Getting involved with thinking about and talking about comics, learning about new comics, is quite dangerous. It’s so tempting to just dive right in, and start reading all kinds of things… I’ve been reading comicbooks for almost as long as I’ve been reading, and when I was younger, comicbooks were my everything. As a kid, alongside astronaut or paleontologist or whatever, I wanted to run a comicbook store. And, when I was a little older, I entertained the idea of teaching courses or publishing books on the history of comicbooks; I guess part of me still does.
My interest in comics has never really waned, I don’t think – it’s just been sidelined as my schoolwork, and certain other hobbies and interests, have taken up more of my time and attention. And so, while some friends began to delve into and explore the indy comics world, and while others pursued serious graduate degrees in “new media studies” and the like, I’ve, basically, fallen behind.
So, give me an opportunity – like helping to put together a small exhibition on the history of comics, culminating with a three-day events-packed campus visit by Scott “Understanding Comics” McCloud himself – and, well, suddenly I’m spending a lot more time and money again on comics. I so wish I could go with the flow on that. But I have work to do!!
When my professor first started telling us about new and different and innovative things some webcomics were doing, I didn’t quite buy into it. Pretty much all the webcomics I read, all the webcomics I have ever read, follow the comic strip format, and don’t play around much with dimensions or animation or anything. So, whatever a few random extra-artsy people are doing over in some corner of the internet, I thought, that is not the mainstream of webcomics. And, for whatever reason, I had no interest. But, then Scott McCloud showed us some of them, and explained why they’re so cool. I wish I could reproduce, or even properly summarize, his entire talk here, but, to put it super-briefly, suffice it to say, the core of his argument is that, online, there’s no reason to adhere to the format of the page. There’s no reason that your panels have to be a certain size, or that you have to be limited to a certain number of panels before the viewer/reader has to “turn the page,” i.e. click “Next.” Why can’t you have a comic that’s entirely vertical, that you just scroll through, any number of panels, without ever going to a “next page”?
A Norwegian artist who goes by the handle “jellyvampire” on DeviantArt, has done just that, and gone further, in a super cute comic strip titled “Born Like an Artist.” I’m sorry to not share it with you directly here, but because of the size/format, and because I’d rather not steal the host’s pageviews or whatever, please do click through.
A comic called “Pup Ponders the Heat Death of the Universe,” by Drew Weing, uses similar means to great effect, as well. The scrolling action on a webcomic like this one actually reminds me a lot of traditional Chinese or Japanese handscroll paintings – as you scroll through it, viewing one section at a time, each next section can be dramatically surprising or impressive. Scrolling through this comic, coming across certain moments (no spoilers), reminds me of scrolling through the “Night Attack on the Sanjo Palace” handscroll, watching samurai gather up, attack a palace, and then, suddenly, coming across a huge conflagration! Granted, print comics can have a similar effect, too, and can vary in the size of the panels or of the images, as well; but, here we see it done in a different format, creating dramatic effects in a new and different manner.
And, it’s not just scrolls. As I mentioned in a recent post, the great ukiyo-e master Katsushika Hokusai recreated this scrolling feeling in a series of woodblock-printed books depicting the view along the Sumidagawa in Edo. As you turn each page, the image continues, seamlessly connecting into one, long, scroll-like panorama image. The Freer-Sackler has reproduced this effect in a beautiful online interactive.
On a different subject, McCloud talked about the use of animation in webcomics, and how most of the official professional electronic comics – e.g. “digital comics” versions of Watchmen, or of certain Marvel comics – do animation wrong. The fundamental feature of comics is their sequential nature – that as one moves through space, from one panel to another, one also moves through time. Introduce animation, that is, the moving through time as one moves through time, rather than through space, and it messes with this. These Marvel and DC digital comics seem to focus too much on the two-dimensional artistic character of the comics, and standard elements such as speech bubbles and narrative boxes, making these pop in and out, which only enhances the feeling of blockiness and flatness, and does nothing for the story, or for the enjoyment of the medium.
One solution McCloud suggests, based on seeing innovations by various webcomic artists, is the use of looping animation within panels, thus keeping intact that fundamental feature of the comic strip panel. BOL, by Vincent Giard, is a great example of this.
Furthermore, these traditional stick unnecessarily to the format of the page, essentially creating a printed & bound comicbook within the digital realm, rather than creating something more fundamentally attuned to the new/different format. If you are going to create a digital version of a printed & bound comic, then at least… well…
Consider this – one of the simpler, but most mind-blowing, things that McCloud suggested during his talks: Why did we ever decide that the single page, rather than the single opening (i.e. two pages), was the essential element of print media? Our laptop screens are horizontal. Our PC screens are horizontal. Our tablet and smartphone screens are, admittedly, vertical, but they can be horizontal as well. When we read real books, we have them open to two pages at once, horizontally. Why do we read books, and comics, in a vertical manner when they could be laid out horizontally?
Above: One page from “Exit Wounds” by Rutu Modan. Below: One opening from “How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less” by Sarah Glidden. Which do you think would look better, and would be a more engaging reading experience?
After last week’s talks and events with Scott McCloud, I’m certainly re-energized, re-motivated, to keep my eyes out for new and different and interesting comics. Do you know of any particularly innovative and interesting webcomics? Let me know! And check out Scott McCloud’s blog for plenty more links (and far more intelligent & eloquent thoughts) regarding comics & webcomics.