The 21st century has introduced us with many new modes of creation made available by computer technologies, which in turn have revealed a world of potential. This includes a space for comics, and when the medium is considered and blended with recent technologies, new doors are opened that were previously closed off to the comic sphere. As we are faced with a new technological revolution, individuals interested in comics are consequently faced with a new question: in what ways can technology be manipulated to create new methods of portraying comics?
By examining the three crucial words COMICS, MEDIUM and TECHNOLOGY, it is my belief that this question can be answered.
What are comics?
Generally, the word COMIC is associated with cartoon characters and speech bubbles, likely printed in ink within the pages of a book. This provides us with a rather narrow view, however, and it is important to understand that “comic” actually encompasses a much broader range of visual narratives.
For instance, comic theorist Thierry Groensteen introduces us with a fairly general definition, claiming that “the necessary, if not sufficient, condition required to speak of comics is that the images will be multiple and correlated in some fashion.” (Groensteen “The Impossible Definition” in A Comics Studies Reader). This implies that any combination of images that are related to each other in some way qualifies as a comic.
Writer and cartoonist Will Eisner narrowed this definition even further by emphasizing the storytelling element. He describes comics as “sequential art”, pointing out that comics are “the arrangement of pictures or images and words to narrate a story or dramatize an idea.” (Will Eisner Comics and Sequential Art p. 5)
Comic artist Scott McCloud builds upon Eisner’s idea in his book Understanding Comics, describing them as “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer”. (McCloud Understanding Comics p. 9). McCloud argued that this definition narrowed it down to a more specific art form while also separating it from animation. He stated that “the basic difference is that animation is sequential in time but not spatially juxtaposed as comics are.” (McCloud Understanding Comics p. 7)
After examining these sources, it should be observed that the definition of comics is constantly being reinvented and that there has yet to be a fixed one. This may never be achieved due to changing technologies and cultural contexts, but when it comes to understanding the general nature of comics the three above definitions should suffice.
Comics Throughout History
Another common misconception about comics is the idea that they have only emerged in recent years. Depending on the definition of comics one goes by, this may or may not be true. If we stand by McCloud’s, Eisner’s or Groensteen’s arguments, then comics have been around for centuries. The only factor that drastically changes throughout history and region is the MEDIUM with which the comic was created.
The Bayeux Tapestry is one such artifact that fits these general definitions, which is a long strip of fabric containing a sequence of stitched illustrations. Its exact origins are unknown, though it is widely speculated that it was commissioned in the 1070s by Bishop Odo of Bayeux. By presenting the viewer with a series of images, the tapestry depicts the conquest of England led by William the Conqueror in the eleventh century. (Britain’s Bayeux Tapestry.org) As we can see, though the medium is different than what many perceive to be the traditional comic, its functionality and purpose are the same.
The Codex Zouche-Nuttall is a similar piece, utilizing images in a sequence to portray the narrative of a Mixtec Legend. Recorded on a strip of deerskin about eleven meters in length, it contains forty-five pages with paintings on each side. (Library of Arizona.edu)
Trajan’s column could also be considered a comic, with a two hundred meter-long frieze running down its length detailing the Second Dacian War from 105-106 CE. (Trajan’s Column.org).
As of 2019, comic artists and writers are attempting to integrate TECHNOLOGY in their work, creating a new genre known as “digital comics” (Jen Aggleton Defining Digital Comics: A British Library Perspective p 2). Though comics posted on the web have been around for some time, new and innovative ways to portray them have recently emerged.
One such subgenre of digital comics is the motion comic, which combines animation with the classic comic book style. The reader is shown one panel after the next containing speech bubbles and moving images, and oftentimes sound. Though the reader cannot go at their own pace, they are still offered the cinematic experience that many comic writers strive to achieve by utilizing motion and music to reinforce the story’s overall tone, mood, or setting. Powerhouse Animation is one of the leading companies in this new genre, which has been creating these animations since as early as 2001. As of 2019, their website contains a large and growing collection of comics for anyone to browse, covering a range of subjects including education, advertising and entertainment. (Powerhouse Animation.com)
A slightly more traditional approach that has entered the scene is the interactive comic, which involves the reader by letting them swipe, tap, or click to progress through the narrative depending on the device they are viewing it with. Unlike motion comics (and perhaps even comic books), they encourage the reader to more fully explore the pages by introducing unusual ways to traverse it. For instance, in order to reveal the next section, the reader may have to switch a lamp on in the previous panel to illuminate what follows. The creative ways interactivity is introduced through this genre generates greater involvement between the reader and the work, stimulating the mind in ways other modern comics cannot.
And not surprisingly, these comics are increasing in popularity due to their collection and promotion by other websites. For example, Screendiver is a digital comics directory seeking to more widely distribute interactive comics to the public, as the company is interested in how new technologies influence the way these stories are shared. (Screendiver.com) Keeping interactivity in mind as a critical component for enjoying comics, this may also shed some light on their potential future form.
This brings us to the question “what’s next for comics?” Because the definition of comics is so broad and new technologies are constantly introduced, the potential for comics is almost limitless. However, it seems that augmented and virtual reality may be the next big leap for comic artists, as studios such as Madefire are currently experimenting with this medium to produce immersive forms of comics. By using a lightweight headset, the readers can witness the story unfolding around them in physical space with the company’s new app. (“Projections: Comic Books in Augmented Reality” from YouTube, 0:1:50-0:6:00)
In a nutshell
Taking into account the definition of comics, the understanding that the medium is flexible under this definition, and with the knowledge of present technologies comics are (and can be) portrayed through, it can be deduced that their future may take on the form of augmented and virtual reality, though even these new settings are still being experimented with.
Comics allow artists to experiment with new and innovative ways to communicate ideas by blending them with established and emerging technologies. It places them among pioneers and specialists in this niche yet critical field, which pushes the relationship between technology and communication to its limits. Understanding comics and their potential future forms can give us a glimpse into the past, present, and future of this ongoing crucial relationship.
This is a student project. The images used in this presentation do not belong to the creator.