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How Do We Feel This Morning?

Want to draw comics for a living? Watch the video here three times in a row then come back.

How do we feel? Hmm?

Now…want to WRITE comics for a living? Watch. Any difference?

Seasoned vets can make fun of some of the oddball qualities of Clive and Daina Goodinson’s labor of love, but in its current incarnation, Pixton is pretty close to what a lot of young newbies have been asking for for years (I know, I get the emails!) and there’s clearly a lot of thoughtful design work going on under the hood.

Much like the Photo Comic software Comic Life, this appears to be a thoroughly user-centered venture. Users want it. Users will get it. And like Comic Life, I could see this continuing to find a place in classrooms, families, or around the water cooler.

The reaction of a lot of my cartooning peers may be a simple “GYAAAGH!” but this sort of thing never bothered me. The goal posts in the whole “only a human can do it” game are going to be moving a lot this century and I’m happy to dance around them with the rest of the creative community.


Discussion (81)¬

  1. Mike L says:

    I think what bothers me about pixton is the idea that this kind of thing somehow represents the same level of creativity that a hand drawn (using whatever media) work does. A lot of entertainment seems to be going this way; movies rely more and more on flash than substance, storytelling seems, at least in the mainstream, to be heading downhill fast while the public eats it up even though they may say things like, “well, I know it didn’t really have a plot but it was great!!!!” What also bothers me is that there is real potential for this sort of thing to really appeal to ADs and the like, making them think that manipulating someone else’s predrawn work is just as good as an original piece and it will be even harder for illustrators to find work. I’d really like to know what your view of the positive side of this would be. I’m willing to believe that mine is just a reactionary judgement and that you’ve thought this out more. Of course, I did look at this and watch the video while drawing and inking pages…

    • Scott says:

      I think the comparison that’s being invited isn’t necessarily between a hand drawn comic and a Pixton comic.

      My guess is that their ideal user is comparing what they can do with the software to what they can do without it (in many cases, little more than stick figures).

      The reason I’m philosophical about something which is bound to trigger the gag reflex for most cartoonists, is that I rather like the idea of a growing number of casual readers relating to comics as something they’ve actually tried to make, not just consumed—even if the products of that effort were of limited subtlety or skill.

      • John MacLeod says:

        In order to inspire casual readers to create rather than consume, we should be pointing them at Matt Feazell’s work. A better option than Pixton, if this is the main goal. IMHO, of course.

      • Mike L says:

        I agree that it would be a wonderful thing for someone to see and play with Pixton, reach its limits and decide that they not only could do better but feel pushed to do so because of the limitations of the program. I worry, though, that products from something like Pixton will be seen as ‘good enough’ by far too many people, personally and professionally. Really, I’d rather see crayon drawings than this sort of thing. I’m willing to wait and see as you’ve been proven right far more often in our discussions than I have!

  2. Hey! The wonderful beauty of this is that it moves the LAZY quality our wonderful culture seems to be pushing onto kids (and adults alike) nice and forward. Who needs to THINK? Why learn to draw or even write? let computer programs validate your laziness. Give me a freaking break. I find it disgusting and in keeping with the further l ack of creativity engendered upon us more and more. This is why cars look like square boxes on wheels, music is just a bunch of obnoxious elctronic beats with a singer using auto-tune, and art is being taken out of school.
    ok. sorry. my 2 cents.
    This, Scott, I’m sorry, is not a positive, and it shuold bother you greatly.

    • Scott says:

      It’s an honest reaction, David. I understand.

      On music: Try the Avett Brothers. Seriously. They’ll cheer you up.

      (and haven’t cars looked like that since the ’70s?)

    • Things to keep in mind, just in my opinion.

      Factory-made paintbrushes gave many artists the ability to paint without having any knowledge about how to construct their tools.

      Auto-tune: Is it overused? Yes. So is every new effect when it first comes out (scratching on turn-tables). But can it occasionally sound cool in a song you dance to in a club? Yes.

      I bring this up because I wouldn’t make such a fuss over all the new toys and tools that come out. Bottom line? They’re cool. They’re fun. They’re add something new to the mix. So I don’t blame the new tech for cultivating people with bad taste. I blame the people for having bad taste. And whatever that means, I guarantee you there have always been people like that. The people who liked the average drinking song over Mozart’s Requiem. The people who liked the poop jokes in Shakespeare the best.

      Furthermore, it doesn’t have to bee a war between “art” and “flashy effects.” Citizen Kane was completely a special effects breakthrough film when it came out. And the new filming technologies that have changed the game so much in recent years hasn’t stopped all directors from making great films. In some ways, new technology challenges the great artists to keep pushing further to prove that their own talent will always be the most compelling aspects in their work.

      That being said…

      Thank god Avatar didn’t win best picture.

      • P.S. The paintbrush analogy is really poor here…don’t know why I put it in…just ignore it… :) I was going to type more about this, but everyone else has said it all and expressed it in ways better than I attempted…

  3. Blake says:

    watching the software work its magic in fast motion to music (like in this clip) is pretty fun. I’d like to see that become a trend, using this comic program to make funky music videos. The could call it Pixton Dancing!

  4. Derek says:

    I was impressed. I’m giving a workshop on campus tomorrow on using visual thinking tools in teaching, and I was already planning to say a few words (and share a few pictures!) of comics in that setting. I’ll be glad to mention Pixton as a tool that teachers and students can use to start thinking more visually about storytelling. It gets around the “But I can’t draw!” objection, and taps into kids’ interests in customizing avatars and such.

    • Thanks Derek, we too believe Pixton can be a force for good :) Kids’ attention is captured by things they can relate to and, whether we like it or not, a lot of kids these days relate to video games and the internet.

  5. Thanks, Scott, for taking my unruley rant… I should have settled down before I reacted to it! It wasn’t directed at you – but at what I perceive as a culture of laziness, ESPECIALLY in the creative arts, and the diminishment of creativity, teaching kids that it’s ok to NOT learn anything of value with art, when “everyone else” is just smacking pixels together and making websites out of them.

    The thought that teachers would use this to teach kids that they can be storytellers too (because they’re NOT) sort of makes me throw up a little in my mouth. It’s called paper and pencil. And unlimited imagination. And it’s called teaching them to THINK with their brains, not to let some program slap it together for them in a false sense of achievement. I do not believe the “getting around ‘but I can’t draw’” is a good excuse. This validates to them that they can choose the easy, lazy route and be like someone who learned it, who wants to learn it. I think it dumbs down the creative brain. It is what auto-tune is to music. If you have to digitize your voice to sing a song, you probably shouldn;t be doing it, because you really CAN’T.
    ok. I’m repeating myself now. Thanks, Scott, for letting me drop my drivel on your comments here – now I’m gonna go look up some Avett Brothers! (slinking back to my corner of the web)

    • Again, I’m also starting to sound like a broken record now, but I don’t think auto-tune is a good analogy. Auto-tune is just a digital effect that’s often overused.

      I’m always wary of the idea that a new device isn’t valid or doesn’t have a place simply because it can be abused. Yes, auto-tune shouldn’t make up for a singer’s lack of talent, but why can’t it be enjoyed in a song that uses it well? And it should certainly count towards the appreciation of the sound designers who create and apply the filters. They are smart, hard-working people that used their brains to make something pretty cool.

  6. As an aspiring creator of comics – and very much a traditionalist – I can actually see some uses for this as part of the workflow, assuming that it is as easy to use as it appears.

    I’m a writer who works very closely with a specific artist and I could see where we could save a lot of time laying out dialogue heavy scenes. I do all my own lettering and am finding it to be one of the most work intensive parts process. and thats just deciding how to break up the balloons & lines!

    let me just quantify what I wrote by adding that I’ve worked in Animation & visual Effects for nearly 20 years and remember very clearly the rise of digital pre-viz in the film and TV industry – both the initial negative reaction from creatives and the remarkable cost savings it has since gone on to produce.

    Cost Savings = Better material? that’s a whole different discussion.

    BTW The art style in the demo is very far away from what we are working on and not too my taste at all.

  7. Ariel says:

    I don’t fear the tool. It looks like a good tool for beginners and is a way of getting more people hooked on comics and the more the merrier there. The thing I fear is how middle management or freelance clients may end up abusing it or misunderstanding it’s capabilities if it takes off in that area. Weekly Pixton comics in the corporate newsletter? >.o Let’s hope not.

  8. This seems to me just as much of a threat to comics creators as website templates being a threat to web designers.

    That is to say, not a threat. People can tell what’s cookie cutter and what’s truly original. And originality will still stand out from the crowd. If this really takes off, people will be saying “oh yeah, looks like just another pixton comic” the same way they say “oh yeah, looks like another free WordPress template.” (or do only web designers say that? – either way, the ones that use the easy way out are rarely considered quality)

    Anyhow, is it really that different than the “Spiderman comics creator” that came with my family’s first computer back in 96? (Oh man, those cartoons I made making fun of the gym teacher were brilliant)

    • Scott says:

      Exactly. Even programs like Photoshop and Illustrator/Freehand triggered similar reactions once. Now it’s easy to spot what was generated using what tools, and new baselines are quickly set.

    • I agree – as a freelance web developer I can say that I’ve never felt threatened by website templates. The kinds of clients who have hired me are of an altogether different ilk than those who favour templates. Discerning consumers will always be able to pick out the artful and original stuff.

  9. Chris says:

    I could see this being interesting for a budding writer who doesn’t know any artists yet, for practice. The cream will always rise to the top, though, don’t you think? Or am I an optimist? I sure do love the Avett Brothers, at any rate. so, I have that going for me…

  10. Thanks for sharing Scott. As a teacher and a father of a 7-year-old cartoonist, I definitely see the benefit in a program like this. It’s very cool and could save me time on weekends slaving over my comic.

    But as benign as this program is my mind races through the potential problems that it can (and I’m sure it will) create. Comic syndicates have been dishing out the fallacy that writing is more important than art for at least 30 years now (I think they are equally important, btw). Being from the animation industry, I watch first hand as “creative executives” were seduced by technology and production pipelines that allowed THEM to have control of the project rather than the artists. Computer animation has overtaken hand-drawn (at least for now) and the vast majority of students in CG programs go into it because they don’t think they need to learn how to draw.

    I’m afraid stuff like this gives fuel for the argument that ANYONE can make —not just comics— but PROFESSIONAL comics. The first clever writer who uses this to create a comic sensation will validate the executives and a whole new generation of crap will be born.

    • Hi Eddie, see my response to Mike below – I’ll do my darnedest to ensure that Pixton doesn’t dilute the perception of what makes a comic good.

      • Hey Clive, mine is just an observation and not a condemnation (whoa, sound like Jesse Jackson there) of your product. There’s a lot of great things to say about what you are doing and it has the potential to put people who wouldn’t even read a comic in the drivers seat. Maybe you’ll help usher in a new era of comic reading for the mainstream.

        Of course, there’s nothing you can do about how it is used — nor should you try. I just know that the potential is there for people to take the easy way out in creating anything and entertainment executives are the most notorious. That’s why we just had a decade of “reality” television.

    • Jacob says:

      What about sprite comics? We’ve had a few clever writers have successful sprite comics but no company is convinced that all they need to do is make a few sprite sheets and then spit out as many crap comics as they can.

  11. Matt says:

    I’ve gotta say that this seems to be pushing comics one step further from an art, and one step closer to a “trade”.

    The problem with making everything so easy and comfortable for the creator is that the creator is less likely to get themselves uncomfortable, less likely to stretch themselves creatively. Less likely to seek out inspiration and less likely to explore the rich history of cartooning.

    To expand on what Dave said, Just like a “performer” belting out lyrics with auto-tune turned on. They are making “music” and people are flocking to it. But at the end of the day, are these guys really musicians?

    My hope is that this is the gateway drug that gets kids wanting to draw comics again. I hope that they start with this program, fall in love with cartooning, and then pick up a pen and start drawing their own characters.

    I hope.

  12. Sarah Oleksyk says:

    Tools are tools, but you can’t compare apples and oranges. Did the invention of MS Paint take away anyone’s appreciation for a gorgeous, hand-crafted oil painting on canvas? There are already clip-art-based comic making apps available online. When the world is flooded with Pixton-made creations, a hand-drawn, beautifully inked, thoughtfully written and craftily-paced comic will stand out all the more.

    • Scott says:

      Well said, Sarah.

    • Matt says:

      Or it will get lost in a sea of computer generated comics? Let’s face it, people are having a hard enough time discovering great comics in a sea of noise as it is.

      Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some Lil John to listen to while I break old Ray Charles records in half.

  13. Matt says:

    I see this software a little in the same way as I see Guitar Hero and Rock Band. People get in an uproar because they’re afraid it’ll prevent kids from learning actual instruments, but anyone who is deterred from playing an instrument because of Rock Band probably wouldn’t have picked up the instrument for very long in the first place, and those will go on will have a good grasp on rhythm, which these games are very accurate with.

    Same with Pixton – if someone draws comics with this and stops, they probably weren’t gonna go that far with comics in the first place, but it is a good starting place for a lot of beginners and, coupled with schooling in hand-drawn, published comics, or even just interesting web-comics, they’ll eventually venture out into self-created comics. But not every kid is gonna be Craig Thompson or David B. right away, and this program is as good a place to start as any to pick up the basic principles of making comics.

  14. Scott, thank you so much for blogging about Pixton.

    And I’m happy to indulge in debate! Mike & David, I very much understand where you’re coming from. I, too, bemoan the mass-popularity of movies and other media that lack plot, soul, and personality.

    In creating Pixton, it has never been my intention in any way to replace, or diminish the significance of, skillfully hand-drawn comics. Rather, I see Pixton as a complement to conventional comics.

    My original vision was to create a new kind of comic strip that could be authored by anyone in the world, and that enabled collaboration. The logical next step was to design online software, a “comic platform”, that anyone with a web browser could access. Pixton is the result of this dream, in combination with my own particular talents and quirks.

    I think it’s important to note that many of our members count “drawing, and Pixton” as their activities of choice. I don’t believe that Pixton makes people lazier, I think it has the opposite effect: they end up spending way more time improving their writing and composition skills than they otherwise would have, AND that in turn inspires them to draw more on paper. Our website gives them an audience, that too inspires them to strive to do better.

    I’d like for people to think of Pixton as a new medium. Like any medium it has inherent limitations, but it also opens up wonderful new possibilities. A comic created at 10 am in Chicago can be remixed by noon in Florence, Vancouver, and Sao Paulo – all by people who had never before considered making comics.

    And you might find this laughable, but I think of myself as an artist, too, albeit a different kind. Indeed, my medium is mostly algorithms!

    • Scott says:

      Hi Clive. Thanks for checking in and joining in the (very lively!) discussion.

      I think your instincts are right on the money with this. You clearly understood what users were looking for in such a tool, and have made a creative and thorough effort to give it to them. I’m betting the creative eco-system will adjust just fine.

      And yes, an elegant algorithm is a thing of beauty too. :-)

    • Mike L says:

      Clive, please see the comment by Eddie Pittman above. It’s not that I think tools like Pixton stifle creativity on their own, it’s the fear that too many people will see that, with tools such as this, -anyone- can create comics which would therefore lower the value of comics creators in general, or, as in the case with much of the animation industry, allow un-practiced executives to ‘make’ comics and deem them good enough. And as they’re so much easier to create in this manner, with so many people potentially doing them, focus is pulled away from the standout material and given to the potentially massive amounts of comics made in this way. Sure, the cream will rise to the top as always, but the market will narrow more and more. Just because something is amazingly well done does not mean it gets the audience it deserves, nor the respect. Making comics seem like something ‘anyone can do’ takes away some of the specialness, some of the appreciation for the medium as an art form. At least, that’s my worry.

      My best to you and the project. And I hope, as I have been many times with Scott in the past, that I’m wrong.

      • Mike, your concern is completely valid: if Pixton became really popular, it might diminish the value of real comics because Pixton comics are perceived as “good enough”. However, I wholeheartedly want to promote the amazing diversity and artistic genious of traditional comics out there.

        I’d love to have a section on our website where we interview comic artists and feature their work. The trick for us (and when I say “us”, I’m referring to my wife and I who toil away in relative obscurity in our little house every day) is how to approach comic artists with this proposal, how to win their confidence.

        I think’s it’s accurate to say that Pixton does provide a starting point for people who might not otherwise have had the courage to venture into comic-creating territory. And, I will be the first person to defend and promote traditional, hand-drawn comics.

  15. Beto says:

    As someone who has longed to switch jobs to have a stint as a comics creator, I try to be very careful to judge something like this.

    Honestly, I wouldn’t be too worried. Sure, Pixton will empower many to go beyond stick figures to create a comic… but the software, in and out of itself, won’t make a killer comic for you. No computer has ever been (or will ever be, hopefully) a substitute for creativity, originality and experience. Plus, as versatile as Pixton can be, you are essentially limited by the boundaries of what the software can or can’t do. Very much akin to if all you knew about HTML were mucking around with Dreamweaver, when there’s really much more than that.

    We often tend to forget that story is the other 50% of making a comic. If you have nothing to say with a pencil and paper, you’ll have nothing to say with Pixton either.

    I however share the common concern about software like this pushing further the “even my 5-year old nephew can do it” concept that would make freelance comics work even more of a tough sell than it already is. But again, as it has been demonstrated many times in other disciplines, the best clients worth having will be those that realize they can’t get professional experience out of a box.

  16. DavidMcG says:

    I don’t get why ANY professional comics creator would complain about Pixton or even care.

    Making fun of people who use Pixton is like getting mad at people for using Mario Paint on the Super NES. It’s not aimed towards professional comics creators It’s just a comics-making game.

    If it gets more mainstream people interested in comics, it’s a good thing.

    • Exactly. When blogging became popular, did professional writers cry foul? Probably, but has blogging killed the value of good, original writing? No, it just created a new kind of niche for new kinds of writers.

      • Scott says:

        “When blogging became popular, did professional writers cry foul?”

        Careful! You’ll start a whole NEW thread with that one. ;-)

  17. George says:

    I feel that this program is fine for those budding artists who don’t have the fundamentals down yet and want to learn in an easier format.

    My getting peeved over this is equivalent to an art professor who would fuss at a student for emulating superhero-style artwork.

    As long as an artist remembers that art should encompass all forms (anatomy, perspective, proportion…), then it’s okay to take the “easy road” while they learn.

    A program like this could help my stepson enjoy drawing instead of being frustrated with his current limitations.

  18. To compare this product to Photoshop is comparing apples to oranges.

    Photoshop allows artists (or aspiring ones) to ply their trade in a different medium. It gives you tools that natural media cannot provide and mimics real world tools with an undo key.

    Pixton is nothing more than playing with dolls. That’s fine if that’s what you want to do. But let’s not pretend it’s any sort of art.

    I can’t imagine anything of value coming out of this. I don’t see it as any different than the millions of flash “create an avatar” games out there. This one just allows you to add words.

    I also don’t think a game/toy like this increases interest in comics at all.

    • Chris says:

      Well, what is valuable? Something that will sell? Is that the point of art? Isn’t it enough of a value to give people a simple tool to express their creativity? Why can’t I stop asking questions?

    • Jesse says:

      good post, Tom

  19. Estragon says:

    I just went and tried it out. Granted I have been drawing all my life, but this is actually more cumbersome and difficult for me than just drawing what I would want.

    I think if it opens doors for writers, then more power to them. It’s almost like found object art or Ready Mades.

  20. Hai says:

    I love this! More people getting interested in making comics will make more people interested in READING comics. And people who read more comics will BUY more comics.

    • Masha says:

      Unfortunately, I dont think that follows so neatly.

      Why would the ability to easily mock up a drawn comic lead to being more interested in reading other people’s comics?

      There is something in the idea that being a creator and not just a consumer will give people a different perspective on comics. It might even make them see comics differently.

      But its still a fairly big step to becoming a “comic follower”.

  21. Matt says:

    Clive, don’t get me wrong. I think this is an amazing piece of software. It is an absolute technical marvel. Kudo’s to you for the hard work that must have gone into creating this product.

    My concern does not lie with the tool. My concern is how people will choose to use this tool, and how it will factor into their growth as an artist. It is not something you can help, so you should not concern yourself with it.

    I don’t blame the guy who created the TV dinner. I blame the guy who won’t get up off the couch and have a nice meal with his family occasionally. (I am not sure if that analogy works… Probably not.)

    • Dude! Stop reading my brain and rephrasing my thoughts! ;)

    • Hi Matt, do you think the comparison between Pixton and blogging in an apt one? I mean, when blogging first became popular, some professional writers undoubtedly took it as a threat.

      I argue that the people who gravitated toward blogging were not the same people who, in its absence, would have gravitated toward professional writing. They were different people, people who might otherwise have never found an audience, and who might never have written in public.

      And, has blogging diluted the popularity of or appreciation for traditional writing? I don’t actually know the answer – anyone?

      • Charles says:

        While I can see the similarities to this and blogging as you’ve stated, that just makes this worse for me. Some bloggers would never decide to take journalism seriously, or writing at all in general and just dilute it. I think this has the same potential for art and comics. But being a self taught artist, I think its best to do actual real world study, looking at other artists, and actually picking up a pencil and paper and trying to create the art yourself. And like what others have already stated, I just think this is a gateway for publishers to demand stuff to be cranked out at a ridiculous pace because it’s so easy to create…similar to the whole ‘reality television’ craze. All it takes is for one success using this as a medium, and then everyone will flock to it because it seems like a get rich quick thing to create with minimal effort.

      • Matt says:

        Interesting question. I don’t think it is the same thing though.

        A blog is a distribution method and not a tool for creation. The method of writing an article or an opinion column is exactly the same whether you type it on a typewriter or you type into a text field. the “professional writer vs. blogger” analogy works better in the “print vs. web” debate.

        And don’t get me wrong, I use shortcuts all the time. I color in Photoshop and I use a computer font for all of my lettering. If it weren’t for those tools, I would most likely never have gotten into cartooning.

        So if I am going to be honest with myself, I don’t really know why I am having an issue with this. I will say though, that I am having an extremely difficult time right now getting my students to understand that a pencil and sketchbook are the most basic and essential tools of a good animator. Ten years ago, it would never have been an issue.

        • Indeed… I went to meeting of local robotics enthusiasts a couple of years back, and they were bemoaning the fact that kids these days just don’t pick up the basic tools and learning how to take things apart and put them back together anymore.

          There’s a general trend away from traditional, “analog” trades and crafts that’s been in the works for years – no doubt coincident with Bill Gates’ master plan to put a computer in every family’s home :)

          I’m with you Matt! This shift in our culture is disquieting. Is it something bad to be stopped, or is it the inevitable change that’s been greeted with fear and suspicion throughout the ages? The jury’s still out. Maybe we’ll find out in “2012″ (IMO, the worst movie ever made).

        • Masha says:

          From the perspective of a teacher, that ‘s actually quite interesting.

          It is getting more difficult to teach things which dont give immediate gratification.

          Or maybe not. Maybe its always been difficult :)

        • animolv says:

          Another analogy for Pixton – Ed. even sounds like Caxton – (and somewhere down the line it’s radical descendant) could be the printing press, where words, sentences, paragraphs, pages and books are assembled out of pre-made letters in order to mass produce or “publish” a work.

          At the time of the invention of the printing press there must have been some worried illuminators, and rightly so, however things move on. Now we may look back and bemoan the demise of the illuminators for what is the loss of an obviously beautiful art, but we cannot in all honesty deny the advantages of the printed book. I’m not saying that comic artists will necessarily follow this route, just that the whole process of change is beyond our control and from our current perspective we cannot judge the benefits change will bring and the difficulties it may impose.

          It seems we are in a period of great flux where questions are being asked about what it is to be creative, what it is to publish work for general consumption, what it is that makes the human perspective so essential. For example, what is it that makes the use of autotune seem somehow a cheat? I am a musician and singer and I find that I can recognize in the recent recordings of well-known and skillful singer/songwriters some of the subtler artifacts of autotune – does that make them evil? or does it enable them to deliver the sound they want?

          Finally, it seems to me that there is something fundamental about the way the creative process works – particularly in terms of music, in the nature of learning to play an instrument, or learning to draw – that there is a physical component to the knowledge required that cannot be substituted by using the more abstracted substitution of a mouse. Similarly the abstracted use of the Pixton interface and characters does not substitute the deeper physical knowledge of drawing on a piece of paper. If the purpose of all this stuff is to represent an individual’s unique perspective on existence then the deeper their perception, mentally and physically, then the more interesting their perspective will be…

          takes a deep breath… no, I’ve actually finished :-) – applause all round

      • mkhall says:

        Actually, I’m in the midst of a (probably ill-advised) career change to writing, and I run into this problem constantly. It isn’t so much that consumers will take off-the-cuff jabbering as legitimate craft (but they will). It’s the publishers and editors who see no need to pay for writers because “If writing was hard there wouldn’t be so many blogs,” as I was recently told.

        I played with Pixton some today and enjoyed it. I could see myself using it to goof around and maybe experiment with issues of pacing and the like. But I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a comics writer because I’m cobbled together some panels with a clever application, and I doubt any of my readers would, either.

    • I actually really like that TV dinner metaphor. :)

  22. larrymarder says:

    I pretty much work this way NOW from a catalog of shapes and textures and master drawings that (more of less) once came from my own hand.

    Truth is, almost no contemporary artists have the skills that most artists had a century ago. And those artists were working with commercially manufactured inks, paints, brushes, and pens.

    Go back further and everyone was spending as much time making their supplies as they were making art. (Or their apprentices were.)

    RE Ariel: “Weekly Pixton comics in the corporate newsletter? >.o Let’s hope not.”

    That seems like an automatic given to me.
    What will be will be.

    RE Matt: “I’ve gotta say that this seems to be pushing comics one step further from an art, and one step closer to a “trade”.”

    Hasn’t comics has always been a Trade.
    That was made very clear to us at some of the PROcon keynote addresses made by Golden and Silver Age artists.

    Even today, many cartoonists consider themselves entertainers first and foremost.

    It’s only of late that comics have been able to grab the Art brass ring and hold onto it and not have it slip put of our hands. Pixton isn’t going to change much.

    Sarah O nailed it.
    Tools are tools.
    Nothing more and nothing less.

    I’m still scratching my head as to why people decided to sell their hand lettering styles on the open market.

    Will there soon be Pixton packages of art basics on sale in the Pixton format?
    Why not?
    I’d love to have a Jack Kirby or Al Capp or Milton Caniff Pixton package to screw around with.

    Seriously.

    • Thanks for your take on this issue, Larry. I actually designed Pixton as a “platform” that can accept any kind of graphics. It looks the way it does now because my wife and I have no money to hire illustrators, so it reflects my own personal drawing style and way of thinking.

      Pixton could provide professional comic artists with a fun new way to engage audiences in their artwork. Plug your own comic library into Pixton, and let your fans go wild. They’ll become more attentive to the details in your art, and more appreciative of how difficult it is to do what you make look easy.

      • Matt Buck says:

        Yes, that’s an interesting idea Clive but, if you weren’t thinking it already, you are asking artists to give up ‘control’ of their product there and that is a big cultural or emotional leap for many. Personally, I think this sort of thing is inevitable in the free and easy distribution publication world we now live in.

        • Yes, it’s a huge leap for sure, and not one for everyone to take. The imagination runs wild with images of people doing unspeakable things with one’s intellectual property.

          We’ve experienced the issue of control ourselves, and so far we’ve dealth with it. It’s possible to instill an audience with a code of acceptable behaviour, with respect for others’ work, without offending their will to express themselves freely (for the most part).

          What I’m proposing could create a phenomenal new experience for fans without destroying the integrity of the artist’s (or entertainer’s) original work. It’ll definitely take courage to be the first to try it!

    • actually the kirby pixton package would be sweeet!!! liscenced characters? FELIX?!? Then I’ll sit at home and make Felix pixton comics and put them up online. FOREVER. :D

  23. I teach a class in a Comics as Social Commentary at a technical college, which has been an unofficially required class for the Automotive Tech students for the past two years. Naturally, the primary goal of this class is less about getting them to think about comics than it is about getting them to think about societal issues—the comics are just a tool in that process. These aren’t students who are looking to become comics creators—most of them aren’t even comics readers—but they are nevertheless required to complete several creative projects over the course of the term.

    The chief obstacle I encounter is the deer-in-headlights terror many of the students experience at the thought of being asked to do something creative. But one thing I’ve found is that giving the students a set of tools that limits them in some ways can really open them up creatively in others. For instance, one of my students responded amazingly well to David Morgan Mar’s “Irregular Webcomic.” For his final project, he went all out creating a Lego photocomic about the dangers of hallucinogenic drugs that showed far more enthusiasm for the task than he’d ever have mustered if I made him draw it.

    I can imagine Pixton having a similar effect on many of my students, and I very much hope to try using it in my class when I teach it again in the fall.

  24. BA says:

    I work for another comic-creation site, Bitstrips, where we’ve been following this discussion with great interest. I don’t mean to take any attention away from Pixton- but I just had to jump in, as we’ve been anticipating this debate for a while. Over the last few years a small industry of online comic tools has popped up (there are actually quite a few), and it’s seemed inevitable that eventually this would elicit a reaction from the ‘real’ comics community. The reactions expressed so far in this comment thread are pretty much exactly what we expected, and I think it’s a great debate, one that gets into the very nature of comics itself.

    When we were building the first versions of Bitstrips, I was reading Understanding Comics repeatedly, thinking about comics as its own language, and pondering what might happen if that language was accessible to everyone, rather than an elite few with the rare combination of talent and patience. Sure, if there are exponentially more people making comics, the signal-to-noise ratio increases, but I think one of the main points of sites like Pixton and Bitstrips is taking comics beyond being just another form of entertainment, to be judged as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – making comics this open and accessible, even to those who can’t draw, turns it into a new form of communication.

    So what does this mean for the comics we know and love? I grew up voraciously consuming the likes of Chester Brown, Dan Clowes, and Chris Ware – do I think that the existence of Bitstrips is going to doom the future Wares of the world to laziness and deprive us of enjoying original artwork? Not at all. If anything, like Clive’s suggested, I think it might mean the opposite.

    Last year we launched an educational version of Bitstrips, which has since been licensed to over 2,000,000 students, who have been collectively producing over 15,000 comics every day. Here we have a new generation of kids, being taught to make comics as part of their homework, with a system that evens the playing field between the star illustrators and those who can’t draw a straight line. These kids are learning the joy of expressing themselves through the language of comics, engaging with it much more than they would through traditional means.

    As a lover of all kinds of comics, I do wonder what the ramifications will be down the road, when these kids are a bit older. I highly doubt that the result will be increased laziness or crappier comics. More likely, we’ll see comics achieve greater prominence as popular communication, and out of that who knows what new geniuses will emerge…

  25. [...] engaging conversation is going on over at Scott McCloud’s blog concerning this site and is worth checking [...]

  26. Bruce says:

    As a Bitstrips user for just shy of two years, I have found using the site to make my own comics has done nothing but improve my appreciation and understanding of comics as an art form.

    I have a greater understanding of why certain choices get made with dialog or art when composing a page or a panel. I continue to learn which moments to use and how to pace a gag to fit in the limitations of 3 or 6 or 8 panels. This practical knowledge makes me read other comics in a very different light.

    Most of the Bitstrips community makes comics for fun, a fact which shouldn’t be underestimated. Comics is a fun art form, and it’s fun to participate in it, even if only as a hobby. People paint, shoot and edit video, take photographs, and engage in other artistic pursuits as hobbies. Comics shouldn’t be excluded, and the comics at Bitstrips and Pixton are as ‘real’ as any other comic even if the purpose of their creation is just for fun.

  27. Jwinter says:

    I think the best example of a culture breaking down the creator/consumer barrier (or at least my favorite) is the punk rock movement. Punk came at a time in music when the mainstream was dominated by show off guitarists and prog acts using all kinds of high tech equipment in both their music and shows. Then the Punks came along and said “you know what? music doesn’t require technology, experience or even skill. ANYONE wjo wants to do it can.”
    I’ve always hoped a similar sort of revolution might take place wit comics.
    And something similar has happened. But instead of a low tech, low budget revolution like in Punk’s case it’s been a high tech (probably still low budget) revolution where comics are concerned.
    I guess this isn’t a bad thing entirely. I guess I just don’t like too many artistic things being bound to technology. Because what if we could no longer use our technology? At this point lot’s of people could still make art traditionally, but if computers become the total indisputable norm what might then become of visual art in a post industrial society? Or perhaps if some economic disaster makes computers no longer a realistic thing to own for the lower to middle classes?

    Mind you i’m incredibly paranoid but also I love traditional art and would hate to see it become nothing but a novelty.

  28. boommike says:

    I’m a Bitstrips user who came to the site while recovering from an illness. As a child I had wanted to be a cartoonist but that got lost somewhere along the way. Since I am able to draw, I’m able to do far more with the site’s software and it has also reawakened my desire to draw strips again. Until I get my artistry up to snuff, the tools available at Bitstrips.com are the best I’ve seen for this sort of thing and reasonable flexible for both the non-artist and those who can draw. One of my series there (Local Patrol) has become popular enough that I now have a separate site for it. I don’t know when I’ll decide I’m back up to speed to my satisfaction with my drawing skills, but I certainly can’t complain about how quickly I can take almost any idea that occurs to me and have it completed in minutes.

  29. Toe says:

    Great discussion! Hope you don’t mind hearing about the experiences of a regular Pixton user.

    I created a character about a decade ago whom I could never fully flesh out due to my abysmal skills with pen and ink. Although I paint, sculpt, collage and weave with found objects, I never found the right medium for my character. When I was introduced to Pixton by a professional cartoonist friend, I realised I finally had a near perfect medium to bring him to life. Over the past year or so I’ve been on Pixton, I’ve grown my character into one of the most recognized on the site and was even nominated for a New Zealand webcomic award this year. I feel pretty darn great about that! I now am an avid reader of graphic novels, using them as a learning tool in order to make my Pixton experience even more enriching. Besides using Pixton as a comic creation tool, I also use it for digital art, as do many other artist friends of mine. I’ve tried other comic creation sites, but they rather stink in comparison with limited, glitchy interfaces and unappealing art for the most part.

    Pixton has opened up the world of comics for me – it’ll never replace the hand-drawn beauty of traditional comics, but I don’t think it’s trying to. :)

  30. mike mcgowan says:

    i’ve been making comics on pixton since their beginnings (see “midwest mike”), and it’s been a great tool for me to improve my writing, to develop my story telling abilities, and to be able to express myself artistically without having to create images from scratch. i am older (54) than most (maybe all) pixton users and i can empathize with it’s naysayers. i was a struggling graphic designer when adobe illustrator and quark xpress were invented and still remember when suddenly everybody seemed to think they were graphic designers. but, before long, and as the programs got better, the true graphic artists, primarily those who embraced the new technology i have to say, remained in control. but those who clung to rapidographs, mechanicals and stat machines faded away. it was the same, i bet , with mathematicians who refused to replace their slide rules with calculators. i’m not saying that traditional comic artists should abandon pen and paper, just that pixton is essentially their friend, creating and testing technological advancements they could take or leave, but MUST at least remain aware of to survive long term..

  31. Jesse says:

    BA: “accessible to everyone, rather than an elite few with the rare combination of talent and patience”

    yes, the elite world of webcomics, where there are absolutely no barriers of entry. Give me a break. Have you ever heard of XKCD? It has stick figures and gets like 40 million hits a month. That’s because he is a funny writer and knows his audience. I’m sure you know that, but the whole “access” angle is part of the sales pitch for your website.

    if Pixton 2.0 allows people to scan in their own drawings and work with those, that might be something worth noting. This is just lame.

    • Bruce says:

      Jesse, isn’t XKCD exactly the point? That it doesn’t necessarily matter what tools you use if the ideas, writing, and execution are solid, and you communicate effectively?

      Bitstrips and Pixton are as capable of conveying a message in comics form as XKCD. It’s the user of the tools and the message created with them, not the tools themselves. If there were 10,000 stick figure strips out there (and there may be) would that diminish XKCD? I could also mention Get Your War On and Dinosaur Comics as strips with a simplified artistic approach that communicate really well.

      As BA mentioned there is a high signal to noise ration on these sites, but that is largely because they serve as a clearing house offering both a creative platform and storage/hosting for the strips. Maybe not everyone wants to get a blog or develop their own site and deal with hosting/coding/etc. These sites/services do lower that particular barrier to entry.

      There are are probably more bad webcomics out there than good ones created using ‘traditional’ methods, but that is no reason to question the tools used to make them.

      I’ve read some really good stuff at Bitstrips (among a lot of bad stuff), and there are some extremely creative and clever creators there. I’ve watched people start simply, and become more sophisticated in their approach to their strips in both the writing and the art. I hope I’ve made some enjoyable stuff there myself., and as I mentioned I’ve learned a lot about comics from making them that I wouldn’t have learned simply by reading them.

      I’ve also seen a large sector of the user base push the tools in directions I’m not sure they were initially intended and I’ve witnessed the developers respond to the needs and desires of those users. Bitstrips continues to improve, and I hope there will come a day when I can use my own custom art as part of the experience.

      I work to make my characters and scenes as distinct as possible to put my own stamp on them (a constant challenge for me). And believe it or not, there are certain creators who have a ‘style’ and I can often pick them out of the crowd, even with the homogenized ‘house style’ that Bitstrips currently offers. BoomMike, who commented above is one of them. These sites are really in their infancy at this point, but they will increasingly become customizable and eventually you will be able to personalize the art to the point of making it uniquely your own.

  32. Sevin says:

    I figured I would actually give it a try rather than basing any opinions on some movie at super speed… turns out you can’t. It won’t even let you register unless its a commercial account.

    Seems like just a bunch of hype, and we’re all contributing. Move along people… nothing to see here.

    • Sevin says:

      OK, my mistake. I guess you’re required to link to your Facebook account. To me this puts it about on the level of “Mafia Wars” and other social networking spam. I really was trying not to be biased at first, but I’m getting more skeptical with each step I take on their website…

      • BA says:

        You can try the Bitstrips tools without signing up for anything. You just need an account to save your work. http://bitstrips.com/create/comic/

        • Toe says:

          Can we keep this about Pixton as per the blog author’s intent? I don’t like having scroll through spam to read new comments.

      • *Sigh*

        Sevin, when you sign up to Pixton you’re not obliged to connect to your Facebook account nor to create a Business account.

        As it happens however, I updated our sign-up form yesterday and for a few hours a bug indeed forced people to connect to FB or sign up for a Business account. I’m only human and, though it rarely happens, I @#$!ed up.

        Pixton’s a totally unique experience that you won’t find somewhere else. I hope you’ll give it another shot.

  33. John says:

    When comparing Pixton and Comic Genesis (formerly Keen Space), I actually found myself more motivated to signing up for a Comic Genesis account and drawing rather than manipulating images. I have more patience with pen, pencil and eraser than I have with click-and-manipulate. Even though I’ll eventually be touching up with MS-Paint afterwards. I think it’s a matter of personal opinion. My personal opinion is that I’m not prepared to throw away the characters I’ve had for close to 20 years (as mediocre as they probably are). By the way, totally agree about Matt Feazel. He is very inspiring.

  34. DF says:

    I agree with the less ‘fatalist’ view – it’s just another tool. Helps non-artists and certanly doesnt hurt artists.

    Also, some people suggested that these kind of sites could only produce “bad comics”. I disagree. Art and creativity are much stronger than that. There are many great “borrowed art” (or even non-art) comics out there. And working in constraints is known to be very effective for creative thinking.

    I even did a “borrowed art” series in my own comic, with a great response from my readers and from the original authors themselves (McCloud included). Here’s a link for the first in the series, in case someone wants to check it out: http://modernlove.comicgenesis.com/d/20070202.html

    To me, as a “comic artist”, that series was a great learning experience. I’d probably experiment with some of those comic-making sites too if I had the time :p