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#240640 - 04/05/99 12:03 PM Online Comics and Unified Language
Joe Zabel Offline
Member

Registered: 11/23/98
Posts: 2546
Loc: Cleveland Heights, OH 44106
I'd like to talk about online comics in terms of the 'unified language' idea introduced by McCloud in UNDERSTANDING COMICS.

In UC, McCloud refers to the idea in terms of the need to have the text and pictures in a comic be processed in a similar way, so that the reader isn't making too much of a transition from one to the other. The goal is to create a smooth, unobtrusive flow to the comics reading experience.

McCloud links this up with the use of iconic images, which I don't agree with. But how should the idea be applied to online comics?

For example, if a comics story is portrayed in static images, and then one of the images contains animation, will this transition distract the reader from the story?

If the screen erupts with sound, will it shatter the trancelike state in which we read the text and images?

If the reader encounters an interactive forked path, or is asked to enter text, will this underscore the artificiality of the story experience?

Now, I realize that the appeal of novelty makes it difficult for us to judge online effects-- they're just too new.

Also, there are negative side-effects to them that are a result of the primitive state of the technology. The load-time of animation is annoying. The audio quality of most PCs is attrocious. The mouse and keyboard are awkward tools for interacting. All of these things will improve dramatically with time.

But are there fundamental structural problems with online comics (aside from the issue of a definition of the form) that we ought to be concerned with?


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Joe Zabel
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#240641 - 04/05/99 03:31 PM Re: Online Comics and Unified Language
cayetano Offline
Member

Registered: 03/29/99
Posts: 334
Loc: la frontera
yes! i was hoping someone would bring this sort of thing up.

that's one thing i'm really, really concerned with in my work, joe. how do the technological gadgits help/hinder the reader/viewer's experience?

as far as i can tell, i've thought the innovations to be a help rather than a hinderance. i've tried to experiment with a different "innovation" within every other strip on my site. some work and some don't. however, i'm beginning to see how their application in a longer narrative can be successful. more jarring than the switch from a static image to a moving one seems to be just the stacatto load of a screen as one is scrolling...scott actually pointed this out to me once. it's really annoying and definitely detracts from the reading experience. i've also found sound to be more annoying than helpful, although i've tried to find a way to make it work successfully. since the music tends to end when one goes to the next "page", the reload can really be trying on the viewer. ditto for popup windows... however, i think a nicely recorded MIDI file (this is also a key...how good/cheesy is the music file) could serve as the opening music for a longer narrative if it's on the "front" page.

i really like the innovations the web gives us, especially now that comics have to compete with so many other media... people like shiny things, bright colors, and little sounds.

[img]http://www.panam.edu/dept/art/archive/montbutt.gif[/img]
inkwell

[This message has been edited by cayetano (edited 04-05-99).]
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#240642 - 04/05/99 06:13 PM Re: Online Comics and Unified Language
bcbailey Offline
Member

Registered: 03/30/99
Posts: 47
Adding sound, animation, and other multimedia to online comics can be tricky business. There is a fine line where such a thing can either be super cool or excessively gaudy. Does it affect the 'unified language' of comics? I'm not quite sure, it's a little too early to tell.

I plan to include sound on one of the pages in the next installment of 'Huzzy', and I had to think about it for a while. It's true that if it's too distracting it can take away from the flow of the comic. But I think that I've included it in a subtle way. It fits the atmosphere of the story and even enhances it (it should be up by this Friday, check it out and judge for yourself).

Part of the deal with this new media is that cartoonists will have to go through the trial and error phase of how to use this stuff.

It's a little bit like the first days of comics when cartoonists were still figuring things out. They made speech balloons transparent, they didn't know what order to put them in, and their text was much too large for their balloons (seems like poor McCay never figured this one out). Their first attempts at panel to panel continuity were crude, and in learning how to layout a page they often had to label panels with roman numerals just to make sense of them.

Since we're not dealing with the fundamental language of comics here, I don't think the troubleshooting stage of online comics will be quite as rough as that. But the artists of online comics will have to go through a similar phase that artists in all new media go thorugh. How to use things like sound, when it should be used, should it be used at all, how it affects the 'unified language' of comics all will be figured out by trial and error.

B.C. Bailey
www.huzzy.com

[This message has been edited by bcbailey (edited 04-05-99).]

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#240643 - 04/07/99 03:14 PM Re: Online Comics and Unified Language
Joe Zabel Offline
Member

Registered: 11/23/98
Posts: 2546
Loc: Cleveland Heights, OH 44106
Some ideas on making online innovations work in the unified language of comics.

* Use them at points where they will be least likely to interrupt the flow-- especially at the beginning and the end.

* Use them in familiar ways. I can't think of a good example for this, but by principle, if we're accustomed to seeing animation in a particular way, we'll accept it more easily.

* Use them in meaningful ways; animation will draw the eye towards the detail being animated; it should be an important detail, and the motion should be meaningful to the story. Showing a family with a dog, and having animation showing the dog's tail wag is probably going to look arbitrary and distracting. Showing a roman emperor watching a gladiatorial match, and using animation to show him turning thumbs down is going to 'fit' much better.

* Develop a flow for the effect; for example, in a longer story, having a bit of animation at the end of each scene will work better than sprinkling it at random throughout. I'm thinking of the marvelous film ORLANDO, in which Tildy Swanson makes eye contact with the audience at the end of every sequence. It's a distracting device at first, but you come to expect it very quickly, and afterwards, a sequence doesn't seem complete until she glances briefly at the camera.

* Create an environment where the effects are expected. Make sure there are effects on the home page, and early in the sequence.



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Joe Zabel
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#240644 - 04/07/99 11:43 PM Re: Online Comics and Unified Language
MarkBadger Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/25/98
Posts: 22
Joe,
One thing we have to shut up about is load time. With Flash (and its streaming capabilities)if the viewer is waiting for your comic to load it just shows what a moroon you are. Actually with Flash the question is why the heck are we waiting for all these web pages to load. part of the designers job is to break the information into chunks that can stream within the current standards. Doing anything else is like drawing on the backside of your paper and expecting the audience to see it. Load time is dead as an excuse.

Mark Badger

my latest cartoon

http://heismanmemorialtrophy.com/jwheisman.html

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#240645 - 04/08/99 12:42 AM Re: Online Comics and Unified Language
bcbailey Offline
Member

Registered: 03/30/99
Posts: 47
All well thought out points Joe! Let me see if I can find anything to complain about. [img]/resources/ubb/smile.gif[/img]

* Use them at points where they will be least likely to interrupt the flow-- especially at the beginning and the end.

I think I pretty much agree with this one, even though I'm not sure if we should make any hard and fast rules such as this until we have enough examples that show what works and what doesn't.

* Use them in familiar ways. I can't think of a good example for this, but by principle, if we're accustomed to seeing animation in a particular way, we'll accept it more easily.

I'm not 100% sure what you mean, but I think that if there would be a 'particular way' of incorporating animation and such, it would probably stifle originality. Myself, I would like to see everyone use this stuff in individual and different ways. I believe that's where the art and creativity comes in.

* Use them in meaningful ways; animation will draw the eye towards the detail being animated; it should be an important detail, and the motion should be meaningful to the story. Showing a family with a dog, and having animation showing the dog's tail wag is probably going to look arbitrary and distracting. Showing a roman emperor watching a gladiatorial match, and using animation to show him turning thumbs down is going to 'fit' much better.

This one I totally agree with! Don't stick animation or sound somewhere just for the heck of it. It should serve a purpose. Three examples I can think of would qualify: 1: Serving a role in a story, like in your roman emperor example. 2: Coinciding with a concept. For example, in some of cayetano's strips the music and animation are integral to the entire concept of the strip. 3: Atmosphere. If the story was a mystery in an old mansion, there could be a various background sounds (thunderstorms, creaky doors, sound of footsteps before a stabbing) to add to the atmosphere. This might seem corny to some, but I think it could add an extra dimension to storytelling.

* Develop a flow for the effect; for example, in a longer story, having a bit of animation at the end of each scene will work better than sprinkling it at random throughout.

I agree. I think more subtle use of the media would be better than overdoing it, so it wouldn't mess with the 'unified language' too much.

* Create an environment where the effects are expected. Make sure there are effects on the home page, and early in the sequence.

I disagree with this one, but then I'm just a lover of the element of surprise. Say if the above hypothetical murder mystery story decided to just add sound and a little animation to the last chapter when things were coming to a climax. I think that this would add to the suspense and surprise of any developments in the storyline. I think that this technology can be put to better use when it is used in clever and UNEXPECTED ways. It could add surprise to anything from a shocking dramatic development to a sight gag.

That's all for now. Joe, when I get a little extra time I'll put up my own 'online comic manifesto' so you can let me have it [img]/resources/ubb/wink.gif[/img]

B.C. Bailey
www.huzzy.com

[This message has been edited by bcbailey (edited 04-08-99).]

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#240646 - 04/08/99 12:58 AM Re: Online Comics and Unified Language
Ben Adams Offline
Member

Registered: 12/24/98
Posts: 483
Loc: Minneapolis, MN
Err...I waited about 5 minutes for my browser to find http://heismanmemorialtrophy.com/jwheisman.html. It couldn't. Is this URL the right one?

I know that Steve Conley uses Flash, but I'm not aware of where you get the software. More information would be much appreciated.

Actually, I'm running across many, many sites by extremely talented people like Steve Lieber, Craig Taillefer, and Tara Tallan that have pages that are painfully slow to download. (Apparently, they aren't aware of Flash either.) Awhile back, I posted a message expressing my opinion that I'd rather see all the story pages of a multi-page strip in ONE browser window than have to wait between pages.

I have the Online Comics page of my website set up so that the reader can DOWNLOAD .zip files containing all the pages of a very long story. I, personally, am willing to wait 10 minutes to download a movie trailer from the web that I really want to see, so this seemed like one way to deal with these kinds of problems.

When I was looking at Steve Lieber's page earlier today, I used the "Open In New Window" mouse command so that all five (six?) pages of his preview were downloading at once. Then I read through it all after I got all the pages.

I DO really like the way the ASTOUNDING SPACE THRILLS strips load, and I'd like to redo the pages on my website so that they download like this.

So I'm really dying to get the correct URL for the latest Badger strip!! What is it?!?

By the way, Mark, I love a lot of the work you've done with Gerry Jones.

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Ben Adams
www.mediawarpcomics.com
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Ben Adams has led an interesting life. He writes about it in his blog and in his autobiographical webcomic, MISFIT\'S JOURNEY .

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#240647 - 04/08/99 11:45 AM Re: Online Comics and Unified Language
MarkBadger Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/25/98
Posts: 22
Ben,
it is indeed,

http://heismanmemorialtrophy.com/jwheisman.html

whatever the problem is, server, web stuff who knows, it just loaded fine for me. Flash is by Macromedia, who do Director Dreamweaver and other tools. It's designed for working on the web. it does all the drawing in vectors so files are mighty compressed. Heisman is a ten to fifteen pg story that comes in at 700k with animations. Most figures are from 2 to 10k, animation only hits the processor time. It is pretty much for now the web tool for cartoonists.

Mark badger

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#240648 - 04/08/99 12:22 PM Re: Online Comics and Unified Language
Joe Zabel Offline
Member

Registered: 11/23/98
Posts: 2546
Loc: Cleveland Heights, OH 44106
Mark--

I looked at the website you listed-- pretty cool, and it did load fast!

I think you may have misunderstood what I was getting at when I mentioned load time in the initial thread. I wasn't complaining about load time; I was trying to set the issue aside, saying that the problem would be solved eventually by new technology.

What I'm trying to focus on are the artistic problems to be solved AFTER the technical problems are dealt with.

BC: You make a good point about using an effect as a surprise, instead of setting the reader up to expect an effect. The points I was making were just various ideas I've picked up from other art forms that may or may not be applicable to online comics effects.

By the way, I wanted to respond to a remark on the 'breaking away' thread; I think it was Justin who said, to paraphrase, that when he asks for Coke he wants Coke, and that when he asks for comics he wants comics, i. e. traditional comics without animation.

I agree that its frustrating to be shopping for one thing and end up getting something you don't want. I'm wary of buying a printed comic book sight unseen, because sometimes the publishers give you illustrated stories instead.

But I think in the near future the effects in online comics will become so all-pervasive that the average online reader will think that a 'coke', that is, an online comic, is a comic that has effects. Unenhanced comics will be considered something else.

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Joe Zabel
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#240649 - 04/08/99 06:13 PM Re: Online Comics and Unified Language
savage Offline
Member

Registered: 11/24/98
Posts: 1007
Loc: Minneapolis,MN USA
Joe said,"But I think in the near future the effects in online comics will become so all-pervasive that the average online reader will think that a 'coke', that is, an online comic, is a comic that has effects. Unenhanced comics will be considered something else."

If that's true I think its a damn shame...from a historical point of view. And probably a corruption of an artform I respect.

What was so hard about calling multimedia "Multimedia" or interactive "interactive"?






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Justin Savage
President/Editor/Web-bozo
Sabre's Edge
www.sabresedge.com
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Justin Savage
President/Editor/Web-bozo
www.sabresedge.com

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