Bar Banter: The Digital Age of Comics

We’ve had the the Golden, Silver and Bronze Age of Comics. We have been in the Modern Age of comics for quite some time, and we are quietly and EVER so slowly moving into the digital age of comics. Marvel and DC were slow in dipping into the digital age (and still are to some degree) with releasing new comics and even comics from their backlog on digital stores.

Releasing your comics in a digital format is only the beginning though. While DC and Marvel continue to mess around with the traditional format, some artists are using the new digital avenue to try out different forms of story-telling mechanics. Some work, and some are less than stellar.

Let’s start with the first and most simple mistake to make. Creating a digital comic in standard format. I mean it works, there’s no shame in it if you also want to produce a physical copy, but it’s not taking advantage of the format, and in some cases can be a hindrance to the experience. Who hasn’t read a comic on their computer, tablet or smartphone and realized that the page is static. Which means you either have to read it in native size which is a pain or you enlarge and spend half the time trying to get panels into a readable frame!

Comixology helps alleviate some of these problems for more modern comics, but it should still be in the best interest of the artist/layout to consider how the comic will read in a digital format!

The next type of digital (I guess digital comics) that I take issue with is the motion comic. I will note that this is partially a personal issue as well, but motion comics do several things wrong with the format. First and foremost, motion comics alleviate the need to actually “examine” the comic. Comics are a visual medium, and while there is no right or wrong way to read them, most anyone will tell you that should always take in everything in a panel. The words, the colors, the backgrounds, the foregrounds and the characters. You can still do that somewhat in motion comics, but they do take away a lot of those elements because of the second reason.

Motion comics dictate your pace, not you. Sure, you can pause and rewind a motion comic if your choose, but they really do control the pace and rhythm for you. When reading a comic (in any format), you are able to advance or back-up at your leisure. Want to spend through a comic in 5 minutes? Fine! Want to spend an hour dissecting every single panel and word used, go for it! It’s up to you. Motion comics take away that leisure. It’s closer to being on a rollercoaster, sure you get all the ups and downs, but it’s on someone else’s schedule.

That’s the digital delivery I have issue with, I’m sure there’s other, but that’s not the focus of this article. Instead, I wanted to focus on some digital artist who are doing it right.

The first, and the inspiration for the article, is called “Toph Vs ?“, I’ll have to spoil it a bit to talk about but Toph from Avatar: The Last Airbender takes on Darth Vader from Star Wars. The comic is fairly light on text instead focusing on the action between the two characters. You can read through it by clicking left/right arrows or using your keyboard. The first time through, it’s a fairly standard comic, but when you go through a second time or power through a first time it becomes something else. Due to the nature and design of the comic, it becomes like a lively flipbook, and the motion to it adds an extra layer that you don’t get in standard, static comic pages.

Next up is Monkey Girl, which uses the digital format to play around with the presentation values of a comic. The opening sequence is reminiscent of something you’d see at the start of a movie with the interplay between dialogue, action and the credits. There’s also some great use of moving action and panel overlay, but you get similar things in the comic above as well.

There are always exceptions to the rules, even when you craft the rules yourself! I mentioned before that I’m not a huge advocate of motion comics for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t mean that motion can’t be used in comics to enhance the experience for the reader. Take for example, this Korean Horror comic, which does a terrific job of messing around with the format in a variety of ways. First, it’s a completely vertical comic, which forces the user to scroll down the page. Secondly, and won’t spoil too much, it uses the scrolling and sound to create some pretty sweet moments. Again stuff that can’t be done in a traditional format.

Finally there’s this comic about.. well digital comics! It is simply titled “about Digital Comics” and goes over some of the stuff we spoke of here, but it also mentions stuff we didn’t. Like it makes references to artists who use snazzy gimmicks, which distracts from the experience as it makes it harder for the reader to absorb it all in. I wanted to highlight this comic for another reason though, it realizes that digital allows you a lot more freedom with layout and isn’t afraid to keep the audience in the dark (quite literally) much longer because it still makes for an interesting visual. It also helps that it would be a pain in the arse to print all black pages. It also plays around with the placement of text and panels. Sequential reading isn’t as important when you control the sequence of WHEN your reader sees panels. Top of the page, bottom of the page, left, right, over, under, it doesn’t matter since it is controlled by when you decide to see the next panel.

This article only takes a look at a handful of comics, and the way digital is impacting story-telling and presentation. I implore you to check them all out, and feel free to leave others that you recommend. The format is still young and people are still experimenting. These comics are only the tip of the iceberg!

Earl Rufus

The owner of this little chunk of the internet. Enjoys having a good time and being rather snarky!

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