Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Comics (Technical)

Most comic fans acknowledge that "webcomics" are changing the way comics are seen. Not just in how we read them, but also in what they can do.

For example, McCloud talks about an "infinite canvas". Comic "pages" exist because comics are thought of as books. On a computer screen, you can scroll easier than you can flip.

Unfortunately, this remained mostly a theory. The infinite canvases made by English speakers remained wobbly proof-of-concepts, interesting as art but not really as comics.

However, there is more in the world than English speakers. For example, there are Koreans. You may not know this, but Koreans have a very healthy webcomic presence:

Just in case you don't speak Korean, if you want to see the comic, here's how:

Click on the thumbnail of a comic. This will pull up the summary. To the right of the new thumbnail are four buttons. The first has a green star, the third has a green word that looks like "me". Click on the second button, between them.

(Naver is basically Korea's Google, but the differences are very pronounced.)

You're free to click around as you like, but here's a specific example. Depending on your screen resolution, you may want to zoom out quite a bit: that's an infinite canvas, and it's more suitable for phones than monitors in this case.

Properly scaled, reading it is pretty easy - just a matter of panning. On many devices, there is a "continuous pan", rather than the scroll-scroll-scroll (pant pant pant) scroll-scroll-scroll that you might get using it like a normal web page. I find it is better with a continuous scroll, adjusted to your preferred speed.

Some people will consider this kind of infinite canvas a "cheat", since it is more or less just pages stacked vertically at first glance. But this is more than that. The layout of the panels is completely rearranged to serve a infinite vertical canvas: there is very little horizontal read, so essentially it has become a long line of vertical panels. But the panels are not simple, packed-in panels like in some American experiments: use of white space, buffer panels, offsets, and other simple techniques give the column a flow and rhythm that is pleasant.

Other things you will notice: the colors and tones are screen-friendly, not paper-friendly. The image is extremely resize-friendly, with straightforward linework and large lettering that won't vanish into artifacts when shrunk.

I bring this up because this is much closer to what a webcomic really should be. English-speaking webcomics tend to be "comic books on the web" or "newspaper comics on the web". Their flow is rotten. They succeed in spite of the format, not because of the format.

I can see a few other things happening for webcomics, as well. A few are already happening: comments sections, forums, contests, fanart - all are ways of using the connectivity of the web to enhance your comic (and your readership).

More innovations are coming. Webcomics with "open" and "closed" chapters for tiered readership. Webcomics with tie-in games, multiple comics that share the same world, comics that are auto-generated based on player scripts, comics which are also virtual worlds.

But here's the thing: trying too hard is bad. A big part of why we couldn't make infinite canvases work is because we put way too much thought into the possibilities. These things only work when they are effortless. When you focus too much on a new possibility, you end up making art that happens to look like comics, not comics.

Anyway, look through the Naver comics section, you'll get what I'm talking about. These are properly webcomics. It's a very energetic community: you're going to see a lot more Korean comics and cartoons in the near future, because they have a leg up on how to actually make webcomics "webcomics".

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