Everything I did wrong when I tried to make a digital comic file

As promised! Wow, where to begin.

First off I will start off by saying this is referring to creating a .mobi file with the Kindle Comic Creator to be used as a kindle book for sale on Amazon. I made digital files for Comixology and IndyPlanet as well, but all that involved was sending them a .zip file of nice huge .tiff images and they do they rest!

…not so with Kindle.

Now, before I dive in to the comedy of errors that has been my past two days, let me share some links:

And now on to my list of gaffes.

1) I tried to use Kindle Panel View.

Now, this might be a good idea for some comics. What I didn’t know is that if your comic needs to use double-page spreads (say you have splash images that take up 2 pages) YOU CAN’T DO THIS.

Other problems with Panel View: you have to manually drag to select all your panels because panel detect ONLY works if you have black bordered panels separated with a clean white gutter. If you have a black or dark gutter, or a background image behind your panels, or inset panels, forget it.

Worse yet was the dragging functionality for selection: After selecting my panels I had to then go back and re-drag to specify the “zoom” area of every single panel. So I had to do the same thing twice, for every panel…otherwise when someone used Panel View they would get tiny little arbitrary slices of each panel and that was it.

And if that weren’t bad enough, it’s incredibly hard to drag those panels in the first place…they constantly keep snapping back into place if you don’t click outside them in the exact right way, and half the time it won’t even let you drag at all anyway because the drag area is so incredibly small. My wrists after a 42 page comic are SHOT.

2) God help you if you need to change Panel View on/off after you’ve started.

Because…you can’t! You’d better darn well know whether you want to do Panel View or Double Page Spreads (and remember this is EITHER/OR) before you start. If you end up having to change this, you get to start a whole new file! Lucky you! (Lucky me after I found out you can’t have double page spreads with Panel View.)

3) FILE SIZE

Turns out that even though you’re technically allowed to use PNG and TIFF files for your images…no. No, it must be JPG/JPEG and only JPG. Because your images can only be 800kb or smaller and your mobi file had better darn well be under 50mb if you don’t want Amazon to slap a big ugly (well it’s not big I guess, but it looks scary and foreboding) warning on your sales page saying “Due to large file size, this book may take longer than usual to download.” YUCK!

Worse, for those of you selling a comic for $1.99, you can’t do this unless it’s 50mb or less. (I’ve also heard that $0.99 books must be 3mb or less.)

The only way to achieve this is pretty much to use JPGs. I, of course, tried non-lossy file formats like TIFF and PNG first…can you say 2GB file??

4) …Except the cover file is different!!

Yes, the cover file and only the cover file can be larger in dimension than all your comic page files…and you actually NEED to use the dimensions they give you [1563×2500] because otherwise it’ll look all jacked up on the device. Well la~de~dah!! …at least you can update the cover image without making a new .mobi file, but I suspect you have to delete the old cover image from your folder or it may refuse to keep the update.

5) How in heck do I get my double page spread???

After I was on my second or seventh or eightieth new mobi file (had to remove panel view, then had to reduce the size of individual pages) I did the whole “double page spread” thing and thought I had it made. But when I went to preview it, it was still in portrait only displaying single pages!! Now, to go back a bit, when you start making your file in Kindle Comic Creator, you have to pick Portrait, Landscape, or Unlocked. …except, no matter what you say, you have to pick Unlocked if you want your double-page spread to work at all.

kindle comic creator dialog box

The good news is, if you selected Portrait or Landscape instead, this can be changed.

6) What can’t be changed is the canvas size. Time for another new mobi file!

Below the Portrait/Landscape/Unlocked options you’ll notice there’s “canvas size” dimensions to pick. ONCE THESE ARE SET THEY ARE IN STONE. Thus, if you were perhaps to get distracted by a late-night episode of Perry Mason (the original black and white series naturally) and did NOT switch these babies around to reflect Portrait as Opposed to Landscape, or Landscape as opposed to Portrait, you will have to REDO EVERYTHING LATER!

This became an issue because the “Kindle for PC” I downloaded from Amazon won’t let me rotate the virtual Kindle. Thus, I couldn’t see that when you rotate it, your double-page spreads show up. I panicked. Did this mean that I actually needed my dimensions to be in landscape mode, reflecting the size of two pages, and then two pages would populate in the preview like they were supposed to???

NO.

kindle landscape capture

Nope! Kindle defaults to displaying one page at a time in your selected mode. Therefore, if you have traditional (Portrait) comic pages and you put it in Landscape, you will still only get one page displayed at a time but now there will be a VAST SEA OF NOTHINGNESS on either side. AND you will no longer have access to the Double-Page Spread option that you desperately need for your splash pages. Yeah, THAT was worth making the 10th mobi file or so to find out…

7) So in other words, preview your comic using Kindle Previewer, NOT Kindle for PC.

It actually lets you flip the blasted thing, and then you will be comforted to see your double-page spreads do in fact exist and were not just a madman’s dream. They let you download Kindle Previewer when you’re making your book! It also comes bundled with Kindle Comic Creator but you may prefer the separate version.

the double page spread on kindle previewer

It really existed after all! *SOB* …I forgot which mobi file is the right one by this point, where did I save it…?

8) Hey, so about that pricing and description…

Yes, admittedly after all that I flaked out and just slapped a random price on my book without double-checking what prices I had set in other online venues. AND I neglected to use the book description field to talk in-depth about the book or include a link back to my website. More Amazon Bookshelf edits!!!!

9) To summarize, what I SHOULD HAVE DONE.

To get low file sizes, use JPG files no greater than 1280px on the largest side. The exception is your cover, which should be 1563X2500px. Also, have a portrait-oriented cover for a portrait-oriented comic, and a landscape-oriented cover for a landscape-oriented comic, or you will run into trouble.

To achieve Double-Page Spread in order to preserve splash pages, turn Panel View OFF, select the UNLOCKED orientation and set your canvas size to the dimensions of a single comic page. Don’t save until you’re certain your settings are perfect or you’ll be making a new file!! Preview in the actual Amazon Previewer, not Kindle for PC.

If you use Panel View, remember Double-Page Spread and “Unlocked” (ability to rotate) orientation will not be an option for you. It’s best to use Panel View for comics with very pronounced, simple panels on a white background so you can use the “auto-detect panels” as much as possible. If you must draw panels, ensure that the zoom for each panel is selected properly. Have someone burly massage your wrists afterwords and offer you chocolate and spirits.

Preferably someone like PERRY MASON

 

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24 thoughts on “Everything I did wrong when I tried to make a digital comic file

  1. Oh my God. And I thought creating “regular” Kindle e-books was a nuisance! I do NOT envy the hassles you comic creators have to go through!!

    Great post, Heather! I’m sure other artists will be grateful to learn from YOUR mistakes rather than having to make their own.

    1. Thanks Lauren!! I don’t envy you your experiences formatting e-books…I’ve read through bits and pieces of the guidelines and it gave me the heebie-jeebies.

  2. Agreed! Thank you so much for this post. I’m working on a Kindle version of a children’s picture book — and your post saved me (and solved) many headaches!

  3. One question. When I view my spreads on Kindle for PC, my artwork gets messed up: it views like it would if it were “selected” in a pdf document…kind of like an x-ray version of the art. Did you see that issue?

      1. Thanks – I have the Amazon development team looking into the issue. From what I can read, the proliferation of devices and OS makes the whole thing messy. Even still – Kindle Comics is a gift to the book design community. Bone simple.

      2. Agreed, I think it’s still a great free service for comic artists to take advantage of. It’ll be interesting to see how the whole process evolves since they’ve recently acquired Comixology. Definitely let me know what came of the developer team’s efforts!

  4. Thank you so much for this post. I have been beating my head against the wall trying to get my comic built. I am glad to know that I wasn’t the only one who had to start over many times just to correct single mistakes. Ugh. I still can’t get the margins right and have blank spots on the tops and bottoms of my pages, but at this point I just can’t fuss with it any more. Thanks again for taking the time to write this post!

    1. I know how you feel buddy!! I can only hope our subsequent go-arounds will get progressively easier as we get more used to the program and/or as the program evolves.

  5. Hi Heather!
    I found your site on my search for answers. Great article and thanks for sharing your tribulations with this frustrating program. You’ve answered one of my concerns which is that you can’t change the resolution after the fact. I’m hoping that I don’t have to redo my work still. My other problem was that the panels in my graphic novel didn’t pop up when I tested it in Kindle Previewer. I don’t actually own a Kindle to really test it. I wonder if this is normal or did I miss a setting somewhere? I did have panel view on but once I was completed my work, it tested fine within the program but not in the previewer. My book is huge : ( I had to take a 200 page pdf and convert it into a comic book. 5 hours later, the panels don’t pop!

    1. I feel your pain. I finally gave up on having my panels pop. I also was fortunate to have a friend who had a Kindle and she looked at the comic on it for me…sadly I found out through her that my comic is harder to understand on models that do not have color! So it can be very frustrating.

      I think in the future I’ll only go through the trouble with black and white comics that have exclusively rectangular panels and no splash pages, but I don’t know if I’d even be likely to make such a comic! Usually I can’t resist doing unusual panels, splash pages or selective color at some point.

      On the bright side, Amazon has acquired Comixology. This should hopefully mean that any titles creators get on Comixology will be converted to Kindle by either Comixology and/or Amazon rather than by the creator, and save us a lot of work while increasing the availability of our titles. Comixology is a non-exclusive distributor so you can use them alongside any other publishers you wish as long as you have non-exclusive agreements with all of them. They’re a lot easier to submit to, the process just takes time.

      1. Hi Heather!
        Thanks for your reply. I’ll do the same and have a kindle friend test the book. Except for colour covers, the rest of the book is in black & white so hopefully, they’ll pop in both Kindle Paperwhite and Fire. Perhaps its just the previewer that is wonky. Thanks for the tip on Comixology – I’ll look into it next.
        Have a great weekend!

  6. Fantastic post. Thank you so much. I’ve been doing all my children’s books using a convoluted process that’s been working fine – until Kindle changed generations of readers and didn’t make them backwards compatible! So now, I’m off to learn this program, and have only made it up to page 27 of the 60+ page user’s guide before getting a splitting headache. Your article is really enlightening and much appreciated.

    By the way, on all my color ebooks, I make sure to put in the book description on the Amazon page “Best read on a full-color device” – you may want to do the same.

    Thanks again for being a trooper and for sharing your experience. I’ve bookmarked this!

  7. Great post. I’m actually thinking about using the Kindle Comic Creator to create a children’s book because the graphics, text, etc, need to be in very specific places (it can reflow like a text novel). I’ve been playing around with the settings. Even though I create my page images at 1280×800, I still have bars on the sides of the image (left and right). I can’t seem to get the image to fill the device container. Any thoughts on why that is? I’m also curious how to pair up a printed version of a book with a Kindle (mobi) version. If I use something like CreateSpace for the paperback version and I also have a Kindle version, how does Amazon “link” the two so a visitor can see that both a paperback and Kindle version are available? Thanks for your help!

    1. I have a guess about the bars you’re seeing, it may be due to your e-book being formatted to appear on devices with different screen sizes. The comic creator may be trying to insure that none of your important visual information is lost, so on some sizes instead of stretching or cropping your image, there might be be extra space around your page instead. (My personal guess.)

      As for linking your kindle book to your print version, if the print version is being sold through Amazon I would imagine there’s a way to link them within the site. If not, I’d contact Customer Service about it. If you’re selling a print book outside of Amazon, I’d simply use your Book Description to add a link to it. Something at the bottom like “For More of my work, here’s my website:” would be fine and wouldn’t sound like you’re trying to direct a customer away from Amazon, but the link you feature could be for the landing page to your print book.

      I hope everything goes well for you! Since Amazon acquired Comixology I’m probably going to start focusing the brunt of my comic e-book self-publishing efforts there, since I greatly prefer their submission process. Yours being a children’s book on the other hand, I think Amazon Kindle is definitely the preferable outlet to employ since people are going to be looking for “classic” books on Amazon and comic books on Comixology. My children use plenty of Amazon kids’ books and there’s plenty of space around the pages in many cases, so I don’t think your formatting is going to look improper to anyone.

  8. Hiya and thank you for this great post although sorry for the pain you had to put up with. I’m just about to convert my digital comic to the Amazon Comic Creator but a little stumped with the image sizes. It has a default of 1280×800 but most of my images are in a 16.9 format so work out at I think 1280×720 or thereabouts. Am I right in that as long as the width meets the maximum width the height doesn’t matter so much?

    Thanks for any suggestions you can offer!

    Cheers

    Jay

    1. I would tend to agree that the width is what you need to worry about most since its natural for people to scroll up and down, and to ignore “letterboxes” for that matter. I’d be surprised if that doesn’t work out for you. If not though, I’d recommend simply increasing Canvas Size with the background color being white or black (whatever looks least intrusive with your comic) on each of your comic pages and making them the correct height that way. Depending on what image editing program you’re using, you may even be able to automate the process so it doesn’t take you forever. Regardless, good luck and I hope it turns out great!

      1. Sorry for the late reply, but thank you very much for the quick reply you gave me and the advice. Comic is nearly ready for launch and your trials and errors have really helped us in getting this prepped for Amazon

        Cheers

        Jay

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