You’ve got a digital camera and take hundreds, maybe thousands, of photos of friends, family, pets and places. Every so often you send them out by email, put them on a CD, post them to Flickr or to your own web page, or print out a selection. Maybe you’ve even tried iPhoto’s book feature. Well, here’s something else you can do with those photos. Make a comic strip!!
This remarkably intuitive program will let a complete beginner make a professional looking comic strip in about 15 minutes flat from an existing stock of iPhoto images. Open the program and you are greeted by a blank page. Drag on a comic strip template of your choice. Meanwhile… your iPhoto library loads on the right hand side. Then… drag and drop your photos into place. Move and resize the photos if necessary. This takes a little practice but is simple once you realise that double-clicking within a pane selects an image. Finally… drag on captions and speech bubbles, and fill with your own witticisms. Pow!! It really couldn’t be simplerâ€¦
The finished product looks very professional because the templates are so well designed. If you want to add more pages to your comic you can, and as you get to know the program you can fiddle around with many of the controls, such as border widths and lettering.
The simplest use of Comic Life is to make a photo story, adding thought bubbles to pictures of your pre-verbal infant reaching for the phone, for example. And I guess that’s what most people will use it for. It’s ideal for making humorous birthday cards for friends or even a my-life-so-far book for an 18 year old. There’s also potential for creating how-to manuals. But this is such a well-rounded program I don’t see why it couldn’t be used to put together a semi-pro comic strip or graphic novel. It would be ideal for story-boarding a film or may even be used by those with a creative bent to make more abstract creations. It just depends on how much time and effort you want to put into the project. If you are prepared to go the extra step of staging photos with the intention of adding captions later, you may be likely to produce more interesting and coherent comics than if you just try to add balloons to pre-existing photos, amusing though that is.
There are many additional features which make Comic Life fun to use. Comic sound effects, for example, accompany drag and drop actions. I guess these will appeal to kids. I find them fun and not at all irritating, probably because I’m pretty immature, but if you don’t like them you can always turn them off. If you’ve got an iSight camera you can use that to import pictures. You can publish to a .Mac account if you have one. You can export or print to a range of formats. People are already sharing their comics on Flickr with the “comiclife” tag. Follow this link to get a taste of the output. In Tiger OSX 10.4, new iPhoto features for applying filters to photos are also integrated into Comic Life. However, I’m still running Panther OSX 10.3.9 so I have yet to check out these new features.
The developers of Comic Life at Plasq are very helpful, which bodes well for future enhancements. I posted a bug (to do with stuck layers) on their message board and within 24 hours I had a reply saying they were working on the problem and then a fix – version 1.1.1 – was emailed to me! One or two people have reported bugs that the Plasq team are still working on. For example, slowness in loading the iPhoto library (which may be connected with file sizes in the iPhoto library). However, on my aging G3 Pismo 500Mhz PowerBook with 1Gb of memory, I have no slowness at all.
In my view Comic Life is one of those rare programs that does something useful that nobody else has thought of and does it very well indeed. It adds a whole new dimension to iPhoto, but is not limited to that. It’s so easy to use that you could add a caption to a photo of your boss and have it circulating round the office faster than he could say “You’re fired Simpson!!” But if you’re really serious about comics, you can put together something very professional looking while eliminating much of the tedium of creating borders, lettering and captions. For professional comic strip illustrators, I imagine this program could be a great help in story-boarding at the very least.
You can download Comic Life from Plasq for a 30-day no-restrictions try out. After 30 days output is watermarked. Comic Life 1.1.1 costs $24.95, in the currency of your choice, from the Plasq website. It used to be $40, I believe, and I think the new price is very good value. When my 30 day testing period is up I fully expect to buy it (and that don’t happen too often round here!). For the moment Comic Life is Mac only although the Plasq crew do have plans for a Windows version. It’s fun, elegant and user friendly, just what you’d expect on a Mac!