THE BLOG

The Digital Reinvention of Comics

02/04/2013 11:33 BST | Updated 28/05/2013 10:12 BST

From the first time the Lumière brothers cranked a camera, plenty of people thought cinema storytelling was just going to be like pointing a camera at a play. And then, fifty years on: television - oh sure, that's radio you can see. And again when videogames came along: all those wannabe-movie cut scenes with interludes of shooting and platform-jumping. I'm sure I've said this all before. It sounds like the kind of thing I would say.

A new medium always has a period when it is struggling inside the confining box of an earlier medium. Creators have to unlearn what they knew before they can see the fresh, uncharted vistas stretching before them. You don't get The Unfinished Swan or Shadow of the Colossus or even Telltale's Walking Dead until you've sat through the long linear infodumps of something like Metal Gear Solid. You can't arrive at the end of Tony Soprano's driveway without passing through Peyton Place.

I talked a while back about how digital reading platforms can change comics. For "change" read "liberate" - from the tyranny of the page, from having to hit a reveal on just the right panel, from having to take a machete to the dialogue (a particular bugbear for a word nerd like me) because it takes up too much space.

Comics have always been storyboards. In the absence of today's tech, writers and artists had to find ways to nudge the reader's attention to the right word balloon, to make them parse and run the images cinematically in their mind without the intrusion of a storyboard's zoom lines and motion arrows.

To be clear, I'm not talking about motion comics here. Motion comics are just cheap animation. Very cheap animation. And I like animation, almost as much as I like comics, but I'm not rushing to pay out for a cheap hybrid of the two. When Porter Anderson, publishing industry scrutineer and a stalwart champion of serious literature, originally told me about Malk Waid's talk at the Tools of Change conference, I feared that's what it was about. I should have had more faith in the author of Irredeemable.

There was an attentive silence in the room as Mark Waid demonstrated the comics that his company Thrillbent are producing. And this at TOC, where awe is awful hard to earn. So maybe that's another way that new technology can liberate comics. It can liberate the medium from the stigma of pulpy trash that so many people in publishing attach to it.

I'll close with the two key takeaways from that talk: "This is using digital storytelling tools to do things you cannot do in print," and yet: "Like any other form of reading, you are in control of the pace at which you absorb the story."

See, there's nothing to be afraid of. For all the glitzy new tech, right at the heart it's still comics.