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?

Joe Zabel
Joe Zabel