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Robot 6: digital comics are reaching the next stage of evolution

Over at Robot 6, Corey Blake looks at the latest innovations from Marvel and DC in the field of digital comics. He gives a brief synopsis of the evolution of digital comics, mulling over the innovations that have gotten things to this point:

… it’s becoming clear that after years of digital and webcomics primarily mimicking print comic books and comic strips, a new kind of comic is emerging, one that is changing how they’re made and read.

These current platforms were far from the first to experiment with digital. Artists like Cayetano Garza Jr. began experimenting with limited effects and layout as early as 1998. Scott McCloud’s infinite canvas theory, in which digital could break free of the confines of the limited dimensions of a page, was proposed in 2000, ironically in the pages of his print book Reinventing Comics. Experiments with using an infinite canvas followed, but it never grabbed hold as a standard format. Mostly, webcomics have echoed the structure and dimensions of daily newspaper strips with the occasional experimentation.

Which leads us to the new innovations at Marvel Infinite and DC2. Blake is ecstatic over the new possibilities. He points to Yves Bigerel’s experimental techniques, which are up at DeviantArt.

The simplistic brilliance of Bigerel’s concept is that instead of spreading panels out across an infinite canvas, he stacked them up on each other like animation cells. It’s essentially a PowerPoint slideshow using comics. And most importantly, the reader controls when the next slide comes up.

While this simple change retains the language of comics, it fundamentally alters how the comics read and how they’re created. The writers, and probably more so the artists, have to re-think how they approach their storytelling techniques. There are benefits. Surprises can be controlled better because there’s no risk of a reader’s eye scanning over the opposite page and seeing the reveal of the big monster. Page breaks become clicks. Layering is one of the biggest advantages. Instead of a sequence taking place from left to right, it can happen in the same spot, with additions to the image adding more information with each click. For the letterer, the reading order of dialogue can be controlled more. There’s less chance of confusing the reader over what to read next when you can have the dialogue become visible in the correct order.

So what do you think? Is there a significant paradigm shift coming ahead? Or will this kinda fizzle out like the whole infinite canvas thing?

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About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on June 5, 2013, in digital comics, The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. Sure, let them play with infinite canvas. It worked so well for webcomics. And, hey, DC Comics discovers visual novels. zzzzz

  2. That one-panel-per-click stylistic technique seems pretty similar to what webcomics like Ava’s Demon and Olympus Overdrive are doing.

    As for whether it’ll cause some kind of major “paradigm shift”… I’d say probably not. It’s an interesting concept, to be sure, and I can see some webcomic artists using it; but I doubt that it’ll end up supplanting more traditional methods of storytelling.

  3. Kaja Rainbow

    This writer is coming off as inexperienced with webcomics–those sorts of techniques’ve been in use for quite a while, ever since Flash webcomics were a thing, really. It’s a tool like infinite canvas that can be suitable or ill-fitting depending on what you’re using it for. The only noteworthy thing about this is that big companies’re playing with those things, which might disseminate them more widely and hopefully get them into the hands of someone who can use them well.

    • Kaja Rainbow

      Well, I just took a look at Yves Bigerel’s stuff. He did seem to have a decent grasp on how those techniques could be used well. I wouldn’t mind seeing that kind of influence on the people who’d try this sort of thing–a lot of them fall into those pitfalls he mentioned.

  4. Worth noting that Scotty Mac himself approached this kind of thing with caution (scroll to the comments), possibly for some of the same reasons this guy is excited about it; then again, I was myself skeptical about the potential of the McCloudian infinite canvas to be more than a gimmick.

  5. joselitus_maximus

    Clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick…

    Clicking 80+ times (I think, lost patience to count at about 50 clicks), just to read a short comic? That experiment is equivalent to what, 3 or 4 pages of “conventional”comics?

    • On a conventional computer, you should be able to just hit the spacebar, not that clicking should be too taxing on you anyway.

      • Mouse clicking is one of the worst things you can do with an RSI. Serious, it’s real bad. It’s been almost a decade since I’ve thrown the mouse in the garbage. That is a hateful little device.

    • I sort of agree. Despite the comic claiming that such techniques don’t interfere with the flow… it sorta does. Having to switch between the message and the physical activity (or when and when not to click) does cause a bit of mental confusion. It’s like someone said in the comments of the original article where it’s like having to flip a book after every sentence… or, say, watching a YouTube video and having to press play after ever 15 seconds.

      However, I’m also not saying that there’s no way to do it right. I’ll probably be downloading a Marvel Infinite issue or two just to check out the techniques. Mark Waid’s Insufferable did execute the concept somewhat nicely, for example.

  6. Heh, you know, this kinda reminds me of the one time I tried making a webcomic with a friend of mine. It was… well, I’m gonna be honest, the design was eye-stabbingly terrible. The comic itself had some funny moments to it, but probably even more head-scratchers. The one kind of neat thing we probably did was incorporating this very same slideshow click-to-advance kind of deal (since the frames were basically just screenshots of a LEGO game that we used as a sort of fake machinima that we added word balloons to), which I guess since we did it back in 2005, which probably would make us bleeding-edge innovators if we’d had any idea what we were doing. We even took advantage of the format in telling jokes a few times, although it wasn’t implemented nearly as well as this was. It’s actually still up, even though it hasn’t updated in like, 4 years now, so I guess if for some reason you want to see a good example of what NOT to do with your flash-slideshow comic: http://www.bxbcomic.com/ (Warning: It’s safe for work but I’m not kidding about the eye-stabbingly bad design) Hmm, maybe I could make a sequel in Minecraft…

  7. Bigerel’s piece is great.

  8. “… it’s becoming clear that after years of digital and webcomics primarily mimicking print comic books and comic strips, a new kind of comic is emerging, one that is changing how they’re made and read.”

    Erm… I might be wrong, but I think the first comics started doing all the “new things” but then it turns out it all worked marvelously in theory but not so much in practice, and that’s why the “mimicking print comics” style prevailed.

    So, you know, they’re kinda reinventing the wheel here. Marvelous.

    • Reepicheep-chan

      I am kind of thinking Homestuck is doing a lot to really use the web as a medium in a way that takes full advantage. Not just because it has sounds and games and animations, but because it is capitalizing on how interactive it can be with its community. All the other experiments with what can be done using the net as a medium always felt like nothing but cutsie add-ons, Homestuck feels more like a paradigm shift to me.

      But yeah, I saw the click-to-advance stuff in like 2001, that is nothing new just ’cause Marvel and DC are messing around with it now.

      • I think Homestuck badly needs an editor (it’s a rather bloated, unwieldly work), but it does stand out as one of the best examples in terms of leveraging web technologies. You’re right that it’s a better example than Yves Bigerel’s stuff (which I still think could work well if done right, but it’d have to cut down on a lot of the extraneous clicking). The main application I can think of is presenting comics in a small cell phone accessible format, but judging from El Santo’s review of Marvel’s offering, it seems like they don’t even get how to do that right. Swiping for every single transition? Really?

        • I have to disagree with you about Homestuck, it might be bloated and unwieldly, but that’s just one of the things that makes Homestuck what it is. What exactly is it, I’m not entirely sure, but involving an editor wouldn’t do any good for the story.

  9. I remember seeing Bigerel’s Digital Comics a few years ago, but my opinion remains the same – if you plan on selling a printed collection of your comics, then you shouldn’t experiment with format. In the Mac Hall printed collection, the creators complained how the infinite canvas made formatting their book infinitely harder. Or for a more recent example, I wasn’t super thrilled when I bought the first Problem Sleuth volume and saw the animated GIFs broken down into individual frames.

    A lot of people (myself included) still prefer getting print comics over digital ones, but that’s definitely changing. I could see someone making a Flash comic like Bigerel’s, putting the file on Gumroad, and selling it for a few bucks. It won’t replace print, but it might be a nice little alternative.

  10. With every new gimmick, there’s always someone climbing on a soapbox to announce it’ll be the future of everything, for everyone. First, it depends on the audience latching on to it, and then it becoming widespread in its use. I remember people claiming that Zuda was going to be the future of “the big two” conducting webcomic business, and that fizzled out in quite a disappointing manner, despite going strong for years and building a lot of fan support. So I think it’s a little early to announce this as the future of webcomics.

    People also tend to forget that screwing around with this sort of technology also takes a lot of effort on top of creating a normal comic. That might be fine when there’s the weight of a megacorporation behind it, but for the individual creator the normal way of doing things will remain infinitely more attractive, unless they are trying to make a specific point that requires such a technique.

    Speaking of that, what does it add to the experience, more so than simply being a fun gimmick?

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  1. Pingback: Digital Comic Overlook #4: Guardians of the Galaxy Infinite #1-4 | The Webcomic Overlook

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