Saturday, 23 February 2013

i-Magery: Mark Waid on the digital reinvention of comics

When cinema was first invented, plenty of people thought it would just be like pointing a camera at a play. Television? Oh sure, that's radio you can see. And again when videogames came along: all those wannabe-movie cut scenes with bits of shooting and platform jumping between. 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. 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.

I've never minded doing that work. Captain Kirk said problems give him a bellyache, but I thrive on 'em. That said, if a new technology solves the problem, I'm not going to be a Luddite about it. There are plenty of other exciting things about visual storytelling to get my motor started in the mornings. This business is Ready Brek for problem solvers.

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, bastardized form of both. 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.

Porter described the attentive silence in the room as Mark 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 Mark's 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.