FlickerPix – Superhero Me!

30 04 2010


Northern Ireland animation company Flickerpix were kind enough to let me take a look around their offices this week. Creative Director Joel Simon and After Effects maestro Nathan Mateer were extremely generous with their time and answered some very specific questions about an after effects project they’ve just completed that has numerous motion comic aesthetics. Here’s a brief synopsis of the project from the Flickerpix website:

“We’re busily putting together a variety of motion graphic sequences for a new US pilot episode called ‘Superhero Me!’

The program’s presenter, Dave Price investigates the latest in high technology which allows us to gain the skills and powers traditionally linked to comic book Superheros.

Our graphic sequences and titles will adopt the visual style of the 1960’s Marvel comics, and Jack Kirby in particular, in 3D animated environments.”

I hope to return in the summer to interview both Joel and Nathan. In the meantime, check out their wonerful portfolio on Flickerpix.com

FlickerPix – Our Projects.


Infowars Contest Entry – Bodyscanners

16 04 2010

This compelling competition entry from the controversial infowars.com highlights the current debate surrounding full body scanners at airports. Sarte, and indeed many other theorists in the 20th Century, anticipated the analysis of the gaze in, ‘Sustaining imperialist and rascist domination.’

The video features a series of static images which have been manipulated from a photographic source, accompanying text balloons and a sombre soundtrack. The resulting milieu of fractured imagery poses the question of what we have lost in terms of our civil liberties, and indeed to borrow a term from Alan Moore, ‘Who watches the watchmen?’

YouTube – SVH_Infowars Contest EntryV4_HD.wmv.

The Secret of Kells

7 04 2010

I recently watched the wonderful Irish animated film ‘The Secret of Kells’, which was nominated for an oscar this year. The animated backgrounds are richly decorated and textured, which contrast in a subtle combination with the more modernistic (clean lines, angular shapes and minimlised detail) look of the characters.

The visually rich world depicted by Director Tomm Moore illustrates a dark period in Irish history as the invading ‘Northmen’ (vikings) lay siege to any community in their path. 12 year old Brendan must venture through family commitments, forbidden forests and a serpent god to complete the Book of Kells. Brendan’s friendship with the fairy Aisling, a mysterious forest dwelling white wolf/girl is particularly enchanting.

The Secret of Kells Website >>>

Debate waging over 2D-to-3D conversion

5 04 2010

An interesting article over at hollywoodreporter.com on the emergence of the 3D cinema experience. The debate is centred around movies that haven’t been shot originally as 3D, but are later converted from ‘2D’ into 3D.

The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis wrote, “The 3D in the ‘Clash of the Titans’ remake, which was added after it was shot, has none of the immersive quality of ‘Avatar’ and instead segments the image into discrete planes, bringing to mind the unintegrated levels of a pop-up book.”

Debate waging over 2D-to-3D conversion.

Jim Woodring’s ‘Frank’ – Animated

5 04 2010

I recently discovered a series of animations based on Jim Woodring’s ‘Frank’ comic books. Woodring’s work often defies attempts to deconstruct its highly surreal and visual narrative, but there’s no questioning the artistic merits of this groundbreaking comic book series. I’m particularly struck by the use of the drawn line as ‘texture map’ within a 3D environment. This animation is one of a limited series by various Japanese artists who have translated the comic book art into short animated tales.

Winsor McCay – Little Nemo

4 04 2010

Winsor McCay was one of the early pioneers of the animated film, as exemplified by this animated rendition of his popular comic strip ‘Little Nemo’. It exhibits fluid movement, metamorphosis and a clear love of the drawn image (one of the main characters draws another character into existence and McCay’s hand also makes a brief appearance at the end).

It’s important to note that McCay’s early animated films were all personally hand rendered, although he did employ someone to re-trace the background landscape on his later animation ‘Gertie the Dinosaur’. I should also point out that this was just before the invention of the acetate (1914), which spawned the industrial time-saving practices of cel-based animation.

Interview with Shaun Gardiner – Creator of ‘The Boy with Nails for Eyes’

3 04 2010

I recently watched a stunning prologue of Shaun Gardiner’s new online comic book (see my previous post) ‘The Boy with Nails for Eyes‘. Shaun has kindly responded to some questions I had regarding his work and production process. His answers are extensive, eloquent, insightful, honest, and at times very witty!


The Boy with Nails for Eyes is a story set in a smoke-stacked town, rotten as an old tooth, gnawing at the edge of a stagnant sea. It follows a boy named Bobby, as he undertakes a quest to save the life of the girl he loves who is, nevertheless, a complete stranger to him. As the quest progresses, he is drawn into a wider conflict, a battle not just for his love, but for the fate of the town itself.

I see the story as being the first of a trilogy which, at a rough estimate, will take some 600 to 1,000 pages to complete.


Online publishing allowed me to do things that I never could with printed comics. The greatest of these, to me, is not actually animation, but sound – I toyed briefly with the notion that The Boy with Nails for Eyes could be a ‘sound comic’, much as early motion pictures with sound were ‘talkies’, but it felt like that put the focus on the wrong aspect. Almost no comics have involved sound in any meaningful way – I mean, how could you?  The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Craig Thompson’s Blankets, later editions of which I think came with a soundtrack album by um… (a quick check reveals that it was by a two-man group called Tracker). I haven’t heard it, but I gather the music is ambient in nature, and intended to be played as an accompaniment to reading the book. But the possibilities of *effectively* syncing the album with the story as it’s read are non-existent as I see it, simply because different readers go at different paces.

Once I’d glimpsed the possibilities of bringing sound into the story, and combining that with some animation effects, publication in print alone just seemed an impoverishment. And, well, here I am.


The writing was fairly tough. The art too. Also, the lettering.

The animation was tough also, but I was partially saved in that respect by not having enough skill or knowledge to attempt anything *too* complicated. The same can be said of the music; it was tough.

Basically, it was a challenge from the beginning to where I am now, which is still pretty much the beginning. I think the greatest obstacle faced by anyone who wants to publish a web-comic of any kind is an overarching one: that they have to do most, if not all of it *themselves*. Even with the availability of platforms such as comicspress and deviantart to take care of the technical aspects of publication, a lot of web-comics are written, drawn, lettered and edited by a single person, who’s usually doing all the financing themselves and, most likely, not getting a huge wage from it. (There’s a posting on the Red Meat comic page http://www.redmeat.com/redmeat/ which describes the current situation, where small papers in the States are all dropping comics as a cost-saving drive, as an ‘alternative comic apocalypse’.) I don’t think anyone gets into online comics – or even just comics – to make their fame and fortune; or if they do, that’s nothing a strong beverage and a stern taking to can’t fix.

With motion comics, the medium to big companies currently have the advantage. I suppose this stems from the logistical problem for independents of one person having to be able in so many different fields. This is doubly so in the case of online stuff, and especially motion comics: not only art and writing, but the technical sides of animation and web-design as well. I’m lucky in that I somehow found myself working in web design a little in the past, and could draw upon that experience. Companies – especially the big ones – simply have lots more money to swing about, and can employ an entire team to produce things, which is why I think most of the motion comics produced thus far have been big studio pieces. You can do a lot more with the Time Warner Empire or the The Democratic Republic of Disney behind you (a certain bias probably creeps through there). However, I think that this difference in production means that independent motion comics (as with independent just-comics) can risk and, indeed, might as well *pursue* more innovation and originality in terms of story, even if the techniques may perforce be more crude. As I said, my standard of animation can’t hope to match the standard an experienced production team can produce; what I hope counters that is offering a story that is very unlike those the larger comics studios typically tell.


In a word, very. But it’s a really rewarding way to spend time.

A while back my girlfriend and I got rid of our telly; we were tired of flicking through channels every evening, trying to find something to watch. You could feel your threshold of taste ratching down a level with every click, until finally its downward arc crossed paths with the edifying zenith of something like ‘When Cheese Carts Go Bad – 5!’ or ‘Lights! Camera! Suction!’  Then you’d spend the rest of the evening, essentially, with your brain on idle. The best thing that happened after the TV went was getting *bored*. Working on The Boy with Nails for Eyes started to change from a few twenty-minutes-here-or-there to a few hours, then to full days at it. Now, almost all the free time I have in the world is spent on it and, honestly, that feels pretty damn good.

Taken as a whole, the process was fairly long-winded and, at first, without planning in the slightest. I began by writing a prose version of the story, which allowed me to get the shape of it straight in my head, and see what worked, see what didn’t. This wasn’t the intention; it was how I thought the story should be told, when I started it. Changes, rewrites; slow going. Finally, I had a full, written of the story, along with a few rough character sketches and some little paintings. All in all, this took about two and a half to three years of infrequent work. Looking back at the earliest version of the story now, it’s rather stonkingly bad and, thankfully, hardly a bit of it survives.

I then began to illustrate, first with simple, full page sketches facing a section of text. As before, I went through the process several times, producing different versions, developing ideas and an overall stylistic approach. Again, as before, the narrative changed, refining itself further with the new storytelling techniques available. More changes, more rewrites.

This stage of the process, with the images gradually taking some of the strain from the words, took another year or so; there was a nagging feeling that the story was uncertain, hovering around itself without landing.

It all came together one day in Finland. My girlfriend’s Finnish, and we were there for Christmas. It’s a good time to be there – eating reindeer at Christmas time adds a sort of irony sauce that’s just delicious to a hardened, tinsel-defying cynic like me. I was going through the story for the umpteenth time (this was, by now, about a year into taking it seriously) when there was a moment of real clarity. Essentially, I finally knew what the story was *about*. But I’ve been reading a book by Umberto Eco that says ‘a narrator shouldn’t offer interpretations of his work; otherwise he would not have written a novel’. That seems like solid reasoning to me, so I won’t say what I think. Just because I know what the story’s about doesn’t mean anyone else doesn’t know either. Or won’t, rather, when it’s done.

On return to the UK (we were TV-less by now) I tore the story into little pieces and wrote it again; and this is pretty much the version I have now.]]

Eventually, I started drawing the actual pages. The first page was actually one from half way through the first chapter – this was the first time (even so far into the process) that I had the notion of making the story into a comic (I’d resisted this before, owing to the amount of work I reckoned would be involved…). My method in producing the pages has been pretty consistent since then: I lay out the grid for the page in ink with a flat headed brush, and sketch the outlines of the images into this grid in pencil, before rendering them with gradually darkening ink washes, building up to just ink at the very end. Then I work into that with various pencils, chalks, pens and paints. It all gets a bit chaotic at this point.

Once the artwork is done on the page, I scan it into Photoshop and add colour, or sometimes entire digital pieces. Some panels begin on the page as blank squares, and are only filled in one they hit Photoshop. Then, once all the images are done, I import them into my desktop publishing software, where I add lettering; at this point, there’s a lot of back-and-forthing between the publisher and Photoshop, to get the images right, and sometimes some panels go all the way back to the pencilling stage.

I began animating only once the pages for the Prologue and the first Chapter were done. As I said (I think) my original intention wasn’t to publish the comic online, so I’d gotten ahead on myself by then. To animate, the images were exported from the desktop publisher and Photoshop in separate layers (with text as vectors, so that they kept their resolution on zooming in the animation). I imported everything to my flash program, where I setup all the page transitions, and figured out the best set-pieces, and how they could be animated. I started sketching out the music (I have no training, and all the theory I know is from an entry-level book, so this bit really operated from the gut; as a result, I live in fear of being revealed as a complete music faker). I brought in the soundtrack once it felt right, and matched the animations to the sound (it’s easier than the other way round, I think). Sound effects went in last; there are great resources online for free, open-source sound effects, and they made life one hell of a lot easier.

Then it was on to optimisation (the end’s in sight, I assure you). The principle here, as you can imagine, was just to keep the file as small as possible, whilst maintaining a level of reasonable quality. Then testing. Testing, testing, testing. I tried out the animation on all the major browsers. And, of course, the tweaks were still ongoing. Then, once I was so sick of the damn thing that couldn’t look at it any longer, I uploaded it. At this point, I imagine I felt much like a parent booting their miserable, whiny teen off to university or something. I haven’t actually watched the first chapter in full since I uploaded it. I’m terrified it’ll turn up on the doorstep one day, with a crap haircut and a pile of washing, or a rare venereal disease.

So that’s it. For a single chapter, I guess that the whole process will take between one and two months in the future.  The advantage is that animating the Prologue presented a lot of opportunity to work out a best approach, so that later chapters will be much swifter, in theory.

The work as a whole has taken about seven years so far. That said, the first few years were very fragmented. But even with it being a major part of my life now, I still reckon I have work enough for several years more.


I tried to tie the stylistic depictions of the characters into their place within the story; for example, using a photomanipulation approach for some characters, and a drawn approach for others, depending on their intended status. This is complicated by the fact that I treat the setting of the story much as a character in itself. As will become more plain when the protagonists of the story appear, I’m keeping the visual approach to them as ‘traditional’ as possible, in that I want them to be *seen* as characters inhabiting the story, rather than as visual symbols commenting on or colouring the story. With other things, though, I feel free to take the opposite approach, and do something different.

Without wanting to sound lofty about it, I was trying for a slightly poetic, visually metaphoric approach to much of the imagery, rather than a straightforward representative one. In a sense, the text and the images had to some extent exchanged their tradition roles in comics. Usually, the images provide the essential narrative information, while it is the text that offers an insight or commentary on the images in the form of captions, or speech balloons.

This isn’t to say that the words aren’t important. They just aren’t *essential*, as far as I’m concerned. A story can find depth in the tension between text and image, each modifying the other, but in all comics it is the picture that is fundamental; otherwise ‘silent’ comics would be an impossibility. In The Boy with Nails for Eyes, there’s a slightly different balance between the two – allowing the imagery to be more symbolic, rather than representative, while the text provides the essential narrative. It’s not an innovation; Dave McKean and Bill Sienkowicz used the same approach, I think, and probably others have too.

Like efficient underwear, this was both liberating and restrictive. It meant that mixed media, using both traditional and digital sources, could work on a single page, and I could really try to push the boat out in terms of imagery, without puncturing the reader’s suspension of disbelief. Or that’s how I hope it works, anyway.


The primary role of lettering, as I see it, is to guide the reader’s eye across the page. Again, I tried to inform my decisions by approaching the matter poetically, which is to say ‘rhythmically’. If the movement of the eye across the page is imagined as an unbroken line, the placing of the captions upon the page both inform the path of that line, and also confer a rhythmic quality to the visual experience, guiding the eye’s assessment of the images. This is much as line breaks in poetry help to define the meter (although I should add that, on reflection, broken captions in comics also have the ability to modify the text in this way as well).

To take a hypothetical example, the clause ‘She fell into a deep sleep’ has a very different rhythmic quality – a different distribution of weight – if its broken into captions as [She fell] [into a deep sleep], or [She fell into a deep] [sleep], or even [She fell] [into a] [deep] [sleep]. Internal rhymes versus external ones, long phrases or short staccato bursts. This is despite there being no change in the informational quality of the clause itself.

These techniques of guidance, rhythm and fragmentation are the ones that I bore most in mind in my approach to lettering. I was helped in this respect by the fact that the Prologue had very little dialogue – which I intend to keep as standard throughout the rest of the story. Word balloons can’t be placed as freely as captions, and have to obey certain rules: the first speech balloon must go on the left; all balloons should be placed near their speakers; the balloon tail should point to the speaker’s mouth… So an absence of speech meant more freedom; I was able to concentrate on the aforementioned poetic qualities of the lettering, without having to break away from that for the considerations of proper balloon placement.


The proper answer to this would be sort of arcane formula with ‘price’ and ‘capability’ as its primary components.

For the images (following the drawing and scanning), I use Adobe Photoshop (which I haven’t upgraded for a while, but which is still incredibly powerful) and sometimes a Wacom.

For the lettering and page compositing I use fantastic open-source desktop publisher called Scribus (www.scribus.net) which, despite being completely and utterly free, has got barrels of functionality and is damn simple to use.

For music, I use a program called ‘FLStudio’, which was called Fruityloops back when I started using it. I recently bought the program, when it became clear that’d I’d be posting music online, as opposed to just messing about for fun. Again, it’s a very inexpensive program for its features, and its interface is very approachable, which is ideal for me.

The flash software I use is Swishmax 3, which is a basically a cheaper alternative to Flash. Flash has functionalities which I’d like, but nothing so essential that I can’t easily get by without it. Swishmax, by virtue of being simpler, lets me create more complex effects with greater ease, at the price of having a very slightly lower threshold of capability. Still, I think it’s great.

All of which really brings home to me how much of a nerd I am.


Given that so little is completed, I can really only comment on my general principles…

I tried to match the transitions, basic as they were, with a reading pace I thought the story would work well at. I wanted to encourage readers to take as much time as they wanted, and not feel hurried. But at the same time, I didn’t want to make anyone feel as though they had to wait on the story – at any time, I wanted the reader to be able to click ahead and simply skip ahead to the fully loaded page, so that they could go at their own pace. In this respect, the greatest influence was video games, which often feature this kind of functionality, though more for reasons of repetition – you’ll potentially see the same cutscene several times in your standard game – rather than player control per se. It’s paradoxical that during cutscenes in games – a medium predicated on interactivity – player control is basically limited to a form of protest at the player’s current *lack* of control. Thankfully, you can get away with this in a comic more than in a game. A game’s success is in great part founded on a player’s *identification* with the protagonist, moreso even than suspension of disbelief; the best games, like Half Life, leave the player in control at almost all times. When the player does lose control in Half Life, it is because the protagonist has also lost control, further reinforcing the identification.

In terms of those moments in The Boy with Nails for Eyes that involved more developed camera work, as it were, I simply drew upon films with an similar tone, trying to capture the same feel for the opening. Films that spring to mind are Ridley Scott films (specifically Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven), The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Pan’s Labyrinth, Dark City, The City of Lost Children. Animations would include Akira, all the films of Hayao Mayazaki that I’ve seen, Belleville Rendez-Vous. I think all the animation techniques used in the Prologue, and that I imagine I’ll keep on using, are simpler versions of animation staples. A lot of anime has a stylistic approach that contrasts moments of slowly ratcheting tension before an explosion of action; I want to draw on that a little in pacing, though there are limits as to how much action there can be with static images.


In terms of storytelling approach, I would say that the internet hasn’t had any impact on the story itself, given that the shape of the narrative was decided far in advance of my decision to put the story online. That said, the decision to publish online has had an impact in terms of the different resources I can make use of to tell the story. The greatest of these is, to me, the chance to use sound, which I’ve never been able to bring into a story before, and which has opened up whole new possibilities in terms of evocation and enhancement. I should also mention that I buy most of my programs online, as digital downloads or otherwise, and get all the sounds I use online, and a number of really great Photoshop brushes and fonts as well, which people release absolutely free. That all these resources are being shared by people also informed my feeling that publishing online was a good thing to do.

In terms of interactivity, my notion is that a story’s user interface needs to be as invisible as possible, much as words on a page should themselves be invisible, sensible only in their delivery of images into the reader’s experience. Becoming aware of words as glyphs on the page annuls the experience of reading them; same with making methods of navigation too intrusive.

It was also very important to me that the pace of the story be defined by the reader, rather than assigning pacing to the 24-frame-per-second necessity of online video. But on the other hand, a lot of Flash comics which aren’t video-driven only seek to imitate a printed comic, complete with page-turns and everything (such as those on myebook.com, which publishes a lot of online comics). This isn’t anything to criticise, really, but it misses a lot of potential of the new medium, and relegates online comics to being imitative, rather than having new potentialities of their own.

For example, one online comic that I’ve read – The Talos Project (thetalosproject.com) – made use of simple animation to simulate a power cut in a building, with lights flickering on as a backup generator turns on. This isn’t possible in a printed comic – a light briefly flickering on in a comic simply looks like a light switched on; it’s hard, but not impossible, to convey the notion of instantaneous events of the kind that don’t involve a direct, observable action. Certainly, it can’t be done as easily as it can with some simple animation. A huge advantage of online comics is the possibility of jumping back and forth between animation and comics, or hovering between the two without coming down.

As for getting work to an audience, the internet’s changed everything. A few years ago (maybe as few as four or five years) my only real option would have been to commission a printing press to do a small print run for me, and sell that by mail order or at conventions. Now, I can (and will, eventually) prepare a PDF of the comic and submit that to print-on-demand publisher online, and be assigned an ISBN, and be ready to sell a book of a respectable printed quality *within a few days*. As for putting the comic online, well, a few years ago broadband *was* available, but it hadn’t anything like the ubiquity of today – you can’t walk down the street these days without banging your head on a free wifi zone. A good friend contacted me the other day to let me know he could read my blog on his phone. His phone!  Only ten years ago, my phone couldn’t store above ten text messages, and weighed enough to break your foot if you were unlucky when you dropped it. Now, phones can surf the internet as a matter of course (and, it has to be said, break if you sneeze at them wrong, but you can’t have everything). So yes, the internet’s changed everything, in terms of the chances it gave me, gives anyone, for putting out their work independently.


Given that the website’s been up and running only about two weeks as of me writing this, I’m happy. I haven’t started monitoring traffic yet, but all those who’ve seen the website and the Prologue have liked both, so I’m certainly not going to be churlish and expect more.

Regarding social networking, it’s something that I’m not especially good at (I fall into that strange middle ground of people who have a Facebook account, have found a large proportion of their friends, maximised all the privacy settings, and guiltily ignored it since. I have a theory that, the easier it is to communicate, the more the temptation to say nothing of real value. I should say, for me at least. When your missive to your own dear heart existed only on a single sheet of flimsy paper, without the possibility of producing a new copy, which was then wrapped in another sheet of paper and carried for countless wind-swept, rain-pummelled miles of belligerent geography, bristling with angry nature and opportunistic humans (some of them armed), you damn well poured your heart out. You were honest, and meaningful. If it got through, you wanted it to be worth the struggle. Now, I can talk to anyone, anywhere, by all kinds of methods, and I find myself telling them how much I enjoyed my sandwich, or how annoying slow walkers are when they’re in the middle of the pavement. Not dishonest at all, but flippant, frivolous. Sometimes, the web seems to bring that out in people. Also, I’m a grumpy arse. There. I said it.

Mind you, I think the development of blogging is a great thing. I think it was Mencken (but maybe not) who said something like ‘He who would enjoy the freedom of the press should buy one.’ Though that’s possibly the worst executed citation ever, it pretty much sums up what I think is so liberating (with all that word entails) about the possibility that anyone with internet access can set up a blog and voice their opinions. That is, depending on censorship levels where they’re located. Blogs, as longer forms of posting, encourage reasoned debate, extended argument; thinking. I know a lot of people believe and argue and think stupid and repugnant things; but a lot of them don’t and, unfortunately, idiots and bigots need to be allowed to speak their minds, or what’s free speech for?

I think that this massive digression is essentially an indication that things such as marketing plans, while I recognise their necessity, are anathema to me. My core marketing plan at the moment is to make the story as good as possible, and to try to make it known to those who’d find it interesting, rather than shout it from the rooftops, as it were. Although I suppose that if people enjoy it enough to pass it on, then that’s the real kicker.


That question almost answers itself. I think the desire to cover all the bases personally stems from a strange brew of control-freakery and self-indulgence on the one hand, and the chance to keep life interesting on the other. Having free reign to direct everything as I want it, without any deadlines except my own, is great; but at the same time, when things aren’t right it can cost sleep. There’s few to share the load with. Although, that said, I have been very lucky in having had support from my girlfriend (who’s really the best critic I could ask for), my family, and close friends. This all makes me sound like I’m recovering from some awful addiction; I suppose the drive to create things is, in a way, recovery from an idea. At the end of the day, knowing that I’ve assigned myself this huge task is intimidating and exhilarating in pretty equal measure, though sometimes I manage to feel like both a pitiless slave-driver and an underappreciated workaholic at one and the same time.


I feel quite frustrated at the fact that the word ‘comic’ is generally used more as a description of a genre or a style, than of a medium. ‘It was a comic book film.’ ‘He talks like a comic book.’ The vast majority of people still see comic books as juvenile, overloaded with bombastic, expository dialogue and crammed full of lycra outfits bulging in almost every way conceivable (and in some ways that aren’t). And the worst part of it is that, more often than I’m sure anyone would like, such expectations are correct. I remember when I was about fifteen Marvel and DC engineered a massive crossover of their biggest characters in a four part mini-series – I bought the issues, mainly because I wanted to watch Batman destroy whoever he was put up against. (Life is simple at fifteen; it has that going for it, even if you’re too damn stupid to realise it at the time.) From the entire series, one of the panels that sticks with me most is during the face-off between Superman and the Hulk. They’d been knocking the internal organs out of one another for about three pages when Superman draws back his fist (we see him in a face-on shot, with an improbable black eye) and says something like:

‘I have nothing against you, Hulk. But for my planet, my universe, and most of all for the women I love, I’ve got to take – you – down.’

The only way you could say something like that and not have lost the fight by the time you finished is by having a fight with something utterly non-threatening and, for preference, completely unaware of its involvement in proceedings. Something like a beanbag, or a duck.

It’s just, well, not great writing. Not the words themselves, since I can’t remember them exactly (I’m only certain about the ‘most of all for the woman I love’ bit, which struck me as especially hilarious). It was the approach, the notion that you could get away with being that lazy, churning out dialogue as a way of punctuating action. There was, to be sure, also really great stuff (I read one issue of Uncanny X-Men when I was a kid that had not one fight in it, but only featured the various members of the team assembling for breakfast, arguing, interacting – it was brilliant); but it was choked in the mire.

I haven’t read a mainstream monthly for an extended period for a long time now, so strictly speaking I’m being really unfair; maybe things have improved. And as I said, even at the worst of times, superhero comics featured some great storytelling. But it’s still the mire that most people (that is, non-comic readers in general) take their expectations from. This is whether the comic they’re looking at is an intimate autobiographical tale of growing up in a war-torn, violently transitional state like ‘Persepolis’, a meditation on creativity and mortality like ‘Signal to Noise’, a stylistically innovative romp through singularity-land like ‘Dresden Codak’, a self-aware (and so immensely enjoyable) piece of bombastic ultraviolence like ‘The Authority’, or the written equivalent of ‘Cheese Carts Go Bad!’

It’s that people can say ‘Comics are childish’, as if this was a quality *inherent* to the medium, rather than a reflection of the poor quality of too much of that medium’s output; worse still is when people say ‘They’re not just for kids, you know’, like kids are a different species who only stop drooling on themselves and drawing genitals on bus shelters long enough to mouth-read their picture books. Comics are a method for storytelling; no more, no less. I wish that they were considered in such a light by more people, is all.

(Rant over.)


In all honesty, I’m very uncertain about the suitability of the term ‘motion comic’ for some of the stuff on the internet that’s calling itself that. I’m thinking really of the big studio stuff. To me (and this comes back to the interactivity question) a central advantage to comics as a medium is that they impart a level of pace control to the reader that written text similarly imparts, while also possessing the visual immediacy of film or animation. The combination brings a sense of involvement that cinema lacks, and which novels have, but is more visceral and immediate than the printed word. Comic *readers* can inhabit a point of view much more than film *viewers* can; in a sense, when you control the pace at which Superman saves the earth (recalling what I said about video games, interactivity and player identification), for a little while you *are* Superman, in a way. It’s another reason why superheroes work in comics in ways that they never will in cinema: they scratch the wish-fulfillment itch that much better.

Anyway, a lot of the stories called motion comics remove this control from the reader, and put it in the metaphorical hands of an online video app; and thus, almost as a matter of necessity, written words are replaced with narration or voice acting. The most successful motion comics I’ve seen (I mean, as far as I’m concerned) are those that retain the written word, with or without narration, and don’t try to over-animate the artwork. Things such as ‘Dear Spider, Love the Fly’, which I really enjoyed, although I am still uncertain whether it could be called a comic. To me, it’s more of a comic-style animation (a good one, nevertheless) or, as you’ve described it yourself, simply an evocative piece of storytelling. But the whole naming dilemma depends on whether you see reader involvement as important enough to be treated as if it were definitive of comics or not.