The iPad has been toted as the ultimate comic book reader but that doesn’t mean your can’t give it a run for its money with your Kindle. Read on to learn how you can optimize your Manga and comic collection for your Kindle.
Why the Kindle and Why Optimize?
The Kindle has a lot going for it although, in the arena of comic books, it isn’t without some shortcomings. Let’s take a look at reasons why you would want to use the Kindle and invest the time (it’s a very small amount and the process is very easy!) in optimizing your collection.
The Kindle is highly portable. It weighs even less than a single Manga trade paperback book. It has a battery that lasts for days. If you’re already reading all your books on it you’ve probably wished you could easily read your Manga and comics too. The screen size of the Kindle is almost a perfect fit for the height/width ratio of Manga and a pretty darn good fit for comic books. The Kindle has an undocumented but built-in image viewer that is surprisingly robust and keeps track of your place in image collections (just like the main Kindle interface keeps track of pages in a book).
What are some of the shortcomings of using the Kindle for Manga and comics? For Manga, there aren’t many. It’s ideally sized and almost all Manga is grayscale. For comics the lack of color is a bummer (most comics are quite colorful after all) but if you’re looking at price, weight, and portability in comparison to bigger tablet devices like the iPad and the Xoom it’s easier to forgive the Kindle for focusing on books first and Manga/comics only after intrepid tinkers worked out ways to turn the Kindle into a comic viewer. More importantly if you already have a Kindle your cost to try out this experiment is $0 but a new color tablet is $500+.
As far as optimization goes, it’s quite an easy task. Last December we showed you how to hack your Kindle for dead simple screensaver customization. Our method showed you how to custom crop and optimize your screensaver images using Photoshop. How-To Geek reader Insomnic recommended the Manga conversion software Mangle. We decided to perform a simple test to see if working with Mangle was even worth it. We took our entire selection of custom screensavers and ran it through Mangle just to see if the optimization element was as good as everyone claimed. Despite the fact that we had already optimized the images in Photoshop Mangle managed to further shrink the images (with absolutely no noticeable loss in quality) by a full 35%. We put it through further paces with Manga and comics and were just as impressed by the additional features. Read on as we walk you through using Mangle to optimize your screensaver images, Manga, and comic books.
Downloading and Configuring Mangle
Mangle is open source and can run anywhere Python can. You can download a pre-complied and portable Windows version here (we’ll be using it for this guide). You can also download a slightly out-of-date Mac OS X package here or grab the Python source code and compile a fresh version for your OS.
Windows users need simply extract and run the executable to get started. Before we start configuring any settings we suggest making a working directory for Mangle and the files you’ll be manipulating. Take a moment to create your working directory and two sub-folders, Source Images and Output. Copy the image archives or folders you want to optimize into your Source directory. Although we’ve never had any issues with Mangle it’s always best to error on the side of caution and only work with copies. Leave your originals tucked away safely in another directory.
Speaking of directories, Mangle doesn’t unpack archives for you so you’ll need to dump your ZIP or CBZ files (if your comics are packed in them) into an appropriate sub-directory. Once you have done so, drag and drop the image files from the directory onto the Mangle window—alternatively you can use the Add Files or Add Directory button on the Mangle toolbar. You’ll immediately see all the files listed.
Before we start converting, let’s double check our settings. Click on Book –> Options. Here you will find a text box where you can name the comic you’re converting (go ahead and insert the name of the first book you plan on converting now), select your Kindle version (makes sure to pick the right one, especially if you have the larger DX), and then toggle additional settings like if you want to orient the images to match the aspect ratio. Sometimes comic scans will have a two-page spread as a single image, checking the orient images option will make sure they default to best-fit for the Kindle screen.
Before we go any further, scan down the list of files and make sure all the pages are in order. If any are out of order use the green up/down arrows in the Mangle toolbar to shift them in the appropriate direction. You can select multiple images and move them as a unit. Once you’ve checked your settings and your page order it’s time to convert. Click Book –> Export, and select your output directory.
Sit back and relax, it takes Mangle about a second per comic page to process everything. You can use this time to extract other archives you intend to process or to plug in your Kindle with the USB sync cord so it’s ready to go for the later steps.
While we’re waiting for the first batch to finish, it’s a great time to highlight what exactly Mangle is doing. Mangle is a neat little application that runs through a whole laundry list of tasks in order to create a pleasant comic-on-Kindle experience for you. During the processing stage Mangle is cleaning up EXIF data, cropping, rotating, scaling images, switching everything to the specific grayscale system the Kindle uses, and renaming the files so that the Kindle will sequence them properly. The Kindle does a great job handling images but it is very picky about things like strange EXIF data embedded in the images and other little things that you’d never even notice looking at the same images on your computer.
When the export is complete, head over to your Output directory and check it out. You should see a folder with the title you supplied in Mangle and that directory should be filled with PNG files that start at 0000 and progress until your comic runs out of pages.
If this is the only comic you’re converting, go ahead and skip ahead to the next step. Otherwise continue converting your files until you’re ready to copy them to the Kindle.
Copying Comics to Your Kindle
If you haven’t mounted your Kindle already, now is the time to do so. Mount your Kindle and navigate to the root directory—if you haven’t jailbroken your Kindle like we have, things will look slightly different for you as you won’t seen the jailbreak-specific folders. Create a new directory, pictures, in the root directory. Copy the directories from your Output folder into this new pictures folder on your Kindle. In the future you may simply opt to dump the Mangle output right onto the Kindle but we like to have a backup.
Note: The following images were cropped and the contrast was slightly increased for better visibility but were otherwise unaltered.
Once you’ve copied the files, eject your Kindle and turn it on. If you sort your Kindle items by Most Recent First you should see your comics right at the top of the screen. If you don’t, press ALT+Z to rescan your Kindle for images.
Success! Let’s open up the two comics we copied over and take a peek. We selected Scott Pilgrim because the extremely simple and high-contrast line art used in the series is a good indicator of what Manga-style artwork in general will look like and Escape From Wonderland to stand in for the more color/detail heavy American-style of comic artwork. Here’s a page from Scott Pilgrim:
Looks fantastic. It’s easy to read, the line art and dialog bubbles are crisp. If you have a DX things should look even better thanks to the extra screen real estate. The Kindle works incredibly well as a Manga reader thanks to the high-contrast. One thing sharp eyed readers may have noticed, the phantom line in front of Scott’s face in the first panel. Sometimes you’ll run into the faintest of ghost-imaging between pages when using the Kindle as a comic reader. This same ghosting sometimes happens with books but it’s less noticeable as books rarely have such large white spaces as comics do.
Now let’s take a look at Escape from Wonderland:
Given the detail and color saturation of the original artwork, this is a really nice conversion. Dithering is minimal, lines are sharp, nearly all the small detail in the artwork is preserved. The only complaint we can log here is that depending on the comic the conversion from a fully size comic page to a Kindle screen often scrunches up the dialog boxes a bit. If you’re reading on a DX this isn’t a concern at all, but for standard Kindle users it does require the occasional squinting or close-to the-face reading. Over all though we were pleased with the conversion process.
Before we leave our treatment of the Kindle as a comic reader, here are a few handy shortcuts you’ll do well to learn. Before using them make sure to tap the Aa button on your Kindle and ensure that Actual Size is set to No (it must be for the zooming and panning shortcuts to work).
- The Q/W keys zoom in/out respectively. (Use the directional pad to pan around the zoomed in image.)
- The E key resets the zoom to 100%.
- The C key toggles between Actual Size True and Actual Size No.
- The F key toggles to Full Screen mode (which removes the Kindle title bar from the top of the image viewer).
- The R key rotates the image.
Most of the time you’ll likely only use the Full Screen shortcut, but the zoom keys come in handy when trying to read a particularly tiny dialog box.
If you already own a Kindle you have nothing to lose by trying it out as a free Manga/comic reader; We’ll go so far as to say you’ll even be pleased with the results. Have a tip or trick for reading your Manga, comics, and graphic novels on the go? Let’s hear about it in the comments.
Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on Google+ if you'd like.
- Published 05/10/11