Pages lost

Last Friday I talked at The Design of Understanding about comics, specifically two futures for the medium that I’ve been processing for the last year or so. It seemed to go down pretty well, so I thought I’d put the gist of it here and link to a bunch of the things I referenced so the folks who went can buy some things.

Longbox

The basics

I rattled through McCloud’s concept ‘closure in quick-smart time; comics happen when readers comprehend panels and the spaces between them both as parts and a whole. The page, then, is the fundamental unit of a comic. By controlling the format of the sequence – by putting images on a page in a particular way – you begin guiding the reader through the narrative.

That gives creators a lot of room for spectacular feats – I used Young Avengers, One Soul and Hawkeye #11 as examples here – which play with the 150 year-old toolkit comic creators have to hand.

Here’s a thing though; the multiplicity of digital platforms – and the variety of potential reading experiences therein – shatter the certainty of the page.

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The page is fucked. It’s not coming back. If you’re telling a story that’s available online then you no longer control the layout the reader sees. They’re tapping and swiping and pinching-and-zooming their way through your work, many of them without ever seeing the page as a whole and a few of them experiencing your stories only single-panel by single-panel.

The panel is now the fundamental unit of the comic

That’s a big change. Completely shifts the reader’s relationship with time and narrative. Very hard to come to terms with. On a basic level, it means creators may end up defaulting to Rupert-like stories comprised of flexible sequencing and extra bits of narrative that can be picked up or dropped on demand. But it also means you can treat the web like a page. Meanwhile‘s a great example of that, as is XKCD’s ‘Time’.

‘Time’ is actually an incredible thing; I didn’t watch it unfold religiously, but with gaps of hours or days between panels. That meant I was experiencing a radically altered form of closure where the imagined spaces between panels had a profound effect on my interpretation of the story. Now, of course, you can go to Time at your own pace and watch it as an animation. But that’s not how I experienced it. I came in alone to each panel, bringing my own gaps and imagined spaces and context, to experience it as a comic through time. You will never have what I had.

Tears in the rain

Thing is though, the web’s a flighty beast. Try reading Philippa Rice’s ‘Leaving’ now. It blew my mind when I first read it as it does today… right util the part where the links take you to MySpace and the trail runs cold. That’s not Philippa’s fault – that’s the goddamn web we built.

It’s not just the web. Try reading Chris Ware’s comic for the McSweeny’s app after updating to iOS7. SPOLIERS: You can’t.

Touch sensitive

The brilliant stories that make use of the possibilities of digital technology will fall victim to the obsolescence of that technology. And that’s okay; lots of what I experience here – online – is ephemeral, just as all the comics I’ve given away and traded in or sold have been lost to me. But I keep the issues of comics I think will matter to me, that I love. I need to get better at doing the same for the things I love online.

On a personal note, I’ve spent a year wondering what my relationship to the medium is. I’m too busy to do much about it – GDS occupies my brain to an astounding degree – but I know it can’t just be about making things that seal stories in print. But I’m also not sure how comfortable I am that the long-term future of any story I make for the web comes down to hoping that someone clicks ‘Save Image To Desktop’.

The future, then; the death of the page will mean some brilliant, beautiful experimental stories are going to blossom, but we’ll lose many of them – most, in fact – to the fluctuating rhythms of the network they’re published on.

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And finally…

This post skips a bunch of things I referenced in the talk, so here they are…
Robin and Young Justice
Lizzie Stewart’s webcomics
Cafe Suada by Jade Sarson
Kate Beaton’s comics and her holiday diary
Come in Alone and Freakangels by Warren Ellis
Leila Johnson’s ‘The Trouble With Comics’
Paper Science
ELCAF

A night where people try stuff out

Getting feedback on work-in-progress can be really hard, particularly for things like talks and films where sometimes you need a range of inputs and perspectives. It’s especially hard to get feedback if you’re new to it all.

So, I’ve booked a room in a pub where people can try stuff out in front of a few friendly faces and with no pressure to perform. 7.30(ish) on January 20th at The Queens Head, Piccadilly.

Currently the lineup includes three speakers (Giles Turnbull, Reema Mehta and Ste Curran) and two film-makers (Louise Downe and Anne Hollowday).

If you’re free, come. You lot are brilliant, and your feedback could be really valuable. Plus it’ll be a great night in a lovely pub in central London surrounded by warm and friendly faces.

Details are below, but if you’ve got a minute do sign up to the Eventbrite page – space will be limited, and it’ll be easier to keep you up to date if details change.

A night where people try stuff out
Monday 20 January 2014, from 7.30ish

The Queen’s Head
15 Denman Street
W1D 7HN London
United Kingdom
(Google Map)

Come!

Six pages and process

This evening I spent a few minutes chatting about comics to the local chapter of the IxDA. Last time I spoke at an IxDA night I was a bit too light on process for a lot of the audience, so this talk was almost entirely about process; a blow-by-blow account of how Kristyna Baczynski and I created a comic as resident creators at last year’s Thought Bubble festival.

Rather than retype the whole thing, I thought I’d write about the impact the residency has had on my working process. Some of it feels self-evident, but only in retrospect. At the end of the post you’ll find a list of things I referenced in the talk, as well as a link to specially discounted Paper Science collection (to say thanks for reading that far down/coming to the talk).

First up, some background. I publish an anthology, and I read a lot of them.

Independent anthologies, by and large, aren’t greatest hits collections; they’re a chances for creators to experiment or show-off. Often because they’re unpaid, and because the audience is a subsection of a niche.

Kristyna and I knew that we could created something fun and playful, while packing it with more story than our six pages should allow. We could tell a story, while offering little snapshots into the wider world the story existed in.

We could do that by manipulating the brain’s desire to finish things. Closure is how Scott McCloud refers to the thing the brain does to connect panels to panels and words to pictures. Matt Fraction‘s excellent talk The Batman Dreams of Heironymus Machines shows how that closure extends into the real world, and how you populate comics with your own world.

And so we took from the world around us – Leeds Library was where the residency was based – and brute forced a great big world into a short story about a girl looking for something.

We had a lot of fun that week, speaking a story aloud to one another, finding out about our shared processes and interests and basically having an extended comics ‘date’. It was grand. From a distance of nine months, I think four things proved their importance that week.

Our first day together was spent working out where the other person’s head was at. In terms of how we work, what we wanted to do with comics, how we wanted to spend the residency.

At the time that could have risked being a waste, but it meant we were in a way better position to be clear about things that would help or hurt the project, and when different approaches to work would be useful. Basically, a day learning one another’s boundaries was incredibly valuable in the long run.

We worked out what we wanted to deliver pretty quickly. It evolved over the week, but we spent time making sure we were working off of the same template, ‘Let’s do a six-page comic, and let’s have these characters and this library as the central through-line’.

We didn’t have a brief, so this was critical to us being able to communicate well throughout the making of the comic.

Kristyna’s thumbnails were so tiny. So so so tiny. But with tiny nibs and tinier rubbers she kept framing and reframing panels and structures and the flow of the story, which led to changes in the script which led to changes in the thumbnails and so on.

None of it was polished, little of it clear to anyone but us, but it proved the comic would flow and that the story could be told.

The reason we shared so much of our process – the reason we spent a week in and out of one another’s notebooks – is because the finished comic wouldn’t be happening for a long time. We knew it’d be a while before Kristyna could squeeze a concentrated burst of attention on it into her schedule. So we swapped every tiny piece of knowledge we could so that, when the time came, she could just zero in and Get It Done.

In an ideal world all four of those things would play a part in every project. I think I’ve definitely worked on things where a notable failure to think about or apply one of those has scuppered a job, or at least left everyone feeling a bit dirty at the end.

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For those of you looking for more links, I also referenced the work of Adam Cadwell, Julia Scheele and Tom Humberstone, in particular the latter’s anthology Solipsistic Pop.

You can also find out more about Phonogram, ‘Marvel method‘ scriptwriting and Alan Moore’s scripts using the internet.

EDIT: I also see that Kieron’s Decompressed deals with ‘Marvel method’ writing this week. You should have a listen.

As a super special bonus the collection of the anthology I publish, Paper Science, is available for just £5 plus postage. That’s half price. You should totally buy it before I change my mind about that.

Thanks to Kristyna, and to the folks at IxDA London.

Words and comics

Kristyna posted these preview images of our collaboration, “Due Returns”, when she wrapped work on them a few weeks ago. Super-pleased with how this story came out. It’ll be in the second Thought Bubble anthology, published by Image Comics in November.

I’m going to be talking about how this comic came together at an IxDA night in London on August 22nd. It’s at LBi on Brick Lane and it all kicks off around 6.30. Come!

Scrobbles and faxes

The Story was terrific! Thanks very much to Matt Locke for having me and to Simon Thornton for being excellent conversation.

Of the write-ups I’ve seen I quite like Matt Edgar’s construction of a theme for the event; the ‘uneasy relationship’ between data/facts and art. I have to say that at the event that didn’t really emerge for me, but it definitely sits nicely on top of some really stimulating talks.

The Story was my last thing on a stage for a while. Campire Stories,* which I delivered in Hamburg last week, is something I want to hammer into tighter shape, so if you’re interested in hearing about roleplay, storytelling and bots then give me a shout.

Mostly though, it’s time to write.

* People tweeted a correction for this, but ‘Campire’ isn’t a typo. It relates to this.

Hamburg!

I’m heading to Hamburg next month, where I’ll be chatting to the local IxDA community about Storytelling.

I’ll be developing some of the themes that came up during my Playful talk, namely how the veneer of narrative is becoming increasingly important to even the sketchiest and most impulsive of hacks. Which is a verbose way of saying ‘I’ll be talking about words and whimsy’.

I’ve been invited by Birgit Geiberger, one of the wonderful people who made Utrecht such a delight last autumn, and the good folk at XING. It’s going to be fun!