Last week Apple CEO Steven Jobs finally unveiled the iPad, Apple’s much anticipated multimedia computing and reading device, and there was much discussion among comics publishers and fans about what the device will mean for the future of digital comics. PWCW spoke to several publishers to get their reactions to Apple’s latest and coolest new computing device.

Indeed publishers we contacted were excited about the convenience the device offers for reading graphical content—full color, a large screen and a powerful, fast processor—as well as the opportunity it provides to view digital comics at an appropriate size and with layouts more or less intact. Top Shelf publisher Chris Staros said, “It's probably going to have a significant effect over the long term, as many of the things we publish can now be read in a comparable size to the actual physical books.” Top Shelf is already at work on applications for the iPod and the iPad and Staros believes the device will spur sales of physical graphic novels, noting that the “art object nature of graphic novels will keep them in print for many years to come, and, in fact, it's very possible that the digital delivery of them may even increase the demand for printed versions. Time will tell.”

Abrams’ ComicsArts executive editor Charles Kochman spoke for many in the industry, describing the iPad as an advance over the proliferation of black & white e-ink readers like the Nook and the Kindle that don’t support color. “For those predisposed to reading electronically, the iPad sure seems to be the future of e-reading,” Kochman said. “The Kindle always felt limited: a lack of color and a standardized typeface seems antithetical to my ideal reading experience and counter intuitive to the careful consideration our designers give to the books we publish. The iPad seems to satisfy all of those concerns and offers the best of what I love about my iPhone and my Mac.”

While Gonzalo Ferreyra, Viz Media v-p sales and marketing, pointed to Apple’s ability to create appealing products, “I can't remember seeing something that I so urgently wanted since I saw the first G.I. Joe with Life-Like Hair commercials in the early seventies,” he also emphasized that, “as it relates to digital publishing of illustrated books, the iPad opens up tremendous possibilities. This appears to be the device that will allow users to carry a library of manga around with them any where and every where.” Over at IDW Publishing, Jeff Weber also focused on the iPad’s ability to display comics effectively, “It's a wonderful format for full-color comics. The screen size is close enough to print size that users can enjoy full pages as well as the customized panel-by-panel experience that they have had on the iPhone or iPod touch. While no one device will completely transform the industry, the iPad is potentially a defining element. Am I going to buy one myself? Of course.”

Top Cow publisher Filip Sablik said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the iPad would be a “game changer” for digital comics. “That remains to be seen. What Apple has done incredibly well in the last decade is take existing technology--laptop, mp3 player, smart phone--and made it really sexy and really easy to use. Right now it looks like the iPad might follow those to pillars of Apple's success.” Boom! Studio publisher Ross Richie said he expects the iPad to fit nicely into most publishers ongoing digital initiatives, “Boom!'s always been forward-thinking about digital, from our MySpace downloads to our early-adopter iPhone deals with Comixology and iVerse. We've done well with those deals and are looking forward to expanding in this space as well! There's room in the world for our beloved print and digital.”

Indeed a number of publishers said that the iPad, along with a wide variety of digital publishing platforms, must be a part of a publisher’s overall digital publishing strategy. Viz’s Ferreya emphasized that, “given our relationship with our licensors in Japan, any strategy we develop must be global, which poses additional challenges that still need to be addressed with this new technology.” Webber emphasized that IDW already offers its comics on the iPhone and iPod as well as through the App store and the Sony PSP as well as over a variety of smartphone networks. He said that the iPad, “along with all the new e-reader devices, is integral to our plans. We intend to make IDW comics available on all digital platforms. IDW will offer new versions of our apps customized for the iPad on the day it comes out. The new Apple iBook offering also may provide a new distribution model. Digital comic fans likely will have several ways to buy and collect their books.”

First Second editorial director Mark Siegel said, “We’ve seen strides in the reading experience on iPhones with the likes of ComiXology. In time, the iPad could offer a fine platform for graphic novels I’m sure. Whether the book publishing world is forced into an iTunes [retail] scenario, time will tell. Readers will tell.” Top Cow’s Sablik said he planned to, “work with as many professional digital distribution partners as possible,” and pointed to Top Cow content on ComiXology, iVerse, and Wowio platforms with more slated for Panelfly, Art Book, Longbox and “Right now, no one distribution system has emerged as a market leader, but each stream may add up to a decent revenue stream,” Sablik said. “The main goal right now is to draw in new potential customers. Hopefully a portion of those new customers will also buy hard copies of trades and hard cover.”

Most publishers spoke in terms of planning for a new era of digitally distributed comics along with continuing to grow the traditional market for print comics in a variety of formats. “As publishers, I don’t think we have to worry about e-readers replacing books or comics,” Kochman said. “There are still always going to be readers and collectors who want the real thing. I just gave a friend of mine a handful of graphic novels for his birthday. I can’t imagine gifting him with e-versions. It would have seemed chintzy and cheap.”