Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hotspot #20: Breaking Beyond the Comics Format

It is inevitable... after I read a comic that presents something new, my brain has been running over time thinking about webcomics.

"Eh... How is this different from what you usually do, Ping?"

That's probably what you're thinking. I should probably rephrase that better: Maybe my use of "web comic" is a bad choice. A digital comic is probably closer to the truth.

Hm... a Comp-mic? Pixelmic? Comixel? *cue groans*

Fine. For now... online comic.

In any case, I'm thinking about comics that are made solely to be showcased on a computer screen, and would not be able to be printed out without losing some or all of its impact.

Keep in mind that I am NOT talking about distribution methods. I'm not talking about a comic that happens to reach its readership through a website. Or the clandestine sort that gets forwarded around in office emails, or transferred through flash keys or even bit-torrented.

I'm talking about comics that break tradition by exclusively using digital technology as a format. 

The recently reviewed Hero and the hovertext in place of speech bubbles being an example of a deviation. Of course, Hero was still strongly traditional in some other ways, and there were limitations to the hovertext approach. But it was still a refreshingly new way of doing things.

And there's then-pioneering background animations in Aargon Zark. Of course everyone knows Scott McCloud's infinite canvas.

But honestly up to now, a lot of experiments in digital comicism so far tend to feel... gimmicky. Even the best of them suffer from Marmite syndrome, they either are love or hated, and most of the time are only tolerated for being a novelty.

However, novelty is NOT what I am interested in. What I've been searching for is a stable, universal something that improves upon the old tried and tested way of presenting panels and speech bubbles in sequential order.

At the end of the day, what we associate as the fundamental parts of a comic are still methods that were designed and optimised to be presented on paper. When comics shifted to the web, the same mentality remained.

And honestly, the longer I write about webcomics the more I begin to feel that the word "webcomic" has long since passed its expiry date. There really is no distinction between it and its traditional counterpart anymore. 

It's just comics. Period. 

Maybe I should just rename "Webcomic Finds" to "Lonely Panel" and be done with it.


I think I really might.

Back to the topic... I used to get annoyed whenever someone brought up Reinventing Comics by Scott McCloud, mainly because of the stigma it gave online comics that we were just a bunch of geeks trying out gimmicky stuff with the comic format that would never work long term (though it wasn't his fault we were seen that way, really).

Ok, so now it still annoys me a little, but I understand a little bit of what Scott saw in the potential of the web now, although what he covered was but barely scratching the surface, and some of his ideas weren't exactly the most practical things ever.

But the point is in the experimenting. You don't experiment without failing. Fact. You don't find out new things if you don't try.

Talk to others. Try stuff. Fail. Explore, See other people's ideas, try something else. Fail. Research more.

This is what this blog is supposed to be about after all. Exploration of the online comic, not just exploration of online comics.

Heck I did my own experiments with the format myself, though by any standards what I tried was pretty conservative. And to be honest even I didn't think it worked that well.

But most of the experimental stuff we've seen in the last ten years or so art just that... experiments. Prototypes. When they fail, maybe we shouldn't just dismiss them as gimmicks, but give them a bit more thought on what when wrong, and what we could have done to make the new format and presentation better.

Yes I know. I'm sure I'm not the first to be talking about this. The attachment to the traditional format is very strong. Let's face it... we're not going to lose the old panels and bubbles formats until someone comes up a new format that is an improvement in every way that people are convinced they like it enough to adopt it.

It just hit me the other day that after I finish my current project, I really don't want to make conventional comics any more. 

I don't want to follow. I don't want to stagnate in pursuit of minute perfection.

I want to explore. I want adventure in my art.

In short, I want to try going beyond the current comics format.

As web technology progresses, more developments are bound to crop up. Some are going to be gimmicks and fall along the wayside. And some... some may revolutionize the comics art form.

Or destroy it.

Or supersede it.

Maybe it's the right way to go.

At the very least, I'd like to give it a go. 

Yes I know I'm probably aiming for the impossible.

But hey... I can live with that.


  1. One thing I want to see are more collaborative comics. Youtube has its memes (some of them very annoying), music has its covers, and games have mods.
    Very few comics have any sort of public collaboration however. There are a few forum groups that rescript comics, which is interesting. I think the next step is to open everything, XKCD style and encourage fan comics at the same level of publication as the original authors. This would need some level of filtering and commenting.

  2. woah! youve updated alot since I last checked up on here!!
    Yay inspiring post, I do like it when people decide to step out and go for the new :) Theres nothing wrong with the tried and tested, especially if its made to its full potential! But thats just it, alot of stuff doesnt freach its full potentional because people are too scared to leap out a bit an try something new.
    On that note, I think if you want to explore the entirely new, its good to start with thinking about the full potential your next story idea could meet through the internet medium! Think and explore all the ways that could tell a story to people, dont worry about wether it fits into the name 'comic' or not. If it tells a story through visuals, thats enough, right?

  3. @Bryan: Collaborations are generally difficult because it requires that the other person hold up their end of the bargain. And over the internet, people frequently disappear without warning (I was a prime example during my hiatus)

    All that said I have been thinking of how this problem can be solved. I do have in mind a different approach to the collaboration project for some time in the future, but it needs more thinking over first. No sense killing a good idea by lacking adequate research and preparation.


    Indeed, I've nothing against tried and tested. They work and do a great job. But the dogma that it develops against trying something new annoys me after a while.

    I'm the kind of person who doesn't like settling for the norm, so I have a suspicion my next project after The Longest Sojourn, which will be The Jaded 2.0 is not going to a typical comic format. No siree.

    Oddly enough I can see it suiting it better than the traditional format...