It Moves

Curator's Note

The video I've edited for this discussion is a compilation of Youtube reaction videos, a popular genre wherein intrepid individuals point the camera at themselves and record their reaction to something, usually something horrifying or disgusting. In the video to the left, the subjects are all reading and responding to a webcomic by Korean artist Horang, which you can read in English translation or in the original Korean. First, though, a warning: this is one of those things that tries to startle its readers, like that maze trick or the haunted car commercial. View it at your own risk, and do not turn your speakers up.

The memetics at work in the circulation this comic have a good deal to do with the social construction of the act of its viewing, which is another way of saying it's a cheap -- some might say gimmicky -- prank that one person uses to embarrass another. But at the same time, it's also a uniquely constrained example of digital technology enabling a specific property of a comic for a special purpose.

So far this week, we've been looking at digital comics in a number of ways, including the intersections of print and digital affordances, a glimpse at possible futures, and the fundamental question itself. But we haven't yet really looked into the whole culture of webcomics, which is entirely premised on digital technology for its existence. I don't know that all webcomics are essentially digital simply by their being viewed on the web, but the relatively straightforward digitalism of a well-placed animated GIF can be charming, unsettling or parodic in ways that don't necessarily disrupt the "unique alchemy" of comics (to borrow Mark Waid's term).

Referring to this Korean webcomic, Scott McCloud seems to agree, mentioning as an aside that what truly makes this effective is not that the comic moves, because it doesn't. Rather, it's takes hold of the browser's scroll function and moves rapidly through a series of closely juxtaposed images, creating an illusion of animation by wrenching control away from the reader. 

So I'm curious, can a concept of Digital Comics account for the baroque complexity of Meanwhile alongside shocking horror comics and the pseudo-interactivity of MS Paint Adventures or its inexplicable, so-ugly-its-almost-beautiful spinoff, Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff?


By the way, I just wanted to add a bit of a note here: I had originally hoped to look into the code that makes the Korean comic do what it does, but I was unable to isolate it, despite my best efforts and a few false leads. I was thinking it would be productive to look at the procedural constraints of its code (JavaScript, I assume) as an aspect of its digitalness, but alas, I just don't know how it's programmed. If anyone can figure out or isolate the code that does it, please let me know.

This surprise mechanic of this webcomic is definitely gimmicky, but I can imagine the same mechanic being used in a more subtle way in future webcomics. There are diegetic,  narrative-based reasons why the takeover of the scroll function could be effective, I think.

Regarding the code, I'm not sure if I made more progress than you or not. I see that the images that move are actually kind of like vertical triptychs, three images to a jpg file, arranged like a strip of film. 

The sound is controlled by a SWF file, which tests the scroll position on the screen and launches the appropriate sound file at the correct vertical position.

I haven't had a chance to isolate the Javascript code that takes over the scrolling, but I'm sure it's there.

Ah yes, the SWF. I didn't think to check there, though I did notice it was awkwardly situated among all the jpegs. I did find some javascript that seems to doublecheck all of the image heights, but that's about all I can tell it's doing.

Did you decompile the SWF?

This is a great example for the discussion on digital comics. I find it very reminiscent of some of the horror gaming effects like the controller rumble being used to thump like a heart beat in some of the now older Resident Evil games. The heart beat like the footfalls on each rung of the metal ladder on a black background for a room change are arguably gimmicky and definitely effective.  I would hope that growth of HTML5 and CSS3 support, knowledge, and critical mass would mean that we'll see more of this sort of work. Thinking about the definition of Digital Comics as one that needs to encompass complexity and interactivity is a productive undertaking.

It's also productive to think about how these are made, distributed, and received, as you've done with the video of receptions and are doing in thinking about the scroll control and SWF file. Are there examples you've seen of the same animation-effect that are produced similarly or differently that might be good to consider alongside this example?

This is a fascinating complication of the discussions we've had this week. I would love to see how taking over the scroll function (or the touch screen) could create separate effects unique to digital environments.

Webcomics are an interesting situation, since they are (as you say) dependent upon digital distribution as a funding model. Is there a way to characterize the difference between digital technology as part of the reading experience of a comic, digital technology as a fundamental mediator of comics distribution and community, and digital technology as something a large publisher adopts with the expectation that profits will be larger than print comics? 

I also feel that webcomics themselves help solve the problem Katherine Tanski mentioned about the need for some kind of digitally-mediated comic book shop. 

Laurie, I'm glad you brought in the idea of videogames. Zach's example already made me think of Eternal Darkness, where the player's controller is overtaken by the game at some points. As my subject line suggests, I wonder if we can think of similar kind of mechanics in digital comics as "ludic comics." But it's not quite a game and not quite interactive, so maybe ludic isn't the right term for this Korean webcomic.

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