Monday, April 18, 2011

Comics, animation and whatever is in between!

In my later years at high school I created an "interactive comic book" program with the use of Visual Basic (in 1998) titled "Comix". It wasn't really a comic book so much as it was a story book with pages of text, accompanying illustrations and a back and next button to progress through the story.

The story would occasionally break into a game, like a shooting gallery type game or a point and click game where you can choose what to say in conversations with characters.

I continued to experiment with these "interactive comics" when doing my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at The University of Tasmania - Centre for the Arts. It was there I discovered how bad I am at essay writing, and how much work can go into a multi pathway story.

Okay, so during my time at university I decided to get serious with the art of comics. I discovered that there is a whole art behind constructing and creating comics and graphic novels. Before I learned how to animate properly I was learning how to make comics.

But before I digress I want to focus on these 'interactive comics' I was creating. My projects lead me to discover web comics and I was thrilled to find that something existed that was similar to what I was experimenting with: a comic that was digital and could be controlled by the reader. We could also delve into the art and detail that I loved to put in my stories.

A few years ago I decided to reboot my online comic 'Peb Casey - Private Eye Butterfly' and decided to bring in the types of interactivity I had experimented with, as well as bring in a bit of animation. I got a bit animation happy (kind of like being trigger happy) and put in more animation than I was origianlly intending. But it doesn't bother me because Peb Casey is a hobby and one that I enjoy doing.

So, I've got this interactive comic with animation. Is it an interactive comic? An animated webcomic? Asking these questions made me re-ask myself, "What is a comic?" Um... does having animation completely remove my project from being a comic?? What do I then call it? Is it just an animation? There's more to it than just being an animation.

Ah! Maybe it's a motion comic! Yeah, that must be it... a motion comic. But that title just doesn't sit right with me. I'm beginning to think that a comic is defined by it's static imagery. So I did some research and had a good think about it:

"A comic is a graphic medium in which images convey a sequential narrative"1.

There are a few words there I like: graphic, images, sequential and narrative. Now this is where the boarders between animation and comics can be blurred. Animation is a series of images that are placed before your eyes so fast in a particular order that what you see is an illusion of movement. It is ‘graphical’, it contains many images, and effectively conveys a sequential narrative.

I'm not saying that comics are the same as animation or vice versa, they are obviously very different, but I can't help but see how similar they are, and how effective they can be to tell a story. I see them both as very powerful forms for displaying a visual narrative.

BUT they are both very different on so many levels. How do you watch an animation and instantly refer back, or forward, to a particular image of a character or scene. Sure we have our pause, play and rewind buttons but to be able to hold on an image and look into the eyes of a character, to really see their fear or surprise, for as long as we want is no more effective than when displayed in a comic.

Yes it's true, emotion can be just as effective, and arguably more so, in animation, but through pacing and timing I, as the Animator, dictate how long the viewer is to see an image. With comics the reader is in full control. They may not see all the action, or get to see how well a character can run out of a room, but to sum up so much in one panel is a true art in itself.

Although it is arguable that the reader cannot imagine a world or character when a story is visually presented in a comic, as opposed to reading a story in a book, it is none the less an appealing side to comics where the reader can imagine how a character sounds when they speak, how they move around a room or how the illustrated sound effects can be heard.

I was a little shocked when I watched an animated short featuring the characters of PVP online. I heard the voices of Brent and Francis and I thought "yeah, that's how I thought they'd sound", but then Skull the Troll entered the scene. His head popped up from behind a cubicle, and my eyes immediately lit up. I had fixated on a voice in my head for Skull for many years. Before he said anything I heard the voice I had created for him... and then he spoke. It was shattering.

Haha, I'm not shocked or offended, offended is probably too strong a word, because if that's the way the creator, Scott Kurtz, had created Skull then that's the way he sounds, but for a moment there I was shocked and offended by my own actions. I had imagined how I would like to hear Skull, and it's this sort of thing that can make comics more appealing to a reader when compared to animation.

But don't get me wrong - I love animation just as much as I love comics. If asked which is my favourite then I'd have trouble answering the question. They both have their pros and cons. I work as an Animator by day and I make my own animations and comics in my free time. The only time I ever ask which is better is when I have to do a project for work. I have to weigh up how much work is involved for me to meet a deadline.

Getting back to the case in point - what do I call my 'interactive comic' 'Peb Casey and the Web of Corruption'? Is it by definition not a comic? Is it an animation, animatic, graphic adventure, motion comic or an interactive animation?

With all that I've considered I can only sum it up as an interactive story. This is a very broad name for my type of project as an interactive story can be conceived in so many ways. To me a computer game can be an interactive story... but is what I've created really a computer game?

I'm going to have to think about this more, and at the same time develop my project further so that you, the viewer, can catagorise it for me. If you have anything to add or suggest then please do!


1: paragraph 1

No comments: