Mobile Comics Done Right – Panelfly




Whenever we talk about digital comics it always seems to be in the context of either the beginning of the end or the the beginning of the beginning…who knows.  One this is for sure, we're seeing a lot of players starting to end the market, including Panelfly Comics, who have a pretty sweet looking iPhone/iPod touch application that is available for free from the iTunes Store (store link).

Panelfly also has a pretty nice website, complete with nosering wearing, comic book hipster gal providing a nice tour  of what the software is all about. Snarky comments aside, I think the tour is pretty well done–it definitely got me excited about the application.

I am not going over the whole product, but I must say–it's really quite nice. The comics that I have downloaded seem to have been reformatted for the iPhone screen, so you are not scrolling all around, zooming in and out. The app itself has a  store integrated into the application–you just dig through the catalog, check out what's available, and, if you like the book, press download and it drops into the download queue (it's basically a lot like the iPhone app store).  

It's a very well designed application and has nice UI touches like using the covers of the books you've already downloaded as shifting background screens for the application.  The store is well organized and nicely laid out, with nice preview pages, reader comments, facebook and twitter integration and bookmarking.  You can swipe left or right to through the comic, and if you want to zoom in on the page you just do quick double tap.



It's a pretty nice application, though I still haven't figured out how to get the twitter/facebook interface to come up, and it's pretty slow on my iPhone 3G.  This app looks amazing on the iPad.

Honestly, my only real gripe is the content.  Oh, there are a lot of books that I have never heard of before, and while yes, you can get some Marvel books on there, are you really looking to pick up Fantastic Four #542 (A Civil War tie-in!) or yet another version of Astonishing X-Men #1 for 99¢? It's not all that bad–you can get Captain America #1-28 (99¢ for the first two issues, $1.99 for the rest) and other classics…but for someone who wants to keep up with current comics, I am not sure the selection will thrill.  

Still, the store has a pretty decent selection, with genres ranging from Action/Adventure to Fantasy to Horror to Manga to Super Hero books. Well…not "books," right?  Titles?

All in all? This is impressive.  I like that Panelfly is cultivating relationships with a variety of partners, including Marvel, but obviously, they still need to get other publishers onboard.  As a platform, Panelfly is more than decent–this is a nice way to view sequential art.  Sure, the books are dated, but I bet many people won't care about that, at least initially. It's positive proof that one can view and purchase comics easily–and pretty painlessly–on your mobile device. That's a big deal.  

Beginning of the end? No.  But it's proof of a beginning. If you can, check the app out; it's free and there are a few free comics that you can view to test it out.


  1. All of these apps and what not and not a shred of Longbox to be seen anywhere. Love it.

    I must say though Mike, I respect the article and your thoughts but….I find this hard to see difference between this and other apps shown on the site. That’s just me. The market is so crowded now I just see black and white and nothing really groundbreaking. Sorry mate.

  2. @TNC – I should have made it clear–I haven’t really been aware of the other apps that are out there, so this is less a comparative analysis and more just a "hey, I saw this, and thought I would share".  Like you, I am not really the target market for this sort of thing, and, as I mentioned, I really do feel that this just represents baby steps towards digital delivery/viewing of comics. We’ll have to do a roundup of all the services six months, let the iPad come out, see who is still in business and see where the platform is then.

    No apology needed! As you probably know, I checked the Longbox Digital website, which is woefully out of date–I know I should be more aware of what is going on with that story, but, alas, since I am not really that excited about this stuff, I tend to ignore vaporware news.


  3. Agreed. Panelfly is pretty awesome, hands down the best I’ve seen for the iPhone platform.

    Waiting on you, Longbox/

  4. Haven’t tried panelfly yet but may give it a shot.  I do like iverse but haven’t broke down to buy any issues, I just read the free ones when I have a spare moment.  I like it but not how I wanna read all my comics.

  5. I like the Comixology app a lot more than what little I’ve seen of Panelfly. 

    I’m a little restricted though since I can’t spend any money in the US store so I can only download Panelfly and check out free comics.  (the app isn’t available outside of the US)

    I’d love to give it a more thorough spin though, I remember them having a nice interface for browsing through books.

  6. like gobo, I’ve been using and digging Comixology as a reading experience, and I tend to like it, although there are some annoying things (having to wait awhile while ALL the publishers update, when all I want is my one or two little comics or having to turn my phone alot as panels shift from horizontal to vertical), but overall it’s not bad. One thing I really like about ’em is what they’ve done with original content. Specifically, they’ve got this series called Box 13 that is free and it appears to actually have been written/drawn with the PHONE in mind, and that’s a really cool thing. Thus far, the best phone comics I’ve read are those designed for the phone, rather than cut up from existing print layouts.

    That said, I’m gonna have to give Panelfly a shot here, so I can compare.

  7. Dave, you can have it automatically switch to the best orientation, obviously you’ll still have to rotate your phone but it will at least pick the right direction right away.

    Also yeah, I’ve had some big problems with Rex Libris on the phone, which is a shame because it seems like a totally fun book.

  8. I mean the formatting with Rex Libris, it doesn’t shrink to the phone as well.

  9. Oh yeah, that’s how i have it set. But if the actual panels are: horizontal, horizontal, vertical, horizontal, vertical, then I end up flipping my phone a bunch of times as i read them in the best formatting. That’s a little annoying. Imagine flipping a book over and over and over as you read…

  10. I prefer comix personally but also not the target market

  11. Yet another app that uses a proprietary format. Give me an app that also reads pdf, cbr and cbz formats.

  12. iVerse might do that one day, but comixology definitely won’t because it has to set up all the panel transitions into their format.

    There’s at least 2 apps that will let you put your existing books onto your phone though, ComicBookLover and ComicZeal

  13. i’ve got comic-device fatigue, thank god I just buy the real stuff, or I’d rip my arms off.

  14. @dccampo
    box 13 is pretty good! That’s one of the reasons I prefer comix, I have yet to pay for a digital comic so the only thing I care about is free content.

  15. Marvel’s Digital Comics program kicks everyone’s ass and is much cheaper.  Don’t know why iFanboy never, ever talks about it?  Marvel’s ruled it for a long time now.

  16. Because it’s not on a mobile device, which is what this is piece is about. However, there are now Marvel comics on some of the apps mentioned above.

  17. Yeah, I’m sure I prefer iverse. Justs works better. is better too.

  18. I’m waiting for a program that I can use on both my home computer and the iPad. Much like iTunes songs are kept on my computer for backup, organizing and such. Imagining making your own playlist or whatever for events or crossovers.

    I don’t play on buying an iPad until they unlock the pressure sensitivity for drawing functions. So to have a program on my computer where I can buy comics now would be great knowing there’ll be a future release for tablet viewing. 

    According to Longbox’s website their iPad release will have a sync function.

    But all in all, its who ever gets all the major publishers on one program. I find it odd that the largest shareholder of Marvel Comics (now Disney), Steve Jobs didn’t think to include this in the iBooks section of the device. 

  19. It’s not odd at all, Marvel comics (as a whole) is worth peanuts to Steve Jobs.  It’s not like he can just unilaterally say "THERE SHALL BE MARVEL BOOKS ON THE IPAD", there’s a whole chain of command and he isn’t involved in any day to day operations of Disney as far as I know.

  20. @ericwilder Is better?  There’s only 3 comics on it so far and while it looks promising it’s really nowhere near as sophisticated as Panelfly, Comixology’s app or iVerse yet.

  21. I haven’t been impressed with any of these apps so far. Really disliked in particular. I think the splintering of comics between all these different apps is irritating and until all the problems are ironed out and there is a single Diamond/Apple distributor for digital comics I’m gonna stick with the real stuff.

  22. @gobo I must be doing somthing wrong. For me, Panelfly seemed no different than reading a comic through the iPod photo app. Liked the way and iverse feature each panel or full page (particularly iverse). Still, none of these technologies have surplanted the effectiveness of print, IMHO.

  23. @KickAss There is a lot to like about Marvel’s Digital Comics Unlimited, particularly the selection, but I ultimately cancelled my subscription because of a lack of a mobile option. Being tied to my laptop or desktop just don’t fit for my reading habits.

    As for mobile readers, I do prefer PanelFly. My only complaint (and this is partially a Marvel issue) would be that they heavily promote $.99 Marvel comics, but that seems to only be for the first several issues of an arc, then they switch to $1.99.  I’m not sure if $1.99 is a low enough price point for older comics, when I can find a trade with a 6 issue arc for around the same price per issue.

    This is pure speculation, but I wonder if Marvel is intentionally keeping the mobile comic cost high, to make Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited seem like a better value.

  24. Thanks Mike!

    I’ve been using the Comixology app for a few months now and as a mobile comic reader, I think it really works great and has a better selection currently than Panelfly (both in Marvel and others like Image/Boom). But I’ve definitely stopped buying stuff lately just because I feel tied to reading it only the iPhone and would prefer files that I can read on mobile devices and on my computer.

    I do have to say that trying the Panelfly app out, the layout and general user interface is tons sexier than Comixology.

  25. @Kwok — Agreed on both counts. I tested Panelfly and the UI is much better. MUCH better. But I can’t beat the  content — particularly FREE content — on Comixology, thus far. Anyone try ComicZeal? I had a friend say he liked it, but I wanted to hear more before purchasing, as it’s a pay app.

  26. @daccampo I’ve used ComicZeal for a while. I think the UI is a bit clumsy and the synching of files could use some improvement, but since there aren’t many programs that do what it does, it’s probably the prime option. …played a bit more with the Panelfly reader. Man, I REALLY like the interface. So far though, I think I like the Comixology Store UI a bit more. I feel like it’s easier to find comics on there.

  27. i’ve been trying to buy this app ever since i heard it had Marvel comics, but for some reason it’s not available in Canada. I though the App store was international but i guess not…

  28. Yeah, none of the apps have Marvel books in Canada, even the apps that are available here like Comixology and iVerse.


  29. while these apps are neat, what i really want to see are comics available directly through the new iBooks store. I think that’s the only real feasible way to grow the market. Someone who i casually interested in trying out comics won’t be bothered to download a seperated app (or in some cases, multiple apps) to try one comic. Why can’t they just try to partner directly with Apple and upload them on this new store? why does it HAVE to have these apps?

  30. I think they’ll be able to as long as they can get a comic into ePub format, but iBooks isn’t bundled with the iPad so people will have to download the app anyway.

  31. Man, why doesn’t iFanboy ever mention Marvel’s Digital Comics Unlimited?

    Other than that entire article I wrote about it, I mean.

  32. @jimksi — thanks for making me burst out laughing.

    @mikegraham6 – great point. I assume that we’ll see a Magazine store on the iPad before we see a comic book store…but someday..

  33. As I have said before my lcs guys are awesome and have turned me on to so many books i would miss that in the digital realm. I mean the Internet is helpful but i much prefer my recs from people who I know and with my lcs sweet discount (25% on everything in the store except quarter books) digital at 1.99? I’ll pass

  34. $1.99 is still just too much to pay for a digital comic. I’l pay the extra dollar for the floppy.

  35. I would love to check this out. Maybe it will be available in Canada soon…