I think to appreciate the potential of online comics, you need to think of them not as traditional comics, but as multimedia comics.

Multimedia comics is really not a new concept. Look at the early MAD magazines, for instance. You had traditional panel comics. But you also had photography, parodies of newspapers, funny text pieces-- virtually anything those guys could think up.

Another favorite comic of mine along those lines is the National Lampoon High School Yearbook. Almost all photography, as I recall, with lots of text and a lot of stuff that appeared to be 'pasted' to the pages. If you read it carefully, there was even a kind of story that unfolds.

WATCHMEN, ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY, CEREBUS-- comics have been carrying the concept of multimedia forward into a broad variety of settings and applications.

But with online comics, this concept is beginning to explode.

Want an example of an online multimedia comic? You're looking at one-- the comicon.com virtual convention.

Look what it's got:

links to 'traditional' online comics, rows of panels that have simply been scanned in and posted.

Animation ('Cape Guy').

Photography (for example, see Michael Cohen's booth).

Drawings and paintings-- the 'artshow'.

Permanent text-- the keynote address.

Interactive text-- the discussion boards.

Alternate paths-- the 'main floor', where you can 'wander' around and pick a 'booth.'

'Evolving' sequences-- the Interactive Story, which also features alternate paths.

'Evolving' data bases-- the Connect Sales Directory.

Comicon.com of course is by and large utilitarian in its design. But there's no reason why all of these concepts and more couldn't be employed in creating an artistic expression.

For example, say you wanted to portray an imaginary city-- for example, Anvard, from Carla Speed McNeil's award-winning series FINDER. You could assemble maps, vistas, phone books, museums, neighborhoods, memory flashes, histories, stories, mythologies, a daily news broadcasts, a 'walking tour' (like she has in the books).

There's no limit of what or what kinds of information you could assemble. The incredible artistic challenge, though, would be in forming it into a unified experience. Comics, animation, sound, interactivity must be used to bring the city to life.

Take the same basic concept and turn it on its head-- how about if you wanted to portray a PERSON. Say you have an artistic work, 'Portrait of my Father'. First step would be to come up with a less corny title. But the same volume of material could be assembled, but from a much different perspective. One person's life history-- their house, their family, the jobs they've held. And once again, the crucial role of the artist in breathing life into it.

The biggest challenge to imagine and anticipate in multimedia comics is an attempt to portray a STORY. Because the way we think of stories is linear-- one path from beginning to ending. But the online environment is not linear. As soon as we find ourselves channeled down one path, the natural impulse is to break away.

One solution that has emerged to creating online 'stories' is the role-playing game. But that approach is very limited-- the richest vein of story material doesn't deal with physical action, but with the emotional life. Can you create an emotional role-playing game?

I guess we'll find out.

This message was inspired by a conversation with Steve Conley, who's way ahead of us all, and who will probably beat me to a pulp if I've swiped any of his ideas. [img]/resources/ubb/smile.gif[/img]

Joe Zabel
Joe Zabel