How do you take an 11" by 17" comic book spread and put it on a small screen? If you're the people behind Sony's Digital Comics, you listen to the concepts in Scott McCloud's seminal book, Understanding Comics.
Sony introduced its Digital Comics service on the PlayStation Portable back in November 2009. For around $1.99 each, you can download a single comic book and "watch" it on your PSP using the unique Autoflow interface. Sony's producer on the project, Adriana Eyzaguirre, explained that it was important that the integrity of the comic remained intact, and that they took inspiration from one of the best known sources for describing how the human eye reads comic books.
"We actually started by reading Scott McCloud's books like Understanding Comics, and that turned out to be extremely useful," she told Edge. "A lot of other comic reader systems start out by cutting the panel to fit the screen. We looked at that, and we knew it was something we really didn't want to do. Not just because we had Scott McCloud in our heads saying, 'The space between the panels is really important,' but because when an artist or an author develops a comic, they put a lot of meaning into how they lay out the page."
Eyzaguirre is a fan of comics herself and spent a lot of time trying to perfect the Autoflow design with a healthy respect for the medium of comics. "There's a lot of expression and narrative in the page layout alone," she said. "We wanted to keep pretty true to that, and we didn't want to cut in and out of the panels just so they could fit. That's why we start each page by showing the double-page spread."
Who's the best candidate to decide how the page flows? The artist themselves. "We've asked the publishers to do their own authoring on AutoFlow, because they understand their own comics better than we do," she said. Sony provides a simple tool for the comic's authors to script how the page is viewed by the digital customer.