Digital comics: A tale of two media

A few self indulgent thoughts on digital comics and creativity.  Thanks to Barry for letting me re-post this here.

Digital comics: A tale of two media

Comics, like music, film and books before them, are undergoing a digital revolution.  Perhaps there will always be a place for physical comics, but it seems likely that the convenience of digital will mean that in future more people will be reading their comics on devices such as phones, PC’s, laptops, and tablets than reading printed books.  This all depends on the publishers getting the pricing right of course, but that’s an issue for another day.

What constitutes a digital comic?  Presumably this is any comic which is stored as data somewhere in the form of little ones and zeroes.  If this is the case, it would seem to me that the term ‘digital comic’ refers to absolutely any comic you might find online, from poorly executed, amateurish scans of physical comics, to the much higher quality offerings of the industry’s most dominant publishers.  However, there is something other than the quality of the scan which divides ‘digital comics’ into two camps.

Far more interesting than those variable scans of the physical product are the number of new interfaces available for reading digital comics, which offer different ways of navigating through the pages, between and within panels.  For me, this is the true new comics medium.  Unlike the straight scan, these interfaces offer new challenges and possibilities for creators, and new ways of interacting with the story for readers.

One example of such an interface is Marvel’s online digital comics reader.  This works very effectively.  Press or click the right arrow to pan and zoom forward through the comic.  Progress at your own pace without the inconvenience of  having to custom size panels for your device yourself.  Such an interface raises some interesting questions about the creation of the book.  Is the ‘adaptation’ to digital part of the creative process?  Who decides whether the next click of the right arrow pans left or right, zooms in or out of the panel?  Perhaps this is something that the writer and artist will work on collaboratively, or perhaps it’s decided by the work experience kid killing time in Marvel’s back office.

Whoever is responsible for adapting the source material for these navigation interfaces, it will surely become a more important role as more readers move to digital.  Perhaps we will see individuals credited for playing this part in the creative process as further innovations are made in the digital presentation of comics.  And where will innovation in this field take us in the long term?  There is scope for the application of sound effects and musical scores to these interfaces.  Perhaps the interactivity element will be developed yet further, resulting in something akin to an interactive motion comic.

Whatever the future holds for digital comics, I feel this distinction between direct scans and dynamic interfaces is an important one.  The latter is the new medium proper, and I hope and expect that there are new and exciting developments yet to come.


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