How to create an iPad archive of the entire run of Spy magazine in two hours

Using an OS X utility called Google Book Downloader, Andrew Hearst downloaded every issue of the late Spy magazine into his dropbox account, giving him a tablet-ready version of the fantastically funny and much-missed magazine that poked fun at infamous assholes.

Scrolling through the pages of Spy in Google Books using a desktop or laptop web browser isn’t a great reading experience. Luckily, there’s a much better option: Using a Mac desktop app called Google Book Downloader, you can scrape Google Books to create PDFs of many of the publications and books in Google’s archive. (I’m sure there must be Windows apps that do the same thing.)

On a recent weekend afternoon, I used Google Book Downloaderto generate a PDF of every issue from Spy’s heyday, then pulled everything into my Dropbox account to allow me to access the archive from anywhere and any device — primarily my iPad. The whole process took me less than two hours. The filesize of the PDFs ranges from about 25 megabytes to about 50 megabytes, and the quality is quite high; the issues look fantastic on my new iPad’s retina screen. An iPad gives a much better approximation of an actual print-magazine experience than a web browser does, and if you save an issue into a PDF-friendly interface like Amazon’s Kindle app, you can use page thumbnails to navigate. It’s pretty sweet.

You can use Google Book Downloader with other magazines, too. Try Popular Science, August 1927, or Baseball Digest, September 1966, to name just two at random…

Andrew Hearst: How I Created an iPad Archive of the Entire Run of Spy Magazine (The Funny Years) in Two Hours


  1. Dropbox is great for that, but a better tool would be Calibre which not only manages all of your e-book, comics, pdf’s but also hosts them on a webpage. Open up one port and you have access to all of that from anywhere with download links and the ability to add as a source in Stanza (iOS) or Aldiko (Android) see

  2. In the windows version, if you do a custom install, it wants to install something called ‘arrcosine’. Looks a wee bit evil to my eyes. I did install the app without the ‘arccosine’ option.

  3. New iPad! Just wondering if your left hand was slowly being cooked while posing for the photo?

  4. +1 for Calibre, but you can copy your PDFs to the iPad via ITunes, and then view in the iBooks app.

    He’s right to say the iPad 3 gives a much better approximation of an actual print-magazine experience than a web browser does. The pinch and zoom works well, although I haven’t yet found a way to get the pages to turn in the same way as .ibook and .EPUB files. 

    In fact, after you’ve read a few documents on the iPad 3, web based content starts to look slightly odd. I think it’s because iBooks and Kindle in the iPad use a lateral navigation approach (you move through pages left to right), whereas web content tends to use a vertical navigation approach (you scroll down).

  5. Rather amusing in that it’s much simpler to do with linux and android, just use curl to dump the images to a folder, compress the folder to a .cbz and send it to your tablet. Read it with perfect viewer. 

    1. Mac OS X could do that too (OS X and Linux are just unix variants, after all). I hardly think that figuring out Google’s URL scheme, using curl, and compressing is easier though; I know my way around the command line but I’d much rather use a simple GUI program like this any day

  6. If you download as a folder of jpg files, archive the folder, and then rename it from .zip to .cbz, you can view it with most comic reader programs.

  7. I found the 1994 Spy election comic book extra the other day, which had a superhero theme.  Bubba was like fat Elvis in an Evel Knevel jump suit, Hillary wore red spandex and was built like Wonder Woman.   Al Gore was a living tree (“The Wooden Wonder”) while Tipper was “The Hearth Keeper” wearing an apron. Dan Quayle was an angry little fat boy dressed like Robin who was called “Hawk Chick.”

  8. Loved Spy for its shining, intelligent snark.
    Also, nice choice of the ‘or we’ll burn this flag’ cover – a loving tribute to the greatest Nat’l Lampoon cover ever.

  9. Here’s a list of all the ID’s.

    IQ_TRFid5NMC Oct 1986
    IQ_TRFid5NMC Oct 1986
    rAYdP6oNsaEC Nov 1986
    jWahvi4is6oC Dec 1986
    Sk1plvLwjqgC Feb 1987
    qYV4kzaPeysC Mar 1987
    thbLNy63riMC Apr 1987
    UTXxn2wDUtwC May 1987
    71ISaSC-xQwC Jun 1987
    Mqz2cxXtwEQC Aug 1987
    YrwrNwcWJL4C Sep 1987
    VgDtgAXO7pAC Oct 1987
    hEjzFzpVrFUC Nov 1987
    b5xZAHq1P4oC Dec 1987
    crbVcpW49wsC Jan-Feb 1988
    ysvbfXayTMkC Mar 1988
    ERZQBqZ3sToC Apr 1988
    EKiu5c0easYC May 1988
    pWWK7nGpMCsC Jun 1988
    rOMZTwj0rSAC Sep 1988
    cIdMpKduSmkC Oct 1988
    KJly6nVC7qkC Nov 1988
    u6Vy_IgdEvIC Dec 1988
    sxDldJXmXVYC Jan-Feb 1989
    oEQ9G8e_zmQC Mar 1989
    dn1qTsnNKAwC Apr 1989
    xaCC4gI-zJkC May 1989
    NTuIZPmEm9kC Jun 1989
    VdRQYCi-SX8C Jul 1989
    BqJRKl1pipAC Aug 1989
    MBsraeHJRB4C Sep 1989
    PT2PHv62LyUC Oct 1989
    iEcCF1ICLt8C Nov 1989
    dIt-DzlyvCQC Dec 1989
    2bLl-sZm-mYC Jan 1990
    f6LV5WJ5YIEC Feb 1990
    y_HweySB6gAC Mar 1990
    3xaVrHhMQkQC Apr 1990
    Bi3uqXsXXmsC May 1990
    pCfQINJRXRgC Jun 1990
    Tu_Vp4DEqiQC Jul 1990
    0OSXeiTCfLAC Aug 1990
    pqxoBQYRi5MC Sep 1990
    kRgc0vPcVqwC Oct 1990
    zMJ8RrL7CxoC Nov 1990
    OgsAeOZOb64C Dec 1990
    cZjZqaqi3TUC Feb 1991
    G6J2BiVlRBkC Mar 1991
    u30ch879gRUC Apr 1991
    dbQdefSNyCUC May 1991
    RX5DAD9yV7IC Jun 1991
    NksQcB4T4nIC Aug 1991
    yEW9j8omBvUC Sep 1991
    pXG-Mw4cxa0C Sep 1991
    66y_cHgHTYYC Oct 1991
    hK72xvxpiMEC Nov 1991
    HGuuh5SIk_8C Dec 1991
    qnVC8yS4N_AC Feb 1992
    Xa7j5ofHW0EC Mar 1992
    vB9jU1ahAwwC Apr 1992
    bsf3-GfE_JoC May 1992
    K4N6CoFaMwQC Jun 1992
    goAxRblMWT4C Jul-Aug 1992
    wvCBtO5yKVkC Sep 1992
    HgMUzNsJCrUC Oct 1992
    UkhW08U-qOUC Nov 1992
    Oepe_lUpLWAC Dec 1992 – Jan 1993
    akzvdiyCQ1EC Feb 1993
    FItmGUfHBkgC Mar 1993
    bsZmaPWrfvUC Apr 1993
    hDPVu_HzgWwC May 1993
    sfn5zbAU4VQC Jun 1993
    DdQ9WL9ODdwC Jul-Aug 1993
    1ggQEshZ7xQC Sep 1993
    baPI1gQ15ooC Nov 1993
    Epy3P87ImvQC Dec 1993 – Jan 1994
    AXKlThqFFT0C Feb 1994
    r7WVD2skAm8C Mar 1994
    dInX4BRTlQ8C Jul-Aug 1994
    VMu80ElF7xEC Dec 1994
    7OREaZ8vhukC Feb 1995
    NEuii_y5Wz0C Mar-Apr 1995
    jdWIRUVZ27wC Jun 1995
    fM4yPDNHtHQC Oct 1995
    NxR5FFDMZZwC Nov-Dec 1995
    AihJOSNuv3AC 1996
    qlmbk8N-gdMC Jan 1996
    OsEHwLhvVnYC Mar-Apr 1996
    tBsk4NApunIC Jun 1996
    3omYRKRmkAMC Jul-Aug 1996
    jHgqOP7QtSEC Sep 1996
    u8hTCZT4DWkC Dec 1996
    wb8rzdaGsnkC Apr 1997
    0lx8ELt-Ga4C Jun 1997
    RP0KUMW09m0C Nov 1997
    l_VAZyHf0IAC Dec 1997 – Jan 1998
    24tXv1nFv40C Mar 1998

  10. My hands-down favourite part of ‘Spy’ was “Separated at Birth”. So nasty and so bang-on! I would wait every month for my copy to arrive just for that feature.

  11. A better option, in my opinion, is the one that dbg7 alluded to.  Go to and get Google Books Downloader (OSX and Windows) which will download the book in PNG format.  Zip up the folder and change the extension from .zip to .cbz (no need to convert from PNG to JPG).  Upload the .cbz to Dropbox and use a program like Comic Zeal on your iPad to read it :)

    The advantage of this method is file size  – 25MB for the PDF versus 6MB for the CBZ :)

Comments are closed.