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Archive for March, 2009


About “About ‘About Digital Comics’”

It took about 3 minutes in the mid-’90s for comic strips to take to the Web; like those newborn babies dropped in water that instantly know how to swim. If an online comic strip looked like its printed cousins, it was just as readable. If surfers had short attention spans, no problem. The Web was one big refrigerator, covered with magnets, waiting for something short, funny and recognizable to snap on to its audience.

Long form comics (the online equivalent of comic books and graphic novels) have had a harder road to follow. Fewer readers have the time or stamina for a web-based Maus or Watchmen during precious coffee breaks at work. And long, serious comics don’t always lend themselves to the kinds of conspicuous ads and light-hearted merchandise that have kept many daily strips afloat. Still, if a young artist is passionate enough to create a long form masterpiece they won’t let these limitations stop them and sooner or later they’ll find an audience.

But there’s one more obstacle, which is far more infuriating because it’s so pointless and unnecessary: The page designs of most long form webcomics suck donkey dick. Good artists and writersincluding some of my favorite cartoonists in the world—force readers to sroll, then click, then read, then scroll, then read, then click, then scroll again for no other reason than a stubborn belief that all comics pages have to be taller than wide, and that all web pages need a metric ton of blinking crap at the top to work.

Long form comics are different from strips. If a cartoonist wants their readers to stick with a 60-page story about their Moroccan grandmother’s struggle with Diabetes, they need that reader to lose themselves in the story. That means keeping readers’ eyes on the page. Every time a reader looks away to navigate, they’re leaving the world of the story, and returning to the world of scrollbars and links.

The simplest solution—choosing screen-fitting pages and putting them near the top of the screen—is not rocket science. Charlie Parker’s Argon Zark did it over a decade ago (screens were smaller then), Justine Shaw, the first webcomics artist ever nominated for an Eisner, created a near-perfect format with Nowhere Girl in 2002 (making the entire page a next button), and Larson and O’Malley’s wonderful Bear Creek Apartments from 2008 had no trouble getting thousands of readers to click to the end. 

But still the madness continues, and every day another dozen artists put their comics online using a format every bit as a annoying as a TV show that automatically changes channels every 3 minutes, while a four year-old stands directly in front of the screen, screaming the theme from Barney.

Which brings us to Yves Bigerel.

A lot of people have been pointing me to Yves’ two webcomics about webcomics over the last couple of weeks. If your own attention spans aren’t too taxed already, I hope you’ll consider reading both now from beginning to end (should only take about 6 minutes, they’re not too long):

About Digital Comics

About Digital Comics

 

About About Digital Comics

About About Digital Comics

 

Now, there are about a dozen issues raised in these comics that I’m not going to touch on. He’s actually heading in some directions that I’d be reluctant to go. But there’s no question that these comics struck a chord with artists and readers in the last few weeks, including me. And I think that one of the most refreshing aspects (“refreshing” as in a cool drink of water after five days in the desert) is the fact that navigating using Yves’ system is as simple and intuitive as breathing.

If that’s the message more cartoonists take to heart in the coming months, we may see some progress yet.


Why Brussels Loves Comics

Clearly it is the presence of the Giant Blue Brain which looks down upon this fair city.

Thank you to my gracious hosts for an exhilarating visit to Belgium’s charming capitol, and to The Mighty Brain to which I now pledge my everlasting obedience.


Why I Don’t Drink

The place I ate lunch at yesterday here in Brussels had a gorgeous display of alcohol bottles rising 14 feet on cherry wood shelves. The bottles were lit from above and below and within each shelf. I spent the entire lunch staring at them.

I always loved the traditions of different bottle shapes and label styles. Whisky, vodka, brandy, scotch… There’s nothing stopping them from putting Jim Beam in Apple Juice bottles—it would be the exact same drink—but they never will. When I pass them in the supermarket aisles, I feel like I’m in a museum, or even a church. I imagine how much more I’d appreciate them if my body had developed a chemical dependency on their effects; how the experience of drinking would flash through my head at the mere sight of each one.

I’ve always suspected that I’d really like drinking if I ever got started. So I never have.

The restaurant accidentally charged me 13,000 dollars for lunch, instead of 13 dollars. They fixed the mistake, but last night I had to call long distance to my bank in the U.S. to get a hold on my card lifted after they thought it had been stolen. I’m taking it as a warning.

Fun fact: Scott also loves the smell of cigarettes and the charming clatter of roulette wheels.


My Sad, Sad Generation

I don’t get to see it until I’m back in the States, but trust me: I lived through the dark years and no matter how bad it is, it could have been so, so much worse if it had come out when I was in knee pants.

No consolation for Hitler, but some perspective for the rest of us.

[Links via Heidi and Mark]


The Thing About Belgium

Off to Brussels for the Book Fair.

I was in Turnhout for a comics festival in late 2007 and I noticed something odd. It was moist, cool, and windy, and when I caught my own reflection in a shop window, my hair was blowing back into a small tuft directly over my forehead—exactly like Tintin. I mentioned this to cartoonist/genius Kevin Huizenga at dinner that night and he confirmed that he’d noticed his hair doing the same thing whenever he was in Belgium and had even written about it. Was Hergé a realist? 

Updates might be spotty for a few days. Returning home Monday.


Headshots

Cartoonists are visual artists. We should all have better headshots. Everybody’s been enjoying the great photos of NYC comics artists that Seth Kushner has been taking, but I think my favorite is this one from a recent interview with James Kochalka. If anyone out there has a better headshot than that, I’d love to see it.


Music = Comics?

Do comics artists have musical twins? I think some do. For example, I’d say that Craig Thompson is the Sufjan Stevens of comics. Midwestern roots, struggles with faith, gorgeous compositions, a bit weepy… They even look similar (in fact, I was googling to make sure I was spelling both of their names correctly and came across this).

Craig Thompson = Sufjan Stevens

Others I’ve been toying with (or that have been suggested by others):

Will Eisner = Duke Ellington
R. Stevens = Daft Punk
James Kochalka = Flaming Lips
Paul Pope = T-Rex
Gary Panter = John Zorn
Jim Starlin = Yes
John Byrne = Phil Collins
Mary Fleener = B-52s
Eleanor Davis = Joanna Newsom
Jeph Jacques = Death Cab for Cutie

Some need two or more to match. I think that Bryan Lee O’Malley is a combination of Pizzicato Five and Go! Team, or maybe the Ting Tings, and Chris Ware might be our Radiohead, but you’d have to throw in some difficult turn-of-the-century composer like Charles Ives to really make it work.

My favorite suggestion so far was when Sky said that Ryan North oughtta be the Ramones because “the only thing that ever changes is the words.” I love my kids.

This whole thing started because of a now-defunct thread on the Comics Journal Message board on this same topic years ago. Someone had suggested that I could be the Raymond Scott of comics which I liked, but another poster logged in to say that I wasn’t good enough to be R.S. and was, in fact, the Thomas Dolby of comics. I objected, said that despite liking Dolby, I wanted to be the Raymond Scott of comics, to which my tormenter replied “make better comics then.” In the end, it was agreed that I could be upgraded to the Herbie Hancock of comics until further notice, which I thought was fair enough.

Working on a much bigger list. Any suggestions?


Testing…

Okay, if this worked, we should now have a fully-functioning blog (comments, archives, etc) thanks to the excellent work of Mr. Tyler Martin who converted my oddball front page into a WordPress Theme in record time. I’m sure we’ll be tweaking a bit this week, but hopefully everything will work like you wacky kids with your goldarned gadgets expect.

And if any of you budding webmasters/hapless cartoonists need similar work done, Tyler’s definitely The Man (everyone agreed when I was asking around and now I can join the chorus). You may also want to check out the great all-in-one solutions of Tyler and John Bintz’s classy ComicPress.

Note: If anything goes wrong, 99 to 1 it was my fault.

Oh, yeah. And um…

*sigh*

I finally joined Facebook and Twitter.

Why yes, I am going straight to Hell. How ever did you guess?


Dylan Horrocks Awaits You

The great Dylan Horrocks has relaunched his website with new comics and other content that will mess with your head in exciting new ways.

Dylan Horrocks' New Site!

Get your brain and eyes and bookmarks to hicksvillecomics.com now.