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Friday, July 13, 2007

Comics On Handhelds

This piece was originally written for the 11th Seoul International Cartoon & Animation Festival.

My experiments with screen-based comics began during my undergraduate years in Montreal, where I read a Wired magazine comic by Scott McCloud that discussed the potential for comics to go digital. This led me to McCloud’s then-current book Reinventing Comics and his already extensive website. A read of Reinventing Comics, a few experimental comix of my own, and a graduate degree later, I received an email from Will Simmons at Clickwheel asking if I was interested in publishing my comics to iPods. I was, despite never having seen a color iPod at that point. Will assured me that my comics looked gorgeous on the small screens, but only when I got ahold of one a few months later did I realize the full potential of handheld digital comics.

It's not surprising that comics joined music and video on handhelds. It was inevitable, given the ubiquity of these devices, the revitalization of the comics medium, and the growing interest in webcomics. And though I have no statistics to support this, I suspect that a healthy slice of the net-savvy, handheld-using demographic is also enthusiastic and supportive of comics, be they digital or printed on paper.

Unlike music and video, comics don't suffer from the need to reduce file size (and thus quality) in order to get them onto handhelds. Quite the contrary; quality is enhanced. It's actually satisfying holding a digital comic in your hand, especially compared to hunching over a monitor attempting to read the small or blurry type that often plagues webcomics. The high resolution of an iPod screen ensures that tiny handwriting is legible, and makes the colors crisper than most laptop screens. Due to the typographic nature of comics, I believe that the quality of other handheld screens will need to meet the standard set by the iPod in order to adequately display comics.

An appealing direction for small-screen comics would be the incorporation of artist-controlled transitions from one panel to the next. Currently, comics can only be viewed on an iPod using its standard photo-viewing interface. The typical transition is a straight cut, which is fine, and the user has the option to select others such as "cube" or "swirl", which are gimmicky and do not enhance reading. Consider, however, the simple gliding panel-to-panel movements used in Daniel Merlin Goodbrey's flash-based Tarquin Engine, which, as an example of an infinite canvas with multi-directional reading possibilities, seems ideally suited for viewing comics on a tiny screen. As touch-screen handhelds become the norm, readers may simply be able to finger tap the next panel in a sequence and see it zoom into focus on the screen.

A crucial step I'd like to see for small-screen comics is a simple way for readers to subscribe to their favorite comic and have it download automatically to their handheld. Accessibility and ease of use will be essential in maintaining the momentum of small-screen comics.


At 9:32 PM, Blogger Anthony Woodward said...

I've thought about this before and find it very exciting. I didn't get very far looking into it though as I realised I actually needed an ipod to test and develop comics for an ipod :(

At 2:24 PM, Anonymous The Masked Retriever said...

That video was just gorgeous, by the way.

I don't know if I'll get around to iPod comics, largely because I don't have an iPod due in part to its price (I try not to own too many easily-lost things which cost enough to blow my fun budget for a month or more) but also because I suspect this is just round one for portable high-resolution displays.

I suspect there'll be e-paper readers about the size of an 8.5x11" sheet folded in half (although obviously THICKER) with 300 dpi resolution in the fairly near future. Comics junkies like yours truly will be drooling over those like crazed dogs.

At 12:26 PM, Blogger Jim Medway said...

Are you as a reader able to set your own pace and flick from panel to panel, or do you have to wait for it to happen?

At 1:27 PM, Blogger colin said...

Jim, when you're viewing comic images on iPods you control the rate by clicking the next button. Think of it like turning the page in a book. For podcasts (video) however, the image time is pre-set by the creator.

The Masked Retriever; yes, having an actual iPod to test these on is important, if not crucial. I believe you're right though, in that the iPod/iPhone are just the beginning, and eventually we'll have affordable, high quality e-paper, which will display our morning newspaper and comic strips and etc.

At 8:58 PM, Blogger Eifriger said...

Congratulations--that was an amazing piece of work! Comics/ Music/ Synthesis... Lovely. Interested to see where (and How!) it goes..

At 9:38 PM, Blogger Coolyfett said...

This is a cool video and a cool concept man. I'm already a fan. I know Ipods are cool, but don't forget about the PSP & DS crowd, they would jump on this quick. Trust me.

At 10:45 AM, Blogger demonic_pascal said...

This is awesome!

However, I definitely think that going the video podcast rout would be ideal. Since you can subscribe to podcasts and automatically get the newest "issues" downloaded, plus with video, you would have complete control over transition effects.

The only downside would not being able to control panel changes, but this video (I think) proves that in the hands of a capable creator, its a non-issue.

I may just try my hand at the "iComic" in the near future...

At 11:39 AM, Anonymous Phillip said...

Good looking stuff. But, the keyword here is "video," which was used here in the comments to refer to the comic/medium by both commenters and Colin 4 times so far.

I think Eifriger called it: it's a synthesis. Really, it's comic art infused with video (reading time is not controlled by the reader, but instead by the video file; the "reader" just has to sit and watch) and sound, so it's either "video" or another medium.

It's definitely an interesting medium in which to get your stuff in front of new, potential "readers."

At 11:43 PM, Blogger jalica said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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