This week, TokyoPop released the first volume of Hetalia: Axis Powers by Hidekaz Himaruya both in print, and as a digital download for the iPhone, iPad and iPod via digital comics publisher comiXology.
Now you can check out a sample chapter of Hetalia and read it on your iPhone, iPad or iPod (once you download and install the free comiXology app from Apple's iTunes Store). The first volume of Hetalia is available in 6 parts for 99 cents each. The first chapter is free, so that means you can get the first volume of Hetalia for $4.95, more than 50% the cover price of the print edition.
This collaboration marks the first time that TokyoPop has worked directly with comiXology to offer a simultaneous print / digital release of a new Japanese manga title, and according to comiXology CEO David Steinberger, it's only the first of more to come.
After hearing about comiXology's release of the first volume of Hetalia, I popped off a few questions to Steinberger to learn more about his company's plans to expand their manga offerings in the months to come.
A MANGA-CENTRIC Q & A WITH COMIXOLOGY CEO DAVID STEINBERGER
Q: Will you be releasing upcoming volumes of Hetalia in this format?
David Steinberger: Yes, the upcoming volumes of Hetalia will be available on Comics by comiXology.
Q: Is this digital version of Hetalia in English available to readers in all regions, or only North America?
David Steinberger: This is an International English-language release.
Q: Are there plans in the works to publish more TOKYOPOP titles on comiXology?
David Steinberger: Although we're not prepared to make a specific announcement about numbers, titles and timeframe, we look forward to being a part of TOKYOPOP's ongoing digital strategy. They have a lot of great content we think our users are interested in.
Q: TOKYOPOP also released Hetalia Volume 1 on Zinio, another digital publishing service roughly a month ago. What makes the comiXology version different or special?
David Steinberger: comiXology has built a sizeable catalog and community of users on the iOS and Web through comics.comixology.com. Unlike any other TOKYOPOP partner, we adapt our Guided View™ Technology to deliver a quality reading experience on small and large screens alike, with authentic right-to-left reading for Japanese manga.
We're hoping that, with partnerships like TOKYOPOP on Hetalia, current manga fans are drawn to comiXology, and that fans of reading Western comics on their platform will become manga readers too.
We also have the unique distinction of having been the first comic/manga platform to support buy-once-read-anywhere with iOS and the Web.
Q: Fall 2010 seems to be the time when many new players are entering the digital comics business, especially in manga. Will comiXology be expanding their manga offerings as well?
David Steinberger: As a first mover in the industry, this is one of the many scenarios that we have prepared for. We are looking forward to expanding our manga offerings by continuing to work with TOKYOPOP and other high quality publishers. It's a rich, terrific market, and our Guided View™ Technology works really well for it.
COMPARING APPLES TO APPLES: READING HETALIA ON COMIXOLOGY AND ZINIO
I've downloaded and read Hetalia via Zinio, checked out Hetalia on both comiXology's web and iPhone comic reader apps, as well as read the print edition published by TokyoPop. Now that I've read this manga in several formats, I still prefer to read manga in print, but also found that of the two options, comiXology version to be easier to read and navigate. This is largely because Zinio's platform seems designed primarily for reading prose books and magazines, while comiXology is designed for reading comics. comiXology's web-based and digital device comic reader platform offers readers the option to zoom in on specific panels and move from panel to panel with a tap or swish of a finger or click of the mouse.
Zinio's interface is designed for Western-style left-to-right pagination, so when I first opened their digital edition of Hetalia, I was presented with the cover. I "turned the page" and was presented with the last page of the book with Editor Cindy Suzuki's afterword. I had to push the page preview slider all the way to the right in order to get to the first page, which was fronted by the back cover. Confused? So was I.
It was also disorienting to purchase my copy of Hetalia on Zinio, then after paying, be presented with a page that said "Looks like you have no magazines yet." I had to go to the pull-down menu, select "books" and find my digital copy of Hetalia to begin reading.
One downside to Zinio's online manga reader is that it offers very limited options for zooming into individual panels. This is a particularly important feature for a series like Hetalia, which has lots of small, sometimes hard to read text and squint-or-you'll-miss-it details. With the Zinio web-based reader, I could only zoom in at one slightly larger size, and couldn't get a closer look at individual panels. Hetalia has lots of panels with tiny text, so not being able to zoom in made it hard to read some panels. It got to the point where I vaguely got a headache from squinting and trying to read the tiny text of Hetalia via Zinio's interface. After one go-round, I gave up and waited for the print edition to read it again.
By comparison, comiXology's iPhone comic reader interface allows for adjustable zoom-in on individual panels and text, and to easily switch from portrait to landscape view for different-sized panels. The tap and go "Guided View" interaction took a little getting used to, but after a short animated tutorial, I was ready to go, and was able to breeze through the first volume of Hetalia almost as quickly as reading the print edition.
However, comiXology's web version of Hetalia is not immune from the problems that come from presenting Japanese right-to-left comics page spreads in a Western left-to-right formatted reader. Upon comparison with the print edition and comiXology's web edition of the first color chapter of Hetalia, the pages are "bound" and displayed in "western" order, but the individual pages themselves aren't flopped, so you have to read them in Japanese right to left order. This is a bit of a mess which makes it a bit difficult for manga readers to figure out which panel/page to read next.
Latter chapters are presented as single pages not spreads, so it's a little easier to read. However, in page-by-page view, comiXology's navigation arrows require that you click the "right" arrow to advance to the next page, but when you read Japanese style, you'd be more inclined to click the "left" arrow to see the next page. This is also a user-interface glitch that needs to be addressed if comiXology intends to publish more Japanese manga content in the future.
That said, the "Guided View" function works well on the web version of comiXology, and presents the panels in the correct reading order. So if you read Hetalia via comiXology's web interface, I recommend using that option because frankly, the page-by-page version hasn't got all the bugs worked out. It still has a few adjustments to make before it can offer seamless and intuitive reading of Japanese manga content to readers.
Hetalia was originally a webcomic, so one way that the digital edition surpasses the print edition is that the art that looks fuzzy and blurry in print looks better and is more legible on a computer or eReader screen.
As the one of the first Japanese manga releases for both Zinio and comiXology, Hetalia blazed some new trails, but hit several bumps along the way. Here's hoping that as more manga gets published on these digital publishing platforms, these problems will be addressed, and eventually become a non-issue for Zinio, comiXology, TokyoPop and other U.S. and Japan manga publishers who start delving into digital publishing.
UPDATE: Steinberger later added that readers can expect to see an updated right-to-left
reading function for reading manga at comics.comiXology.com in the coming week (week of September 27, 2010).
So have you downloaded and read Hetalia either on Zinio or via comiXology? What do you think? Was the price right? Was it easy or difficult to download and read? Add your comments below!
Image credit: © 2008 Hidekaz Himaruya / GENTOSHA COMICS INC., © 2010 iconology, Inc., © 2001-2010 Zinio LLC, © TOKYOPOP