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App Smart

Transform your photos into comic strips

The way a comic book artist can convey so
much emotion, drama and narrative with just a
few simple lines has always amazed me. Now, if you want to put a comic strip together and provide your own drama and emotion, there are many mobile apps that can do the basic artwork for you.

Comic Life

$5 on iOS

Of the comic book apps I’ve used, Comic Life, $5 for an iOS version, has the most features and works best on an iPad because of the bigger screen.

Continue reading below

The app’s main trick is taking images that you’ve snapped with your device’s camera, applying effects to them, and adding art on top to create a traditional-looking comic strip.

Because the app relies on your photos to create stories, you don’t need any drawing skills to get a good result.

After opening the app, you tap on the + button to create a comic. The app then offers a selection of comic strip templates with different themes, like wild West, futuristic, or moody black and white. The templates are prepopulated with story cells, space for headlines, and background colors. You can edit all of this as you create your story.

Filling in a story cell is as simple as tapping on the little photo icon to import a photo, then zooming and rotating the photo to fit using familiar multitouch gestures. You then add one of a number of effects that make the image look like an illustration from a comic book, either in color or bold black and white.

After that, it’s just a question of tapping on the buttons to add speech bubbles, or action-word stickers like POW!

When you’re done you can save your comic as an image, print it or share it over social media.

I love the way the app allows you to edit tiny details, from the shape and style of word bubbles to the size and placement of each story cell. Occasionally, the menus are baffling. For example, it seems strange to use an icon to adjust just some image controls while you use different menus for the rest.

Comic Strip It Pro

$1 on Android

Comic Strip It Pro, a $1 Android app, is a similar. There is also a free version. Like Comic Life, this app is focused on turning photos into a comic strip, but I think I prefer the effects this app uses to make your images look like comics.

Comic Strip It Pro’s interface is more playful to use than Comic Life’s, but it’s equally potent, letting you adjust parameters like speech bubbles and headlines. It too has interface quirks: Who would have imagined that a piggy bank icon with an arrow going into it would mean save? I wish users had a little more control over the layout and shape of story cells, but you can still produce great-looking comic strips with this app if you get creative.

ComicBook!

$2 on iOS and Android

An alternative to both of these apps is ComicBook! by 3dtopo ($2 on iOS and Android).

The app comes loaded with image effects to turn your photos into comics, but many of the effects are available only via in-app purchases. That little trick has annoyed many reviewers on the app stores, given that they have already paid $2.

It also has not been updated on Android for quite some time.

Finally, remember even if you’re not the next Stan Lee, these apps can be a fun way to spice up your family photos before you share them.

Grandma may love to see the grandchildren in a cartoon adorned with Zap! and Kersplat!

Kit Eaton writes on technology for The New York Times.
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