Reilly Brown is one of those guys I’m referring to whenever I admit that I’m not making these digital techniques up out of whole cloth–I’m standing on the shoulders of others. The Power Play digital comic he does with Kurt Christenson–
–is really well-done and comes highly recommended, and we can all learn a lot from him. Let’s start now. His posting contains a ton of worthy recommendations for other digital comics that I’ll be linking into the sidebar ASAP. Reilly, take it:
The Art of Digital Comics
There has been a lot of attention paid to the business side of digital comics lately–to the distribution models, the price points, the cost overhead–and as exciting as all that spreadsheet filler is, let’s talk about another aspect of comics, which is my favorite part–the actual art form! Not only does the advent of digital comics mean new ways to do business, it also gives us an opportunity for new, innovative ways to tell stories. New techniques that aren’t even possible to accomplish in print.
More than the various business models, THIS is where you should look if you want to get a glimpse of the future of the medium.
First of all, I just want to clarify– usually when people talk about digital comics these days they’re referring to the app-based comics such as those provided by Comixology or Graphicly, as opposed to web comics, which are internet web site based comics such as Penny Arcade or PVP. However, to be as inclusive as possible, when I refer to “digital comics” I’m including all of those together and more. Pretty much any comic that is read on a screen as opposed to a printed page is a “digital comic” as far as I’m concerned.
So anyway, with that explanation out of the way, let’s start with Comixology, which is the best of the comics apps for mobile devices– all other comics apps are a step or two behind them when it comes to actually reading a comic. The thing that puts Comixology ahead isn’t just their library (which is the largest of the comics apps), but their “Guided View” reader interface, which doesn’t try to pretend that the comic you’re reading is on a sheet of paper, but crops and frames the panels of the story to work best on the screen that it’s presented on. It doesn’t fight against the fact that it’s a digital comic like so many other apps do, and the way that it pans from one panel to another, or fades to a new images, or zooms in and out really can add to the story if utilized properly. Now, most comics available on Comixology were originally made to be read in print, so most of that potential is wasted, however if you read enough comics on there eventually you’ll see the random panel transition that accidentally is made cooler by Comixoliogy’s programming, or where the Comixology people just decided to go out of their way to do something cool for the hell of it. One of the first things I ever saw on Comixology was the Free Comic Book day issue of Atomic Robo, by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegna, and when Robo’s attacked by the bad guys in the snow who simply appear from nowhere my eyes lit up to the potential the digital reader had.
Another comic on Comixology that takes advantage of the their reading format is Valentine by Alex de Campi and Christine Larsen. This one, however, doesn’t accidentally stumble upon interesting digital techniques, but takes full advantage of them by design. Not only are all the panels sized to specifically fit the iPhone screen, but the opening scene of the series, where the camera pans over a battlefield as the text fades in is truly beautiful storytelling. More things like this show off EXACTLY the type of thing that comics artists should be doing more of now that they’re not bound to the printed page.
However, with all the doors that Comixology opens for ambitious storytellers, it’s not perfect, and there are still other storytelling methods that it is yet unable to accomplish. One is the shockingly simple slide-show technique shown off by Yves Bigerel (aka Balak01, also endearingly called “the French Guy” by comics artists who are unable to pronounce his name). In his “About Digital Comics” piece, Bigerel shows a pretty brilliant way of telling a story using images in a way that is similar to animation, taking full advantage of the fact that on the screen he can control exactly what you’re looking at, and what order you see the panels. As often as comics artists mention Bigerel’s comic as a cool way to tell a story, I’m continuously surprised by how few people have actually pursued it. It should be said that this can ALMOST be done with Comixology with their ability to fade from one image to another, but a fade and a clean cut aren’t exactly the same thing and have different feelings to them. The perfect app would give the artists the ability to pick the kind of panel transitions they want to get from one panel to another. Perhaps that’s something for an ambitious app programmer to consider in the future.
The potential’s not all in the panel transitions, however, because with digital comics it could be possible to show things in the actual panels themselves that aren’t possible in the printed page. Things like… animation! Now, I’m not talking about making a cartoon instead of a comic, and if you go too far down the animation path, those lines run the risk of being blurred as we’ve seen in those embarrassing “Motion Comics” from a couple years ago, but consider the wildly popular web comic MS Paint Adventures by “Andrew.” Here he uses simple repeating animated gifs to illustrate the individual panels to make a comic that resembles an old school text adventure game.
Another example of using looping animation to great effect in a comic is Zac Gorman’s Magical Game Time. He uses animated bits in many of his comic blog entries, usually just as an accent to his illustrations, but the effect is impressive, and something that’s clearly not possible to do on simple newsprint.
All the things I’ve mentioned here are merely examples of individual techniques made possible in various digital media. All of them are very cool, and ripe with potential. But… what would a comic look like if it pulled all of these tricks together into one basket? If a comic could pan from one animated panel to another, zooming in or out on text that pops up at a click? It might look a little bit like this recent game by Square Enix, Imaginary Range. It’s billed as a game/comic hybrid, and the way it works is essentially a comic with video game puzzles thrown in when the characters encounter an enemy. It’s a wonderfully interesting experiment. Ignore the game aspect for a minute, and just check out the comic sections where they use all the techniques mentioned above in unison. Something like this might require a bigger budget than the average comic, especially if music’s going to be involved, but imagine an entire graphic novel done in this method. Is that something that the future of comics could look like? Personally, I can’t wait to see!
and check out my new comic, Power Play– http://www.comixology.com/digital/12727/Power-Play