Comic storytelling has a rich history — we’ve come far from the Lascaux Caves of the Upper Paleolithic. Now, the technology of the day has given way to some of the most exciting advances comicdom has ever seen, thanks in no small part to the proliferation of touchscreens. Tech is making comics one of the biggest, most important mediums in the world because it can do so much. Here’s why you should leave all that old paper behind.
Flying Off the Screen
Each advance made to make the experience of reading a comic on anything not glossy paper has done something to affect a tactile, sensual experience. Some of your friends in 2013 will still cop to loving the feel of that new comic in their hands. That feeling can’t easily be replicated. Instead, the industry has collectively agreed to pump as much UI/UX knowledge as possible into making comics amazing to read on your computer, tablet, or phone, borrowing from myriad other experiments in digital publishing while still endeavoring to keep the familiar look from the comics we grew up with.
It would be a mistake not to start with comiXology, simply because they’re the biggest name in digital comics right now. It has a singularly massive catalog, including titles from the Big Two and a number of smaller imprints — and it’s only growing. What’s more, the features it boasts are trying to take comics beyond the printed page. Take Guided View Native, for instance (you may recognize it as the same tech behind Marvel’s comiXology-powered Infinite Comics imprint, which debuted last year). With that feature, the adventures of the superheroes you follow can now take on a more cinematic quality by privileging visuals and showing detail in ways that aren’t possible in the analog world.
Then there are houses like Madefire and Anomaly Productions that take things one step further. Madefire specializes in motion comics, the kind that involve voice acting, animation, and soundtracks. The company launched only last year, and has since partnered with deviantArt, IDW, Top Cow, and others, and just recently closed a $5.2-million round of funding. Meanwhile, Anomaly Production specializes in graphic storytelling that blends 2D with 3D augmented reality. Their raison d’etre is to make comics that are meant for the screen first and foremost, an experience that groks the power that tablets and other portable devices offer. Put another way: Comics come to life more when the characters have the chance to actually break down the panels that confine them.
Into the Real World
The comics medium also has real-world effects — beyond those in Hollywood, of course. This should be unsurprising, given the format’s ability to blend other media together, but we culturally have a tendency to focus more on the Pows, Booms, and Kapows than on other, quieter modes of communication. Digital comics have taken all the progress made by people like Scott McCloud and Joe Sacco, and have hit the ground running.
Take the realm of education, for example. In 2009, the European Union started the EduComics project, an initiative designed to give students an alternative pathway through their education by providing subject matter in webcomic form. The project trained 600 teachers from the UK, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, and Italy how to encourage students to not only learn from the webcomics in their curricula, but also author their own in order to learn the media tools of today.
Here in the States, apps like Narr8 are blending the motion comic ambitions of Madefire with...pretty much any other form of the written word it can get its hands on. Narr8, while primarily comics-focused, offers everything from free comics to full-length novels, textbooks, and art. Seriously, if you want to learn anything about Tesla, you can do so from within a motion comic.
Finally, comics journalism is alive and well in the digital space. One exemplar is Symbolia. Founded last year, the app is committed to telling visual longform stories on such topics as post-war PTSD, environmental devastation, and women’s rights.
The point is, it’s now abundantly clear that we can do more than just enjoy comics as a simple pastime or hobby. We can enjoy them as top-shelf multimedia experiences that immerse us like never before. And we can learn from them, and what we learn depends on how far publishers are willing to push the medium. Time will tell, but, the way things look now, things will keep changing faster than you can turn the page.
Still need your comic book fix? Stay tuned for behind-the-scenes looks and conversations with some of comics' big names, courtesy of the Fiesta Movement.
Top artist: Kyle Runciman
Kwame Opam is the Tech Content Producer for the Studio@Gawker.