Making a comic on iBooks Author

in My Process

Photo of "Kind of Chinese in Barcelona"

I was really interested in checking out what the recently-released Apple iBooks Author could do, so I decided to use it to port one of my existing comics over to the iPad with it. I love the way the final result looks and interacts, but before that, I wanted to share a bit of what I learned.

First, if you Google iBooks Author you will probably read about its limitations around publishing and selling. Despite the hype, it’s actually very straightforward and within Apple’s App Store philosophy:

  • If you make an iBook (file extension .ibooks) with iBooks Author, you can only sell it through Apple.
  • If you wish to offer the iBook for free (as I have), you are free to do with it what you will.
  • You are free to re-use the contents of the book elsewhere as long as you don’t use iBooks Author to make an .ibooks file.

Second, iBooks Author was made specifically to enable teachers to make textbooks on the iPad. Of its ten templates you must choose from, there is no blank canvas. Template choices range from “Botany” to “Elementary Algebra,” though there are some commercial templates out there. Additionally, iBooks Author makes it easy to drop in large chunks of text attached to diagrams, movies and even mini-questionnaires. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to create a comic in it. For example, you cannot create discrete pages for the iPad’s Portrait Mode; it must be an infinitely long scrolling page. You can however, as I did, lay out pages in Landscape Mode and limit the book to Landscape-view only. Despite these limitations, iBooks Author is still a solid piece of software that feels like it came out of the iWorks suite.

I took my favorite chapter from a comic I made in 2010 (Adéu Barcelona Catalunya) and set it loose within iBooks Author:

  • I had to gut much of the template I started from because I wasn’t making a textbook.
  • I was able to directly import my drawings stored in Photoshop files (.psd).
  • I was working in Landscape Mode and I chose to place on panel per page, rather than try to squeeze in any multi-panel page layouts.
  • To maximize iPad compatibility, I stayed within iBooks Author‘s recommended fonts, which was not ideal.

The entire process took roughly six hours.

Although the iBooks Author does not let you script or add in custom interactions (as I had initially hoped), I would still consider using it again for its speed and ease of use. One of its great features is that it’s able to send iBooks to the iPad for preview with one click, and that alone makes it a worthwhile as a rapid prototyping tool for the iPad.

Oh, and before I forget, here’s the iBook comic I made, Kinda Chinese in Barcelona (3 MB).

Don’t have an iPad? Grab the print-friendly PDF here.

By Jason Li

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