panel gag strips. Webcomics that are designed for later print publication obviously require a great deal of scrolling on such a small screen, but even vertically oriented strips ostensibly created with phone users in mind seem to come across in too minute snippets.

That’s not to say that webcomikers should cater to specifically to one format over another, just because I said so! I’m an audience of one with my own personal preferences. Preferences which are almost certainly influenced by reading printed comics for decades before webcomics came into existence. It should come as no surprise that my preference is one that most closely resembles my experience in reading a printed book. I daresay that someone who’s grown up with an iPhone (first released in 2007; there are kids now getting into their teens who I’m sure cannot remember not having access to one) would have a very different set of preferences.

The challenge for creators is to figure out what that preference is for their intended audience. The challenge for readers is actively considering their own preferences, and getting a device that caters best to them.

About The Author

Sean Kleefeld
Senior Editor, Comics & Lifestyle
Google+

Sean Kleefeld is an independent researcher whose work has been used by the likes of Marvel Entertainment, Titan Books and 20th Century Fox. He writes the ongoing “Incidental Iconography” column for The Jack Kirby Collector and had weekly “Kleefeld on Webcomics” and "Kleefeld's Fanthropology" columns for MTV Geek. He’s also contributed to Alter Ego, Back Issue and Comic Book Resources. Kleefeld’s 2009 book, Comic Book Fanthropology, addresses the questions of who and what comic fans are. He blogs daily at KleefeldOnComics.com.