One of the big technical announcements to come out of San Diego this past weekend was Google’s introduction of Bubble Zoom. This is a new feature that’s being rolled out into the Google Play Books app which allows a comic to be viewed in a full page format, but then has the ability to zoom in specifically on individual word balloons one at a time. In theory, this would allow the reader to follow the action of an entire page on a small screen, but still allow the text to be legible. Here’s a short video they’ve released to explain the idea a little further…

While this is explicitly being rolled out for digital comics, beginning just with the collected editions of Marvel and DC titles, their stated intent is “to eventually bring Bubble Zoom to all the comics and manga ever made.” Their video suggests this is entirely possible because the process is not a manual one, but one that’s run by an algorithm. Their system scans the page for legible text, then it seems to identify the color around that (the word balloon itself), expand until it hits another color (the edge of the word balloon), and use that as the portion that’s enlarged. Their examples do not seem to work on sound effects, and I’m curious to see how it acts with background signage that’s drawn into the panel artwork. It’s new technology, so there will no doubt be some glitches at first, but it’s fascinating advancement.

But that’s just with digital comics, and this is a column about webcomics.

Well, in theory, the same technology could be applied to webcomics, right? They use the same visual conventions, so reading a book of webcomics via their app would result in a similar experience to reading Justice League, right?

And think about this: Google has rolled out this feature to their Play Books app. Once they get some of the kinks worked out, couldn’t their fairly easily roll it out as an extension for their Chrome browser? That would allow the exact same functionality to work on the fly for every webcomic online.

Let me take that a step further. The software works by recognizing text. The balloons they enlarge seem to keep the same fonts, so I suspect they’re just enlarging that portion of the image. But if it’s able to recognize text, it wouldn’t be that difficult to run an optical character recognition scan over the page, adn convert those word balloon images into text. Text that could be searchable, or dictated via a screen reader. If that were to be implemented, that would mean every single instance of every webcomic would be available to Google’s search engine based on the content of the strip itself, and not just whatever the author happened to add as some meta data, if they even thought to do so.

I certainly don’t know Google’s long-term plans for Bubble Zoom, but while it only has an impact on digital comics in the near-term, the potential it has for webcomics is enormous!

About The Author

Senior Editor, Comics & Lifestyle

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