Posted by on Jun 10, 2012 in Digital, Thrillbent, Writing 101 | 9 Comments

One of our forum members, Max, found himself intrigued by an iPad comics app called DeepComix, which (this is hard to explain, bear with me) uses a series of parallax-view layers to give dimension to its pages. If that makes as little sense as I fear it does, look at how Max experimented with this same technique on his own. 

Although Max’s work is rougher, something about it (no offense to DeepComix) feels more honest and authentic to me, particularly his first and second examples. As if Max has stumbled onto a gimmick and is now looking for some way to use it smartly. (Thanks, Max!)

I felt the same way when I saw DeepComix last week. I wouldn’t want to do an entire series that way, as it seems unnecessarily gimmicky, but I would love to find some way to use that parallax technique sparingly somewhere in my own work.  However, I’m hampered by my own conscience, because I’m trying hard to stay away from “technique for technique’s sake.” Yeah, parallax is interesting–but think about  how much more effective it would be if it served a specific and unique purpose in the story itself other than just “looking neat.” That’s the line in the sand I’m drawing for myself: serve the story first, look flashy doing it second. I’ve been at this comics thing too long to feel any need to show off just ’cause.

So I want to use parallax…but what the hell is the purpose? Is it to slowly reveal some background element that the characters aren’t aware of? If so, how do you cue the reader to ride along with you and get what you want them to get out of it? I had a similar problem with Insufferable Week 5: I’d originally envisioned the transition between Nocturnus’s upstairs and downstairs being a vertical swipe down, not our usual horizontal swipe across–one long, long page where we’d start upstairs, then scroll down, down, down through the house and through the earth until, at page bottom, we revealed the basement lair.  A neat idea, AND it served the story, but (a) we hadn’t yet figured out how to do that “infinite scrolling” thing, horizontally OR vertically, in our viewer yet (we still haven’t), and (b) even if it had worked, I couldn’t figure out how to convey to the reader that, on this screen, we were breaking format–that they were supposed to scroll down, not across–not without sticking dumb, intrusive arrows into the art that said “Scroll Down Now!”

Seriously, though, this is the fun part for me–seeing these new methods, coming up with our own, testing and trying and experimenting. If you’ve seen other groundbreaking techniques around the web like the parallax thing, blurb ’em in the comments and we’ll discuss them.



  1. Bill Cunningham
    June 10, 2012

    Have you thought about doing something like this?

    The panels progressing down through the house with the architecture surrounding them to ground the reader’s eye into knowing where they are in the “location”.

    At the end of the sequence we pull back to see how we went from top to bottom in the panel progression.

  2. Max
    June 10, 2012

    I think the problem you’re going to have if you don’t train your readers to look for it everywhere is the same problem partial 3D movies have, in which you’ll need some kind of “Do this here” visual queue.

    I come from a game development background, so we’re always thinking of what we call “indirect control.” This is when the developer uses some visual queue besides explicit text (we often call this a “Visual Weenie,” which is a reference to the ol’ hot-dog-on-a-stick gag from cartoons in which some character is led around with some just out of reach thing they want) to indicate where the player (here: reader) should go next. If you’re super slick about it, they won’t even realize you’ve done it. It may be a castle on a hill in an otherwise featureless terrain (oh, guess I’ll check that out), or in a more practical example of the task you’ve set yourself, it might be that I can see I’m supposed to scroll down because some of the panel below is visible indicating there will be a content reward for scrolling down.

    From a User Interface design perspective, if you make a bunch of pages that behave a certain way, and then suddenly break the paradigm by introducing a novel new method of getting around (I’ve been scrolling left to right for the last 3 months, now this one time I need to scroll down), I think you’ll always have a hard time presenting that. Just my 2 cents, I’ll be interested to see what you guys come up with for it.

  3. DeepComix Takes Digital Comics 3D (video) - The Digital Reader
    June 11, 2012

    […] as DeepComix it looks like to could offer much of same ability (and on all platforms, too).Mark Waid, who tipped me to this new trick, summed up how I feel about DeepComix perfectly:Yeah, parallax is […]

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The comment’s server IP ( doesn’t match the comment’s URL host IP ( and so is spam.

  4. Mike
    June 11, 2012

    Now that I’ve seen it, I’m of the opinion that this app is the chromium variant cover 1 in 1000 with “EXTREME” in bold print and all caps. It’s a gimic that does very little for the overall story in the end.
    People will tire of being able to shift the scene just a li’l bit after just a few panels so I can’t see doing it at all. It also may be a detriment to the story because it gunks up the pacing because people may be wiggling the image around looking for story elements that aren’t there.
    Also, it won’t translate to print which is an important goal for a for-profit web based comic.
    Some of the other features on the application could have some uses to enhance a second read through (like the zoom) but I think in the heirarchy of making a comic, gimics should fade into the background so that story and art can be on center stage.

  5. Scott Story
    June 11, 2012

    All right, a few thoughts.

    When I saw this technique, at first I thought it was sort of neat. Then I got over it quickly, because it doesn’t enhance the story as used, it’s just “neat.” It also seemed another example of a comic trying to be something it’s not. The example they used was like the Matrix ‘bullet time’ sequences.

    If anything, the type of digital comic that has been discussed here the most is effectively the same as a film strip like they used to show in elementary school. Panel size doesn’t vary, there are no fancy transitions etc. I mention this because creative people will always come up with a new “best ever future of the medium” gimmick.

    Gimmicks will never compete with the theater of the mind, such as we visualize automatically while reading or listening to a story. Put bluntly, you can have a better storytelling experience by listening to a skilled storyteller’s words than you can have with some parallax view technique.

    In regard to having vertical movement or scrolling in Insufferable, I’m glad you did not. One, it would have thrown me out of the story big time. Two, it would be too similar to infinite canvas.

    At first I was all hot for ‘guided view’ comics, but then I realized, as cool as it might seem, that zippy transitions around the comic in no way accentuated the comic. All it did was make the old vertical format pages more convenient to read on the horizontally orientated computer monitor.

  6. Mathew
    June 17, 2012

    How about this?
    A drug dealer’s sitting in his apartment. There’s a knock at his door. He peers through his peep hole, and sees one of his regulars has come for their fix. He opens the door, and WHAM! the cops appear from either side of the door and burst in to arrest him.

    The obvious parallax shot being the dealer’s eye view straight through the peephole: if you scroll around far enough from side-to-side maybe you see just enough of something (maybe an elbow or the end of a gun barrel poking out) to hint at what’s waiting for him on the other side of the door.

    It’s unnecessary, so the lack of it won’t detract from the story if the reader misses it (or if it appears in print), but it does allow a curious reader to get a little ahead of the game if they want to go hunting for it.

    (It could also be used for a good gag. Imagine Batman does his usual vanishing act business, but if you scroll around enough you can spot him crouched behind the cabinet in the corner.)

  7. Doug Vander Meulen
    June 20, 2012

    This site uses the parallax-view to the extreme, requires chrome, safari, IE9 to show the css3 animations:

  8. Reilly Brown
    June 27, 2012

    The important thing to remember about being a story teller is that YOU want to maintain control of how the story’s told, not give that up to the reader. Those parallax panels shown here are a really cool effect, but they fall apart as a storytelling tool because they rely on the reader to change the view on his own. That’s the territory of video games, not comics (maybe it could work in a more interactive, choose-your-own-adventure type of story).

    however, this could be a REALLY cool effect to use in a guided-view format. For instance if you start the camera on one side of a long panel where something’s happening, and then you click and the screen scrolls to another side of the panel, but as it scrolls the elements adjust their perspective. That could look really cool.

    As far as being gimmicky… yeah, it’ll look REALLY gimmicky if you only do it once in a story. It’ll stick out like a sore thumb. However if you did it enough times to make it just another part of how this particular story is being told, then it’ll blend in as an artistic tool that makes that story stand out.

  9. Barbara
    August 7, 2012

    I’m a little late to the party on this post, but I had something to share.

    Parallax viewing can be very striking, if used properly. Many of the comics I’ve seen using it (such as Never Mind the Bullets) have an unfortunate “motion comics” effect. They took traditional panels, set up in a mostly traditional way, and then made them move a little. If the images were static you would lose nothing of the artistry or storytelling, so the movement feels like a superfluous trick added in. A little extra sparkle to make the comic “special.” But parallaxing doesn’t add to the experience or improve the story, so it is essentially a gimmick.

    But I don’t think that means it need to be used sparingly. I think it means you have to realize the tool can be better employed than simply “make things move.” Which is probably the longest introduction I could have given to Hobo Lobo, a comic experiment in story telling. Page 3 is my favorite.


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