If you’ve been looking at some of the comics creators who are publishing comics on Substack and wondering, “Am I going to have to read these things in my email?” then wonder no more — Substack has announced plans to make their comics available through Panels, an iOS comics reader app.
“Readers can have their comics subscriptions appear directly in the Panels app simply by linking their Substack account to the app,” Substack’s post reads. “Readers using Panels will also be able to easily download comics, save their progress, and enjoy a richly featured and customizable reading experience. Panels Premium users will have even more reading options, such as panel view and vertical scroll.”
I wasn’t familiar with the app, so I downloaded it this morning. It’s a very simple, clean app. I have some PDF comics sitting out in DropBox, mostly preview copies supplied by different creators and publishers, and since their iOS page mentions that you can import files from places like DropBox and Google Drive, I thought that would be an easy place to start.
It allowed me to access any files already downloaded to my iPad that were sitting in DropBox, but I also found where I could add a service for importing files directly, which I assume means that Panels will pull in comics from my DropBox cloud account. I say “assume” because this was a premium feature and required a paid account. To get one costs $1.49 a month or $11.49 a year. It’s not a huge cost, but given that most of my digital comics consumption is through comiXology already, I don’t know if I’ll be using this app much and didn’t feel the need to pay for it just yet. Unless of course I decide to subscribe to some of these premium Substack lists, which begs the question — will Substack premium subscribers have to become premium Panels subscribers to enjoy the “integration” that Substack says will roll out in a few weeks? I guess we’ll wait and see.
The first comic I chose to import and read was Kill All Monsters, by Michael May and Jason Copland. It’s in a “double-page” format, according to the message that popped up on my screen when I opened it, and that also is a premium feature, but the app was kind enough to let me try out that feature for 24 hours. And the comic read well through the reader, much better than the PDF comics I sometimes download into the Apple Books app, so my next task will be figuring out if I can easily import them over (without having to pay anything). I was also able to import in a comic in the “standard” format, The Only Living Boy #2 by David Gallaher and Steve Ellis.
Anyway, the app seems like it’ll offer a good experience for reading comics, and I know this answers one of my burning questions about how we’ll be able to read them. Jonathan Hickman was, I believe, the first of this new wave of Substack creators to share a comic via his newsletter; it reads fine on the Substack website, but having to scroll through it in email wasn’t the best experience. These comics aren’t really being made for that sort of scrolling experience — not like Tapas or Webtoon, where the scrolling is the feature and part of the storytelling. So having them available via a reader on my iPad is only going to help with the overall experience.