Webcomics: The Influence and Continuation of the Comix Revolution by Fenty, Houp & Taylor

With the prevalence of the internet, readers find themselves with the ability to retrieve older, out of print works, or overshadowed works with greater ease than before, whether it be through scans, websites or sites such as eBay and Amazon. “The internet has given rise to a new generation of comic artists who use the internet as their sole means of production and distribution.” [Fenty, Houp, Taylor.2004] This use of the internet as a distribution system, sidestepping the larger publishers, mirrors what came to be known as Underground Comics.

Mentions Gary Groth, Scott McCloud and Charles Brownstein.

The Freedom of independent publishing via the internet, allows creators to be far more free with the choice of subject matter as they do not have to feel the constriction of appealing to a broad demographic. This also shares parallels with underground comics, such as the work of Robert Crum and later, Charles Burns, as their print runs were relatively small, appealed to a much smaller demographic than the mainstream publishers, and covered much more polerising subject matters, such as politics, sex and drugs. “The web allows webcomic creators to write comics with content which is outside of the acceptable bounds for typical mass-released comics.” [Fenty, Houp, Taylor.2004]

The authors attempt to define webcomics as comics made for the web first, with a single or small group of creators, with no originally printed version and no corporate sponsor. The freedom webcomics are given through their lack of sponsor and distribution methods, allow for even the art style to vary wildly. Allowing creators to use assets such as game sprites and more exploratory art styles, frequently parodying “popular culture, video games, and table-top role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons” [Fenty, Houp, Taylor.2004] some focusing on subcultures within cultures, making their desired audiences even smaller. While the writers attempts to define webcomics relies on the definition given by Scott McCloud, they do not use it as it’s only evidence. The authors draw their own definition in parallel by comparing existing webcomics to the underground comix movement. Fenty, Houp and Taylor go into depth of both the limitation of traditional printed comics, and the freedoms awarded to digital comics, regarding things such as space limitations and cost. Borrowing from the works of Scott McCloud’s Reinventing Comics, and Bill Watterson’s The Cheapening of Comics.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the future of comics publishing by R. Murray

“In order to be with Ramona, Scott Pilgrim has to defeat her seven evil exes in elaborately staged battles that draw liberally on a vocabulary familiar to gamers – an economy where skills, resources and tenacity are embodied in material objects such as swords, gold coins and levels, and without this awareness, understanding of the comic is notionally incomplete. However, it is crucial to emphasize that this understanding is not at the level of narrative, but rather at that of narrative form.” [Murray, 2012: 3]

“With the advent of the Internet, many comics creators have chosen to reveal their artistic process online, often blogging about their method in detail, and communicating with their readers regarding creative decisions made, thus creating an epitextual archive. However, these communications do not, at least directly, implicate any financial consequences. Accordingly, if the material that O’Malley put up before and during the lifespan of Scott Pilgrim in the form of blogposts, sketches and photographs could be considered epitextual, what are the commercial implications of such material?” [Murray, 2012:7]

“Publishers base marketing decisions on assumptions that are informed by segmenting the market in order to recognize the appropriate demographic for the book they are trying to sell. Fourth Estate recognized that Scott Pilgrim’s readers, given the books’ allegiance to video game culture, would be digitally savvy, and thus creating an app seemed like a perfect opportunity to cater to its potential readership. The decision to develop an app for the book was a revolutionary one for an independent comic, and was covered widely in the book trade, technology and comics press. The first volume was to be released for the iPhone and iPad in May 2010, with each volume being released thereafter, building up to the release of the sixth volume and the film in August. Robot Media worked in conjunction to create the app, which contained original new artwork, social networking tools for fans, and enhanced features such as vibrations and sound effects that were triggered during fight scenes in the book.” [Murray, 2012: 11-12]

“Readers have complained about how reading digital versions can often diminish the quality of colour and detail that can be found on printed high – quality paper, and that comics intended for one medium often fails in another.” [Murray, 2012: 12]

“Robot Media chose to tackle this by reinterpreting the physical boundaries of the printed page onto what comics pioneer and scholar Scott McCloud has called a theoretically infinite (digital) canvas (2009) – using the device as a window to view the panels, which transition kinetically.” [Murray, 2012:12]

“Marvel, home to the X-Men and Spiderman, bounced back from its bankruptcy in 1997 on the strength of its reinvention as an intellectual property holding company, but still has to develop a sound digital strategy that will not alienate older readers yet will still attract new readers. Their much – vaunted ‘motion comics’ confused consumers by treading a fine line between animation and static sequential art, and were considered over-priced compared to print comics.” [Murray, 2012:16]

  • Murray, R. (2012) Scott Pilgrim vs. the future of comics publishing. Studies in Comics 3.1 (2012): 129 – 142.

Comics for Film, Games, and Animation. Using Comics to Construct your Transmedia Story World by Tylor Weaver

518k7sxclvl-_sx373_bo1204203200_While specified in its core subject, Comics for Film, Games, and Animation is a well thought out and paced piece of research. The book goes into great detail to chronicle both the history of comics and their relationship with other media, the latter half uses a series of franchise examples to make their point about what makes a good transmedia story, or what can ruin the attended impact. Weaver uses a mixture of history, interviews and critical analysis to make his points, and when addressing more complex franchises, he provides colour coded diagrams to make his point more clear.Weaver’s work has come in handy before, providing a useful basis for my undergraduate dissertation.

 

Weaver, T. (2013) Comics For Film, Games, and Animation. Using Comics to Construct your Transmedia Story World. Focus Press. Burlington.

Understanding Media. The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan

understanding-media-cover-1964Understanding Media. The Extensions of Man, is one of McLuhan’s quintessential works. The book covers a large variety of media and how each relates to our experience. Relating several of McLuhan’s theories, such as hot and cold media, the extension of man, and high and low fidelity, Understanding Media is a useful basis when discussing various forms of media. McLuhan’s work is almost inescapable when discussing media theory, and while The Medium is the Message is also a useful asset, Understanding Media is far more dense, lending itself to more in depth discussions.

  • McLuhan, M. (1964) Understanding Media. The Extensions of Man. Routledge Classics. Oxon.

Digital Art by Christine Paul

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While the article is only partial, Paul covers a rather large depth, discussing the music as it relates to a digital performance and the varying methods this can be achieved by, the nature of remixing, audience participation and audio visual implementation. Paul discusses the works of Golan Levin, and his Audio-visual Environment Suite, and the manipulation of visuals and sound in real time. Pauls’ article is well researched and thorough, in its exploration of a largely specialised subject, providing a useful, if incomplete look at the area as a whole.

Paul, C., 2003. Digital art (p. 29). London: Thames & Hudson  [http://www.flong.com/storage/pdf/press/2003_paul_digitalart.pdf]

Scott McCloud at TED

Scott talks a lot about vision, in both the physical sense and our visions for the future in regards to the arts, media, technology and comics. “Learn from Everyone, Follow no one, Watch for Patterns, Work like Hell.” Thinking about a scientific mind in an artistic field, attempting to make something and understand something at the same time. In regards to comics, despite them being a purely visual medium, they attempt to replicate all five senses. Something that innovation in the digital age could bridge the gap with in later years (e.g. Motion comics, interactive comics). The talk also goes through a history of visual narratives in print, from hieroglyphics, and tapestries, to modern day comics and digital comics. As well as talking about McLuhan-esc mistakes when transferring comics from print to screen, as they are attempting to recreate a previous medium in a new one, ignoring what the new medium can do. This talk borrows heavily from McCloud’s previous books Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics.

I find this talk useful as it shows McCloud openly discussing and elaborating on his theories in a more open fashion, providing examples for each point he makes and going through the work with him to better understand his point. Since my focus is geared towards media theory in the realm of Comics, TV, Film, literature, and theatre, this elaboration of McCloud’s thoughts is interesting to behold.

Digital Semiotics – Oscar Bastiaens

Stemming from the field of linguistics, semiotics is the study of signs and the meanings we attach to those signs, an expression of man and animal behaviour. With birth of the internet age, and especially virtual reality, whole new breeds of signs are created that are unique to that environment. The existence of these signs are growing simply by the digital spaced being used and evolving. When it comes to virtual reality, semiotics takes on a whole new role. Recreating, or just creating, worlds that seem real to the user, will require a firm understanding of semiotics, an understanding of why a symbol or sign is the way it is and what it means to us. A miss communication of these signs, may be enough to break immersion for the user and create an incomplete experience due to this break in the imposed reality.

Semiotics is an important aspect in the realm of media theory, but I feel that it is important to understand that how we view signs in the physical world is quite different to how they are perceived in the digital. While this talk does not go very far in depth with this matter, it does provide a basis of understanding and some useful examples to keep in mind.

  • TEDx Talks (2015) Digital Semiotics: Making Sense of the World | Oscar Bastiaens | TEDxDordrecht. [Online Video] February 20th. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8O2ZBnYjcGw [Last Accessed: 21/10/16]

John Yorke – Into The Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them. [Notes]

Yorke’s book provides a wonderful exploration of what makes a story, exploring how they are structured and giving some very helpful and interesting examples. While different media can tell stories in different ways, understanding the underlying principle is more than important regardless of the medium being discussed.

Three Act Structure:

“Everything must have a beginning, middle and end.” [Yorke. 2013:26]

Syd Field – First to articulate the 3-act paradigm, breaking the structure down to:

  • Set-Up,
  • Confrontation,
  • Resolution.

With Turning Points between the first and second (the Inciting Incident), and the second and third (the Crisis).

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“It’s a model that lies behind all modern mainstream film and TV narratives. Contrary to the perception of many, though, it wasn’t invented by Field. One Only has to read Rider Haggard’s novel King Solomon’s Mines, written in 1885 and so clearly an antecedent of Indiana Jones, to see the structural prototype of the modern movie form.” [Yorke. 2013:26]

  • The Technique of the Photoplay. By Epes Winthrop Sargent. – First screenwriting manual.

Dramatic Structure:

  • Act One: Thesis
  • Act Two: Antithesis
  • Act Three: Synthesis

Hollywood Structure:

  • Act One: Establish a flawed character.
  • Act Two: Confront them with their Opposite.
  • Act Three: Synthesize the two to achieve balance

“From thesis to antithesis, from home to a world unknown.” [Yorke.2013:29]

“That’s what inciting incidents are too – they are ‘explosions of opposition’, structural tools freighted with all the characteristics the characters lack; embodiments, indeed, of everything they need.” [Yorke.2013:29]

“Cliff-hangers, inciting incidents and crisis points are essentially the same thing: a turning point at the end of an act; the unexpected entry point for the protagonists into a new world; bombs built from the very qualities they lack which explode their existing universe, hurtling them into an alien space of which they must make sense.” [Yorke.2013:29]

“Storytelling, then, can be seen as a codification of the method by which we lean – expressed in a three act shape.” [Yorke.2013:29]

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Three Act Structure and Five Act Structure.

“It’s important to underline that a five act structure isn’t really different to a three act structure, merely a detailed refinement of it, and historically of course both forms can be traced back to the ancients.” [Yorke.2013:33]

Example – Comparing Shakespeare and Polanski’s Macbeth:

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Freytag’s Pyramid.

Gustav Freytag

“In 1863, in his epic Technique of the Drama, he gave the world ‘Freytag’s pyramid.” [Yorke.2013:36]

photo-20-10-2016-17-28-381) Exposition – We meet the protagonist, and time and place are established.

2) Complications – Actions are complicated. “Events accelerated in a definite direction. Tension mounts, and momentum builds up.” [Yorke.2013:37]

3) The Climax of the action – Conflict reaches its high pint. Protagonist stands at a crossroads, victory or defeat.

4) Falling Action – Consequences of the climax. “Momentum slows, and tension is heightened by false hopes/fears. If it’s a tragedy, it looks like the hero can be saved. If [It’s not], then it looks like all may be lost.” [Yorke.2013:37]

5) Catastrophe – Conflict resolved. Either through catastrophe, downfall of the protagonist, or victory.

Freytag places emphasis on the midpoint of the story.

– Christopher Booker – The Seven Basic Plots.

  • Booker, C. (2005) The Seven Basic Plots  Continuum.
  • Haggard, R. (1885) King Solomon’s Mines. Cassell and Company. London
  • Shakespeare, W. (2016) Royal Shakespeare Company. London.
  • Yorke, J (2013) Into the Woods. How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them. Penguin Books. St. Ives.
  • Macbeth (1971) Film. Directed by Roman Polanski. [Blu-Ray] US: Caliban Films.
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark. (1981) Film. Directed by Steven Spielberg. [Blu-ray] US: Paramount Pictures.

The Uncanny Valley – Extra Credits

Covering the career of Masahiro Morrie, his work in robotics and his attempts to make them more human like, while discovering that the more human like they became, the less people responded to them, becoming uneasy in their presence. The concept of the imperfect simulation, and the uncanny valley. In regards to digital media, the video provides an interesting look at both the uses of Photo-realism and stylization, both methods to strive for in an attempt to escape the uncanny valley and keep a user immersed. When taking into account forms of media that rely heavily on a user interacting with a virtual human, or even a representation of themselves in a virtual space, overcoming the uncanny valley is going to be of vital importance. Due to our familiarity with humans, we see them all the time, every day, any small incorrect detail in anything from look to movement shows itself, it becomes instantly noticeable to us.

With the ubiquity of digitally created characters and environments in film, television, games etc. I believe an understanding of the Uncanny Valley will be a requirement when discussing computer generated media. Extra Credits works as an excellent basis for understanding the principle theory and giving some useful and notable examples.

Why Fonts Matter by Sarah Hyndman

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Weather it is realised or not, text is everywhere. Our ubiquitous use of digital media, as well as traditional print, puts text and information square in front of us at a constant rate. ‘Why Fonts Matter’ provided a useful and easy to follow exploration of fonts around us, providing multiple examples from adverts, e-books, road signs, etc. to help demonstrate their importance. Useful when discussing choices made in products or media.

While fonts were something I rarely concerned myself with, while studying McLuhan’s theories about how different mediums affect us, I realised the ways in which information is shared across media differs, and how different fonts can remind us of different products and media due to our association with them. Hyndman’s book comes in handy as a starting point when discussing these issues/benefits.

  • Hyndman, S. (2015) Why Fonts Matter. Random House: London.