“Mosaic confusion” is a wonderful phrase coined by Megaton Man creator Don Simpson to describe the cognitive dissonance that sometimes occurs in readers unfamiliar with comic books. Some may analyze a mosaic of comic panels as a collection of individual images rather than a deliberate, narrative sequence, attempting to leverage the “scan and select” skills they culled from websites, magazines and newspapers (even the comics section).
When I first saw Comixology‘s Guided View™ reading mode for mobile devices, I assumed it was solely a clever means of squishing traditional comics down to a smaller form factor without sacrificing readability. It wasn’t until I received a Kindle Fire that I realized it also counteracts mosaic confusion by negotiating the panel sequence for the viewer. Equivalent features exist in most iOS comics apps (Dark Horse Digital being a personal favorite of mine).
Amazon debuted their own guided reading mode shortly after the launch of the Fire through an exclusive partnership with DC Comics (which got Barnes & Noble pretty riled up), and it’s quite a bit different. I made a short comparison video to demonstrate:
While Comixology’s Guided View kills two birds with one stone, Kindle Panel View doesn’t alleviate mosaic confusion… in fact, it may exacerbate the problem. The Lightbox-style overlay introduces visual complexity, requiring the reader to parse three layers of depth: the focused panel, a gray overlay and the full page. Because the entire page is always visible and transitions are sparse, the mosaic demands a fresh analysis for each and every panel. I’ve never had to think so hard about the act of reading a comic book before.
The Fire is actually a pretty great device for reading comics on the go. My hope is that Amazon improves Kindle Panel View quickly, or that the DC exclusivity deal ends quickly enough to allow books like Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns to be effortlessly enjoyed via competing apps.