Review: Comic Life Deluxe Edition - Macenstein

Review: Comic Life Deluxe Edition

Posted by Helper Monkey

Growing up, I remember my brothers and I constantly hiding from my father’s camera. He seemed to always be lurking in the shadows, ready to snap candids of us, which more often than not, ended up being shots of us shielding our faces like celebrities caught cheating on our wives by the paparazzi. Invariably, we would never see these millions of photos. They ended up in a thousand shoeboxes in some closet, never to be seen again. My brothers and I always thought this was a huge waste of time and money, and vowed to never do the same thing to OUR kids.

And then we had kids.

I’m ashamed to admit at the moment my iPhoto library holds over 12,000 shots, 90% of which are my kids (and that’s after weeding out the bad ones!). And for the most part, in my iPhoto library is where those photos will stay, never to be seen again. I reluctantly admit I am the modern day equivalent of my father, and iPhoto is my closet full of shoeboxes.

Recently our kids have been getting into seeing themselves in home movies and such. Last month I wrote about the new slideshow features in Toast 7 (see review) and how I found them to be a huge timesaver in creating slideshows that I could put on DVD for the kids watch. Well, this week I once again am writing about a great way to actually DO something with those thousands of digital photos I have clogging up every spare gigabyte of hard drive space. And once again, the key here is to be able to quickly and easily make something worth looking at, without investing time or huge sums of money.

When I first saw Comic Life by Freeverse last April, I thought it was maybe the stupidest program I had ever seen. I am a graphic artist by trade, and I thought, “Oh how lame. I could do that in 2 seconds. Who needs that?� Well, apparently I do. Sure, if you know what you’re doing in Illustrator or Photoshop you could lay out a great looking comic page, but go ahead and try it, and be sure to keep track of your HOURS. Sometimes having a unique tool specifically designed for a certain task works far better than forcing a bigger program to do something it wasn’t designed for. Many times graphics professionals have to remind themselves that not everyone in the world has $1000 image applications installed on their systems. But even if they did, I would still recommend they check out Comic Life if they want to have some fun with their digital photos.

(above: Comic Life Deluxe Edition’s interface allows you to import images directly from your iPhoto library)

Basically, Comic Life is an application designed specifically to take your photos or illustrations, and turn them into comic books for sharing with family and friends. Comic Life handles this task very well, and quite a bit of thought has gone into making the process as quick and painless as possible. The manual claims you can create your first page in 5 minutes, and they are not far off.

The Comic Life Workflow

The typical Comic Life workflow starts with figuring out what type of comic you would like to make. There are 2 basic types of comic books. The first is planned out before hand, with photographs taken with the express purpose of telling a story. The second is a comic composed by trying to build a narrative from existing photos. The planned layout can be quite fun, especially if you get the kids into it. This Halloween we just happened to have two superheroes at our house, so the comic-theme worked well for us. A large part of the fun here was setting up the shoot, and letting the kids get creative.

Import Your Photos

Once you have your photos in hand, the next step is importing them into Comic Life. Comic Life can take images directly from your iPhoto library and albums, which is a great timesaver. You are not tied to iPhoto, however. Images can also be imported from other folders on your computer by simply dragging a photo from your hard drive into an empty comic panel. You can also take stills directly from FireWire cameras connected to your computer, so users of Apple’s iSight can quickly grab a snapshot and import it directly into Comic Life. Regardless of how you got them there, once you have imported your images, they can be rotated, scaled, and moved within the panels to accommodate the composition of your photos. I would have preferred a more universal implementation of the “rotate� tool here, as Comic Life’s method is not quite as intuitive or precise as I would like.

It is a good idea to correct your images before importing them into the program, as Comic Life has no real image editing features to speak of. Also, be aware that when you import a photo into Comic Life, it is actually copied into the program itself. This means if you deicide to go back and remove redeye or paint out some weird guy in the background of a shot using iPhoto or Photoshop, you’ll have to re-import the shot, as there is no live updating. This honestly isn’t a huge deal since importing a file and reposition it takes only seconds, but it is something to keep in mind before you start laying too many panels out.

While you may not have actual image editing functionality in Comic Life, you DO have access to a wide arrange of filters you can apply to your images in order to make them look more “comic book-ish�. Some work better than others, but if your shots are well lit, your should be able to find some pretty cool effects.

Laying Out Your Masterpiece

You can lay out panels in any way you wish, or you may choose one of the many included panel layout templates. You are free to change the templates to suit your needs, and you can then save your layouts as custom templates. The panels have a nice selection of customizable options, such as border color, shadows, fill colors, and shapes.

Adding Text

Adding text to Comic Life is a lot of fun, and this is where your images really start to come to life and take on the look and feel of a real comic book. All the comic book standards are here. You can add speech and thought bubbles, caption boxes, and special accent “POW� words. These too have many options for customization.

Once you have your pages laid out, the next step is to decide how you intend to share them. You could simply print them, of course, but Comic Life can also:
• export your pages as images (Tiffs, JPGs, etc.)
• export directly into iPhoto
• export as HTML
• publish to .mac accounts
• export as a QuickTime

If you plan to export as a QuickTime, it is a good idea to change the page size to a video friendly aspect ratio before you begin your project so nothing gets cropped off when viewed on a television. You can import your QuickTime into iMovie for further editing, and then burn DVDs to share with friends. There is no option for codecs or scaling in the QuickTime export dialog box. It is locked down to Animation Compression, with only a JPG quality slider available. This makes nice looking movies (and is likely intentional to “idiot proof� the export process), but it means if you want to use a different compression scheme to save space you’ll have to use another program to do so.

(above: Kids will love seeing themselves in a comic book)

The version of Comic Life we reviewed was Comic Life Deluxe Edition. The main difference between regular Comic Life and the Deluxe Edition (besides the Deluxe comes in a box) is the Deluxe Edition includes a full color quick start manual, and a bunch more fonts, styles and templates.


Comic Life is a pretty specific niche product. I think its success will depend largely on just getting the word out and showing people samples. There are probably very few people sitting around at home right now wishing they could somehow easily turn their photographs into a comic book. It just isn’t something that occurs to your average Johnny Lunchpail. However, if you have kids and a digital camera, this program is a total blast. I could also see this being used by high school age kids for a variety of school assignments, or just screwing around with friends’ photos by adding speech bubbles with things they would never say. Another potential use for Comic Life might be to lay out a nice looking storyboards before shooting a video project.

If you already own Comic Life, I doubt the Deluxe Edition is going to make you run out to the store, although the additional goodies are nice. However, I think this is a great program for the digital photographer who wants a fun way to share photos of the kids with their friends and family. The kids will really enjoy seeing themselves in comic book form, and it is a great vehicle for stimulating creative play.

• Fun, easy to use
• Can use images directly from iPhoto
• Wide range of output possibilities

• No native image correction tools
• No live updating of imported images
• Rotating images is bit harder than it should be
• Not enough control over QuickTime output

Price: $29.95 (existing users can contact Freeverse support for a 50% off upgrade coupon)
As an application 8 out of 10
As an update 6.5 out of 10

2 Responses to “Review: Comic Life Deluxe Edition”
  1. Me Grimlock says:

    That’s pretty sweet.
    Much cooler than I thought.

  2. Wolfman Mac says:

    How does the QuickTime export work exactly? Does it do moves on frames, or just show the whole page for a set period of time?

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