After a 25-year career in the print comics industry, my passion for the ink and paper of my youth is waning. Storytelling through comics’ unique alchemy of words and pictures is still my first love, and it’s probably the thing in the world I’m best at--but as print costs continue to rise and profitability drops to unsustainable levels for smaller publishers who aren’t backed by media juggernauts like Disney and Warner Bros, I no longer see designing for print-first as viable.
Over the past year, I’ve begun exploring the emerging digital comics medium and, in preparation for launching my own webcomics this summer, I’ve produced several short examples to demonstrate the tools digital allows writers and artists. (See the accompanying video clip, from my iPad, for a brief example.) Most “digital comics” offered by large publishers are little more than clunky adaptations of previously existing material first designed for standard portrait-format print comics, not for landscape-format monitors and tablets. When reading a print comic, you can see the entire page at once, and artists use that as a design tool. But print comics captured on the screen are almost always too large to “take in” without scrolling about or enlarging or isolating individual panels--the comics equivalent of the old “pan-and-scan” evil of presenting widescreen movies on square televisions by inelegant cropping and editing. Hence, my new passion.
As I proceed, my artists and I are constantly learning more about what does and doesn’t work with digital. Yet without resorting to the crutch of cheap, limited animation, we’re still able to suggest movement by altering the art between panels on the “page turn” that happens when the reader taps the left or right edge of the screen. We can break long captions or art elements into pieces that seem to “drop in” as the pages are turned. And we’re only just beginning to learn. I encourage my artists to break borders figuratively and literally--to imagine infinite canvases, new visual language, and more. The only place I stop short is at the addition of voice, music, or anything else that takes the full and total control of time away from the reader; that’s the one essential element of comics (the consumer’s ability to decide the rate at which s/he wants to absorb the story) that I feel is inviolate. As for the rest...welcome to the future.