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Saurav Mohapatra Presents:

13 Conversations about that ONE thing – Digital Comics

(Well, I lied. It’s more like one and half conversations about many things. But hey, I got deadlines)

It all started when…

Wait a minute, that’s not right. It started way before that. Damn, actually that’s wrong too. It started…

Aww, effin’ hell! Let me start at the beginning.

In the beginning, someone said, “Let there be light”.

And there was light -- photons to be exact.

A bunch of twisted quantum mechanics phenomena and such stuff later man finally fulfilled the promise the almighty creator saw in mankind and created what the politician from Alaska (no, not the hot librarian, the other one – the wizened headmaster) calls “A series of tubes” aka “the” Internets. Apart from being the foremost source of pornography, it also provides a variety of other sources to keep yourself entertained and informed in the “oh so liminal” interstitial period between adjacent porn viewing sessions. My personal vote for such internet location goes to Twitter.

In short, Twitter allows… oh, Eff it. You know what Twitter is. It’s a bunch of people trying to cram their “l33t w0rdz” into 140 characters or less. For my more seasoned readers, Twitter is “teh” new IRC. So the other day, I was on my twitter (Point of note, the aforementioned Alaskan politician doesn’t twitter. His assistant sent him a twitter once and he still hasn’t received it) and noticed this gem from Ron Marz, the writer of Witchblade and other cool stuff and my erstwhile editor at Virgin Comics. (Actually he tweeted several times, given the 140 word limit. I am combining them for readability).

“Why do people always compare distributing comics digitally to distributing music digitally? Yes, there are similarities, but "music" is not something that's physical, or can be held in your hand. Mp3 or CD or Vinyl are all delivery vehicles for same thing.”

That’s a valid point made. I tweeted this response from my own account:

. “I think the difference is "tactile gratification"... sound doesn't have any tactile element, reading a book is touch + sight.”

Ron continued on, “I think the future of comics is digital, but I also think there will be a market for the physical product (collections more than singles).”

There, he said it. That’s the elephant in the room, ain’t it? No one is going to talk about it, but it’s the sad truth. The beloved “floppy” is going the way of the Dodo. It just doesn’t cut it anymore in terms of RoI (fancy term for Return on Investment aka money made after making back the money spent). Anything printed is bogged down by inventory issues. As long as it is not sold, it must occupy some physical space and space costs money – whether on the shelf or in the warehouse, it doesn’t matter. Digital on the other hand is for the lack of a better word – “ephemeral”. It is like Schrodinger’s cat, existing and not existing at the same time, till someone chooses to view it and once the file has been closed returns to the same electronic limbo. (The digital file takes space too, but disk space is way cheaper than warehouse/shelf space).

Now, as is wont with twitter conversations, it’s like walking into a heated discussion in a university pub and shouting, “It’s a conspiracy I say.” Immediately, multiple people walk up to you – some nodding their heads and some wild eyed with evangelical zeal trying to convert you to their gospel. Also it’s good for striking up conversations with “activist chicks”. Just don’t mention, what the “conspiracy” is all about and bob your head up and down as said activist launches into a tirade against their favorite antagonist. But I digress.

Soon as Ron entered twitter silence to hammer out one of the gazillion titles he writes for Top Cow (Excellent ones, really. You should check them out), I was joined by Mukesh Singh, fellow Virgin Comics alumn and ’08 Russ Manning award nominee for his excellent work on Gamekeeper, Shadow Hunter and Devi. Mukesh comes from a gaming background and before he broke into comics, used to work as concept artist for video games. So he and I have had discussions on this front before – the so called impending digital revolution in comics.

Mukesh is an amazing artist, equally at ease with traditional pencil/paper/brush as well as the tablet, as mentioned in the interview I did of him some time back. This sparked one of our longer conversations about digital, comics and stuff in general. Since Marc is breathing down my neck for a column and I’m way too lazy to paraphrase the conversation, I’m just going to fudge it and present it as a dialogue.

Mukesh: Another factor in favor of digital is that Indies who can't use color in comics due to printing overhead can do so with digital versions.

…And @mohaps not just, 'ahem' tactile gratification but portability.

Saurav: "digital comics" soon will be designed ground up as such, with its own fomat , grammar and idioms. and it opens up a whole new set of syntax and semantics as a new art form, you'll lose some stuff, but gain some more.

Mukesh: Like?

Saurav: E.g. digital comic might lose spreads and composite panels, but you can gain stuff like ability to sequence panels, time them. Also stuff like pans, tilts, zooms all timed. note that I'm not talking about sound addition, but purely visual tricks.

Mukesh: Naah . I am still talking traditional comics here. besides new dimensions to the medium can be unnecessary though maybe folks can experiment. Nothing wrong with that. But hey ! I would rather drool over a still image by Jim lee and let my eyes do all the zooming / panning.

Saurav: that's my point. we should think of digital as something new, to be explored and experimented, not just print comics as jpegs. Visual storytelling might be democratized and/or new masters of the form will be created.

Mukesh: We already have motion comics – they are called “ANIME”. These new-fangled motion comics put me to sleep.

Saurav: That’s because they either try to be comics with motion or animations with less motion. new stories/techniques need to be tried out.

When sound arrived in motion pictures people said it was the death of acting. Some careers did end. but in the end the art form was richer.

Mukesh: It was a missing element, not an addition.

I wonder why people though it was the death of acting. I think a more apt comparison would be theater vs. Films.

Saurav: It think it’s a tendency to evaluate new stuff based on current stuff -- like calling the next great Indian comicbook artist the NEW Mukesh Singh.

prejudice and myopia is born out of not trying to create new metrics for new phenomena

Some people still consider film actors to be "inferior" (to stage actors) because they have access to multiple takes.

The truly gifted will always adapt and shine, but a new medium like digital democratizes visual storytelling, lowers barrier to entry for others.

Mukesh: True. But I think of computer graphics when it started out. suddenly the camera could go any which way.

And people did take it any which way forgetting that they need to tell the audience a story, not show how cool CG was.

or that CG could render hyper smooth surfaces. Now they spend a ton of time trying to NOT make it smooth. Now they want traditionally trained artists. The tools are transparent and usually get the hell out of the way of art.

Saurav: Exactly. In the end it’s a just a tool, with a new set of skills required to bolster storytelling experience (and not an end in itself).

That's my point about "Democratization"... think of it as the "auto-tune for visual media".

Take pixel shaders for example. There’s a weird waxy look in everything now. in trying to make it lifelike, we've made it blatantly artificial

Far Cry becomes a hit... so does Sands of Time... and now event Tetris needs to have Bloom Filters

Mukesh: Ha, I always like the Movies more. Games with HDRI look garish, because they’re trying to do them real-time.

Sands of time was more about gameplay, like God of war.

Saurav: My point is instead of focusing on innovative gameplay, suddenly we had a rash of games trying to have bloom filters.

That’s missing the point.

In the end it's about delivering on the promise of a medium -- like the girl you brought home to mama-the eye candy will fade.

Mukesh: What were we discussing originally?

Saurav: Everything can be expressed with courtship/mating metaphors, except courtship/mating.

Mukesh: Ha! Coming back to comics and digital media, I always felt that way too and I am sure we will see new frontier going digital. Something that Print might not achieve.

As I said a more apt comparison would be theater to Films. or CG to traditional Animatronics. How Cg has enabled that lovely animation form- stop motion to flourish. Digital comics might just do the same to comics. Traditional approach or something new, whichever.

Saurav: I agree, but my point is digital is more than an avenue. it's a new "palette" and "art form" that deserves a new approach.

My touchstone is audio books vs. radio play. The former is translation to voice, the latter is artistry with voice.

Mukesh: That, my friend, is worth Re-tweeting (RETWEETS my comment).

Thus ended our Tweet-versation that day about future of comics vis-à-vis the digital frontier. I know it’s kind of a bummer to read what was originally two people tweeting away as a dialogue, but I tried my best to arrange our 140 word bombardments at each other into a coherent dialogue and to hopefully fix the typos and grammar errors so frequent in tweets (Hey Twitter, would it kill you to add an edit button?)

I’m always interested in discussing and hearing more about Comics and Digital Comics in particular. You can either leave a comment below or at my website or e-mail me or better yet fire a tweet at me.

Till next time.



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