Features and Columns
Last month I presented a list of webcomics technologies that have failed to ignite my technophilic enthusiasm, despite their popularity or general usefulness. Over the past several weeks, I have given one of those technologies, RSS, a second chance.
Three Technologies I'm Just not that Excited About
I love technology. Whether it’s little gadgets like my iPod, or useful applications like Google Calendar, I love all the little tech innovations that make life easier and more fun. The first time I heard about webcomics, I was thrilled. Automated content management? Fantastic! Integration of multi-media elements into webcomics? All over it. Do I want an iPhone or a Kindle? Oh my god, yes. Can I afford them? Not remotely. But I want them nonetheless.
And yet, there are certainly technologies that just don’t excite me....With that in mind, I’ve decided to reexamine three webcomics-related technologies that have garnered my thorough disinterest in the past. I will lay out here, for the record, my initial reactions, and the reasons why I’m resistant to them. I will then devote a solid month of active usage to each before reporting back on my experiences and whether or not I’ve been converted. (Note: Only one of the follow-up articles to this piece was completed.)
The Old Made New: A Look at the Static Comics of Daniel Merlin Goodbrey
Best known for his impressive formalist experiments, usually featuring Flash interfaces (eventually culminating in his Tarquin Engine), Goodbrey was one of the early pioneers of the new artistic realms that web publishing opened to comics creators. In the past three years, however, Goodbrey has produced only one of his “hypercomics,” the 24-hour comic Never Shoot the Chronopath, which he published this past December. Most of his efforts these days have gone into more traditional seeming fare: two static humor strips and a longform tale of undead cowboys.
It would be a mistake to think that Goodbrey has given up on pushing himself creatively just because he isn’t inventing wild new interfaces, though. “Experimental” is a relative term, and nothing stymies innovation faster than repeating oneself. And even the most traditional methods can help a creator to break new ground if they’ve never tried those methods before. In fact, the least interesting work that Goodbrey has produced in recent years is the most overtly experimental; “Never Shoot the Chronopath” is an enjoyable little comic, but nothing we haven’t seen Goodbrey do before.
On the other hand, Goodbrey’s Brain Fist, All Knowledge is Strange, and The Rule of Death all incorporate forms and ideas that are new to Goodbrey’s body of work, even if they don’t look so different from the kinds of comics most people read every day.
B. Shur's New Rocket
The old guard of boundary-pushing, technologically-empowered, makers of web-native, interactive, experimental comics have largely moved on to other things. Sure, most of them are still involved in making comics, one way or another. But they’ve left the work of exploring just how much farther technology can take us to the next generation.
Happily, B. Shur has stepped up to continue that work, and is busily taking comics in fascinating new directions.
A Stray Thought on Webcomics Hardware
When reviewing reader applications for online comics, I was struck by just how much effort Marvel put into solving the problem of presenting vertically oriented comics on a horizontal screen....Still, after reviewing five different comics readers, all of which attempt to address this issue to one extent or another, none entirely satisfactorily, I can’t help thinking that the final answer to this issue won’t be new software, but rather new hardware.
A Survey of Digital Comics Readers
Every few years, a traditional comics publisher makes a renewed plunge into the webcomics market. And each time they do, they feel the need to introduce some "revolutionary" new piece of comics presentation software, as if this is what some purely hypothetical online comics industry has been waiting for. "Finally," we are meant to exclaim, "we can actually read comics online!"
Given how the vast majority of webcomics do just fine as a succession of image files on web pages, it is a curious phenomenon.
Webcomics Vs. eBook Readers
The big question isn't "if" or even "when," since it probably won't be very long-- prototypes have already been seen-- but "what will images look like on the new technology?" Again, eBook readers aren't backlit, and they don't have much glare. Those two aspects are what make screen displays appear similar to high-gloss paper. Take them away, and you take away the glossiness as well.
An Introduction to Writing Mystery Webcomics
Comixpedia, November 2005
While every genre offers its own inherent challenges, especially when reworked for web publication, mystery stories offer concerns unlike those of any other genre. All stories raise the tension about what?s going to happen next, but mysteries are unique in being primarily concerned with unraveling events that have already happened. (This is the primary factor that distinguishes mysteries from other types of crime fiction, where the killer is already known, and the goal is simply to catch him or her.) This unusual structure leads to a number of complications in dealing with serialization, improvisation, and other commonplace facets of web publication.
A Practical Guide to Collaboration, Part One
Comixpedia, May 2004
One of the most liberating facets of online comics is that it has made it easier than ever for creators interested in working collaboratively to find each other. No longer must writers troll local comics shops and art schools in the hope of finding like-minded artists. Instead, they can go straight to a large community of comics creators, where geography is no barrier. They can get to know the people they hope to work with, and everyone can see samples of each others' work on their websites before committing to any sort of collaboration. All in all, the internet has allowed for more people to experience more productive and rewarding collaborative experiences.
Rewarding though collaboration can be, however, it does offer a number of obstacles and challenges that must be addressed if the overall experience is going to be a positive one. Fortunately, none of these challenges, from choosing a collaborator to calling it quits, is insurmountable, with a little forethought and some basic courtesy.
The Myth of Pure Artistic Vision: A Defense of Collaborative Comics
Paired with a response from William George
The Webcomics Examiner, March 2005
And how did [pure artistic vision] come to be an ?ideal? anyway? To call it such ignores thousands of years of well-respected collaborative artistic forms; music, theatre, and film all rely heavily on artistic collaboration to achieve their effects. Is a one-man-band inherently superior to a symphony orchestra by virtue of his greater ?purity?? Is a one-person play, starring and directed by its author inherently superior to a play with an ensemble cast? Certainly such individual works have value, but if this were to become the rule for how these forms functioned, it would grow very dull very quickly. Collaboration is vital to the artistic cross-pollination that allows these forms to remain interesting. Why should comics be somehow above that?
How to Promote Your Webcomic by NOT Promoting Your Webcomics
Comixpedia, August 2004
Here's a familiar problem: You write a webcomic that's not getting nearly as many readers as you think it deserves. You're already sending press releases to the newsmagazines, you're posting announcements in the webcomic forums, you've joined web rings, and you've slapped your logo on every product Caf? Press offers. Still, your readership is modest, at best. You need a more aggressive marketing plan.
One problem: like most of us, your entire marketing budget comes from between the cushions on your couch. So, buying banner ads on comics websites is not an option. That's okay ? if banner ads were really all that effective, there'd be fewer bodies in the dotcom graveyard. Print and broadcast advertising are light-years outside the realm of possibility. So what else is there? Two words ? indirect marketing
Redefining Convenience: Places to Read Comics Besides the Bathroom
Comixpedia, June 2004
The major point that people miss ... is that the bathroom is far from the only place where convenience plays a determining role in choice of reading matter. Clearly, print comics have a lock on the bathroom arena, but there are numerous others, such as at your office, where print comics can't even compete.
The Editor's Role in Webcomics
Comixpedia June 2004
As everyone knows, chief among the benefits of producing an independent webcomic is the freedom from any sort of editorial input or criticism. In the absence of the editor's stifling presence, a comics creator can maintain a pure artistic vision, and is thereby free to reach his or her full potential.
That seems to be the prevailing opinion, anyway. That editors might actually have useful skills and services to offer is a little-considered possibility. For instance, a good editor might:
- Spot continuity errors or inconsistent characterizations
- Point out plot holes
- Provide special expertise, helping to keep facts accurate
- Act as a sounding board for developing ideas
- Mediate disagreements between the writer and artist
- Offer a reader reaction, to help the writer gauge whether the story is achieving the desired effect
- Provide encouragement and moral support.
Ultimately, the involvement of a skilled editor will help the writer to produce tighter, more polished work. Work that's not only more enjoyable for readers, but that is also more satisfying for the writer.
I've Been Robbed! A Practical Guide to Copyright Infringement
Comixpedia, April 2004
Here's a scenario: you're browsing the Internet, looking at various sites, when you unexpectedly come across some very familiar comics. You know all the characters. You can quote from the dialogue. You know exactly how the story ends, without even having to read it. And yes, it's even got your name in the credits. It is, in fact, your work, reproduced on someone else's site. They never even asked permission. What do you do?
Sequential Tart, March 2004
The success that Marvel has had is a result of the fact that it identified a niche audience, and then catered specifically to that audience ? which is to say that Marvel is a niche publisher. In the grand scheme of publishing, it has actually been fairly successful for a niche publisher. It makes no more sense to tell Marvel that it needs to start publishing, for instance, slice-of-life romance than it would to tell a publisher like Shambhala Publications that it should start publishing spy thrillers. Shambhala publishes books on Eastern spirituality. Marvel publishes stories about superheroes. It's what Marvel does, it's what Marvel is best at doing, and it's the whole reason the company exists. I have a sneaking suspicion that if Shambhala did try to publish spy thrillers, the results wouldn't be very good. Likewise, on the occasions when Marvel has tried to publish non-superhero books, the results have generally been something less than stellar.
Words (and More Words)
Words (and More Words) is my monthly Comixpedia column on the topic of writing webcomics.
The Writer's Lament
I?ve often heard comics creators lament that so many comics readers will completely ignore incompetent writing for the sake of pretty art. It seems that all too often, smooth lines, slick colors, and dynamic design end up overshadowing the facile dialogue, tired jokes, and predictable or even incoherent storylines that accompany them.
Expressive Dialogue, Part One: Mannerisms and Word Choice
Different people speak differently; they use different words and different syntax. Understanding the individual speech mannerisms of your characters will go a long way toward helping you distinguish them from each other, as well as from yourself.
Expressive Dialogue, Part Two: Stammers, Accents, and Affectations
It?s very rare that anyone writes truly naturalistic dialogue. Hardly anyone attempts to capture all the false starts, stammers, run-on sentences, ?ums,? and ?ahs? that typify actual real-life conversation. In real life, most of these non-verbal utterances are meaningless space fillers; in writing dialogue, the goal is to convey ideas and personalities, not to make a study of contemporary vernacular linguistics.
Interview with Bryant Paul Johnson
The Webcomics Examiner, March 2005
Interview with Amber "Glych" Greenlee
The Webcomics Examiner, November 2004
Interview with Ted Slampyak
Comixpedia, January 2004
Interview with Ted Slampyak
Modern Tales Family Newsletter, February 2004
Interview with Steven Withrow
Comixpedia, November 2003
Vision Quest into the Natural World: A Review of Salamander Dream, by Hope Larson
The Webcomics Examiner, April 2006
Salamander is totemic in appearance, showing only the face and feet of a salamander on an otherwise human body. Less animal than animal spirit, his visits to Hailey read as vision quests, helping her through the trials of her burgeoning adulthood; it is telling that we don?t see Salamander?s mate until Hailey herself is in her late teens. Through these vision quests, she becomes ever more cognizant of the world around her (various real animals and plants are labeled in the artwork, as a sort of field guide), leading her not toward a world of vague mysticism, but to a world of natural science.
A Good Shot of Sincerity: A Review of Little Dee by Chris Baldwin
The Webcomics Examiner, January 2006
If the premise of Little Dee has been visited many times before, this is so for a reason: the premise has a natural appeal, especially for younger readers. It?s always a pleasure to see grown-up cynicism defeated by youthful optimism. A world where any enemy can be transformed by a sincere hug is a nice world to occupy. It?s a safe world to explore and to be a kid in, no matter how many wild animals roam the forest.
The Future is Preprogrammed: A Review of Nine Planets without Intelligent Life, by Adam Reed
Comixpedia, January 2006
Really, it?s not so surprising that humanity has died out, intent on our own annihilation as we seem to be. What?s surprising is simply how?not in a flash of nuclear war, but rather in a pleasant stupor of fatty foods and affordable sex. With the invention of convincing artificial intelligence comes the development of some very talented and eternally attractive sex robots. Humanity loses sexual interest in itself, the birth rate drops to zero, and the last man dies fat and happy, amidst the tender affections of his burnished chrome harem. Not to worry though: humanity lives on (sort of), perfectly simulated by its former servants, who now have the run of the solar system. Sure, they?re more durable than actual humans, but beyond that, not much has changed.
Review of Nicholas Gurewitch's The Perry Bible Fellowship
The Webcomics Examiner, March 2005
Gurewitch?s humor is decidedly strange, oftentimes downright morbid. Which isn?t to say that it?s in any way angsty, pessimistic, or gothy. It may be morbid, but?it?s cheerfully morbid. In fact, many of Gurewitch?s best moments result from his juxtaposition of the horrific with the wholesome.
Conceptual Webcomics Roundtable
The Webcomics Examiner, March 2005
(with James Kochalka, Bob Stevenson, Steven Withrow, and Neal Von Flue; moderated by Joe Zabel )
What I usually have in mind when I refer to conceptual comics are comics where a formal or structural idea takes precedence over telling a story or delivering a laugh. I will admit to some overlap with "gimmick comics," if we can leave aside the usual negative connotation of the word.
Review of Daniel Merlin Goodbrey's The Nile Journals
The Webcomics Examiner, December 2004
While Goodbrey's world setting for the story is fascinating and his characters are intriguing, it's his experiments with the narrative mechanics that really made Sixgun the groundbreaking event that it was. In one sequence, the reader explores a duel between Abraham Lincoln and Isambard Kingdom Brunel by way of a series of sliding panels that must be manipulated alternately up and down or left and right with the mouse. In another, the reader can glimpse the inner lives of each of six people waiting at a bus stop by clicking on the individual panel containing the character. A third presents the entire comic as a single large sheet viewed through the window of the Flash frame. The reader slides the entire sheet, following a series of trails through small snippets of story about a man condemned to lifetime imprisonment in a maximum security sitcom. Simply following the trails here is not enough -- in each corner of the comics sheet, unconnected bits of back story hide, waiting for the exploring reader to find them.
The Future of Webcomics Roundtable
The Webcomics Examiner, December 2004
(with T. Campbell, Shaenon Garrity, William G., Bob Stevenson, and Neal Von Flue; moderated by Joe Zabel.)
One thing I don't see coming yet is a working model for short standalone stories, in the E-Voluton/Original Longplay vein. Sure, the occasional notable piece will float up to the light, primarily via McCloud's blog, but I don't see a successful online short story anthology coming yet. Which really surprises me -- two years ago, I would have predicted it as the single most web-suitable form going, since it caters to the instant gratification/short attention span mindset perfectly. And yet it's completely failed to get any sort of foothold.