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The way forward with webcomics tech


The other day comics/tech guru Scott McCloud posted examples of two webcomics using current navigation techniques to give advanced motion and storytelling effects. One, Turbo Defiant Kimecan (top) uses Flash to allow readers to time the appearance of panels and balloons. Never Mind the Bullets (bottom) uses HTML 5 to gives kind of “motion comics-y” floating animation. As McCloud points out, both are just examples, not role models — Never Mind the Bullets suggested we download IE9, which was an immediate fail. The comments are unkind:

It was an excruciating experience just to reach panel 3.


what we have here is a couple of pretty ordinary comics with Extra Bonus Loading Times

But there is a defender:

I think most people are missing the point: these comics are not the end all, but a great step in evolution towards the future of comics. TDK does some things I’ve never seen done before- like the freeze frame that reveals what’s really on everybody’s mind on the subway- it works brilliantly, and the cell by cell style delivers the moment of comedy perfectly.

McCloud has been pointing to these kinds of formal explorations for a while; neither of the above succeeds as comics or interaction BUT they do present intriguing possibilities. Every technology gets its D.W. Griffith, and it’s just a matter of time before some kid latches onto what’s intuitive and informative about these possibilities.

In the comments, Swiss artist Michael Kühni links to his own experiments with Flash, which are far more successful.

There’s also Boi by Vincent Giard, which uses Flash to convey that hungover feeling–to good effect.

There’s also Dan Goldman’s recently concluded Red Light Properties, another Flash-based story which had several technical upgrades along the way.

Overall, we see an unevenly evolving picture, as individuals mess around and come up with novelty ideas, some charming, some…awkward. The two examples McCloud points to do suggest possibilities however — Never Mind The Bullets, while poorly drawn, suggests the ability to follow stories in a more spatial way (clicking to go into an environment) without going full-on animation.
What do you think? Have you seen any examples of “new tech” comics that are more than experimental?

  1. Vincent Giard’s “Bol” comic is actually just made up of animated gifs, no Flash involved.

    He’s got some other great experiments on his blog, playing with a kind of stereoscopic 3D effect.

  2. Have I seen example of new tech storytelling online or otherwise?

    No. But that’s not to say there are none. I’m sure some are around — either I’m not being targeted (I admit I don’t know how they’d do that) or I’m simply not looking. However, the issue with “new tech” is that it will not remain “new” for very long. Technology today is a stream of constant adaptation.

    In fact, I’d wager the better example of new tech storytelling begins at the creation level because one should consider how the story can be adapted into more than one format. The book that can be viewed on the iPad, online and in print might be one of the models we’re looking for.

  3. Thanks for the mention, Heidi, but FYI Red Light Properties is actually not-Flash-based.

    It’s just simple PNGs running in a Javascript/HTML player; Flash isn’t supported by most non-Android smartphone/pads, so you immediately exclude those readers.

  4. With the caveats that…

    1. I rarely read webcomics (and those that I do are mostly comic strip style), and,
    2. I couldn’t get either of the sample comics to load in IE 8,

    ….I don’t like the interface idea behind either of these. Having to click for dialogue balloons to appear sounds like when someone makes a PowerPoint presentation that forces you to click over and over for each bullet point to appear. Don’t do that to me, just show me the composition and let me read at my own pace. Being forced to read at a predetermined motion comics-like speed sounds even worse. No thanks.

    I prefer a simple interface that doesn’t get in the way of me reading the dang comic. I much prefer the simplicity of this:

    It’s just a simple photoviewer, but it’s easy to navigate, and the comic was constructed to make the “one panel at a time” navigation help the story rather than hinder it.

  5. I kinda like what “Turbo Defiant Kimecan” is doing. By adding the panels to the screen one at a time, it’s possible to do a “reveal” anywhere on the page, even the last panel.

  6. I actually liked the setup on Turbo Defiant Kimecan. It uses the click-thru to guide the reader’s eye from panel to panel, which could theoretically allow the creators to do more unconventional layouts by insuring that less comic-savvy readers won’t read the comic out of sequence and lose the narrative through-line. There is a little too much black space on the page, but overall I thought their interface was attractive and intuitive. I also appreciated that they had a standard HTML version of the strip for mobile users and folks who don’t want to click their way through the story.

    OTOH, I thought Never Mind The Bullets was a trainwreck and an agonizing reading experience. Granted, I was using Firefox 3 because I couldn’t (and still can’t) be bothered to mess with IE9, which probably had a lot to do with the herky-jerky feel of viewing the strip. But even if it had unspooled for me smoothly, I pretty sure it wouldn’t have worked for me. IMHO, it’s not so much a webcomic as it is a really clunky motion comic, and that holds no appeal for me whatsoever.

    I appreciate the design skill behind Red Light Properties. Using PNGs and Javascript to create a reading experience similar to what I liked about Turbo Defiant Kimecan’s Flash setup, but in a way that’s accessible to almost every potential viewer is very smart. However, it also shows the limitations of that setup. TDK works well in that format because it’s a very action oriented, caption/balloon light narrative — and thus only requires a handful of clicks per ‘page’. By contrast, RLP is a much talkier script (at least in the initial pages I screened) and requires so many clicks per panel/page as to make reading the comic a cumbersome and uncomfortable reading experience. The story/art looked interesting enough that I would probably have read it as a standard HTML comic, but as it is? Pass.

    The takeaway for me is that the click-thru format TDK and RLP utilize could be a cool and useful storytelling engine, but only if the narrative and pacing of that story plays to the format’s strengths and isn’t too labor intensive on the reader’s end.

  7. All of these works are interesting to be sure, but I still haven’t seen that killer app…the one that makes the hair on the back of your neck sit up and you turn to the people around you, but they’re already nodding in agreement: Yup, this is it. This is what it’s supposed to be.

    And the thing is, maybe it doesn’t exist. At least for us, as comic book readers. We grew up on a print medium, we learned its vocabulary. Maybe it’s going to take a kid, who is a hybrid writer/artist/programmer to come along and create a new language.

    I mean, hey, I’ve got a webcomic. But I’ll be the first to admit that it’s simply a print comic that we’re distributing online. When our first issue wraps, I’ll have a print version and place it on a few digital comic distribution hubs– but, at the end of the day, it’s still a “print” comic. No bells and whistles.

    The thing I keep coming back to, i/r/t “the future” is that we’re reading comics, which are a visual medium, on a screen. A screen that you can fill up with amazing imagery from movies, or you can gaze through the eyes of a character and control him, as he mows down demonmutants with his chainsaw gun– both, with accompanying soundtracks.
    That’s what digital comics are competing with…real estate on that very same screen.

    To really push Digital comics forward, it’s going to take a rethinking of the entire format– All of these comics linked are taking steps toward that– and progress is measured in steps not strides– So, I do applaud each one of them.

  8. Well I’m using Firefox 3.6 and both loaded OK for me, the “Never Mind the Bullets” was, IMHO, crap. I hated the floaty swirly way, and any app that tells me I’ve really gotta have the IE9 to experience the full power of the experience is an immediate turn off. The story was unengaging.

    Kimecan, however, had a nice feel, led you through the story and was a little more engaging.

    The thing I think about these kinds of technologies isn’t how “killer” they are, but how well are they being used for story-telling. If you’ve got an excellent story that can be enhanced by the tech then that’s what’s going to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up, not the tech per se.

  9. Neither of the examples on Thursday’s post are necessarily a great way to get around comics pages, but I’m always interested to see how many different takes there are out there.

    I like to point out these sorts of widgets on the blog and invite comments, because even a failed experiment can offer clues to something useful down the road.

    Always helps to keep an open mind, of course, and most of the commenters have been doing just that.

  10. To be honest, I don’t really see how either of these examples are any different from Brendan Cahill’s OTB which was released in the early 2000s.

    He was doing Flash based motion styled comics well before this, and the results are rendered much better.

    Motion comics are never going to bridge the gap between print/pixels and animation. That’s what imagination is for. I don’t need someone leading me into action on another panel – I’m quite capable of figuring it out myself.

  11. The question is: when does a webcomic stop being a comic and becomes a cartoon?
    I think TDK is still a comic, with great looking art, but with annoying clicking and loading times.
    I’m really wondering if there is anything better than just a static page.
    Aren’t comics defined by a static page where the eye wanders as it wants?
    Maybe I would only add contextual music…

    Another interesting experiment, very ‘animated’ with some awesome art: http://www.pancratia.com/

  12. Neither of the examples on Thursday’s post are necessarily a great way to get around comics pages, but I’m always interested to see how many different takes there are out there.

  13. The thing I keep coming back to, i/r/t “the future” is that we’re reading comics, which are a visual medium, on a screen. A screen that you can fill up with amazing imagery from movies, or you can gaze through the eyes of a character and control him, as he mows down demonmutants with his chainsaw gun– both, with accompanying soundtracks.

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