Friday, October 10, 2008

Touchscreen Comics - Format for the Future

Flashback On iPhoneRecently I've been thinking about making a comic specifically for a Mobile Internet Device (MID) or SmartPhone like the the iPod/iPhone, Google Android, BlackBerry Storm and HTC Dream.

IT pundits are predicting that the growth of these type of devices is going to be huge over the next two years, and I think there are some advantages to designing comics for this platform.

Typically the (touch) screens are only big enough to display a single panel of a web comic at about 320 x 480. However, bigger screens are coming. The BlackBerry Storm is going to have a 480 x 360 screen size and doubt any new phones on the drawing board will have *smaller* screens than what's currently available.

Still, 320 x 480 is a small size when one is used to reading comics that are typically about 8.5 by 11 inches (or larger if you count both pages.)

I think that size presents some interesting challenges and decided to view a few comics on an iPod to see what works and what doesn't work. These samples are from

Some notes about ClickWheel - I will do a full post on the site sometime in the future. There are good things about it and some bad things about it, but I want to use it more before I pass judgement. One of the coolest things is the DO have 2000 AD available for download in CBR format! One of the bad things is the site is a little awkward to use in some ways and is apparently broken in IE 7.

Here's what I downloaded from the site:

Example 1 -here is what I see when I read Judge Dredd on my iPod Touch.

Judge Dredd on iPod Touch

Example 2 - here is a screenshot of Perwell, a fun comic by Chuck Whelon and Adam Prosser This was was labelled as an iComic and seems optimized to take advantage of the iPod screen size.

Pewfell on iPod

Example 1 didn't really impressed me as being optimally set up for viewing on an MID because of the way the page is laid out, I have to zoom in too much to read the captions. On the flipside, Perwell was a great iPhone reading experience!

When thinking about how best to utilize this new size/format, one thought has come to me that seems to be causing quite a stir among my other creators I mention it to: I don't think this format is well suited for superhero stories.

Bozo the RobotComics in the 40's (like Bozo the Robot left )were more akin to today's comic strips than our current breed of comics. They had lots of little panels and the action was encapsulated in these panels.

However, during the Silver and Bronze age, as the comic book format began to mature, artists started to experiment with both page and panel design. As a result we saw more and more full panel pages.

Now, I love a good full page splash, and have used the heck out of them in Flashback, but such pages loose their gravitas when reduced to a small screen.

You take a *wide screen* type of comic like the Authority and remove the big splash pages from it and you've lost a large part of the appeal of such a book.

Superhero comics are typically written and drawn to take advantage of big splash pages, and for the past 40 years, we've come to expect these type of pages from our superhero comics.

There are quite a number of notable exceptions to this rule, but by and large, a superhero comic that doesn't have it's fair share of wide screen high action full page splashes is usually seen as a boring or (even worse) experimental and deconstructive.

Today's readers want a full page splash of Galactus standing in Manhattan, but how will that look on an iPhone?...

Galactus and Watcher

And here is the same page on an sort of loses its impact. Not mention how tough reading it will be.

Kirby on iPod

When the Digital Comic Haters are bitching and moaning about how they hate to read scrunched up type, that is exactly what they are talking about. Hell, if all Digital Comics looked like that, I would have never started Flashback.

So, I'm suggesting that perhaps the comics that will be most successful on this new platform are going to be ones that take their cues from Golden Age Comics and, strangely, Harvey and Disney Comics. Look at how the separate panels in this Hot Stuff comic would fit perfectly on an iPod (dividing the first panel in two possibly.)

Hot Stuff

Now compare the Hot Stuff on the iPod against the FF example above and see which one is going to be the easiest to read without a lot of fiddling with your views.

Hot Stuff on iPod Touch

Pretty obvious, isn't it?

Bottom line: I think if today's artists are going to take advantage of tomorrow's technology, they are going to have to look to the past for guidance.

- Jim


Sphinx Magoo said...

Maybe comics done for portable devices will just have to be done differently. Creators will have to think of panels more in terms of a TV screen or like storyboard panels for a TV screen. If that Galactus/Watcher page were done now, it would have to be redone so it'd feature lots of reaction shots to help break up the dialogue.

In a way, it's what people have come to expect from TV and movies anyway. Just not sure what that would do in terms of page layout if the comic is collected for a trade paperback.

Jim Shelley said...

@sphinx - Good point about the TV screen/storyboard connection. (btw - I also thought you had some interesting comments on Val's blog about Marvel's Digital Comics...)

I've been thinking about what you said about how to collect such content for trade format, and I might have a solution. I'm going to experiment a little this week and post my results later.

Anonymous said...

I think that many manga would work well in this format and provide a good model.

Lone Wolf and Cub after a kick perusal, seems to have very few panels that are awkwardly sized.

Also, the cinematic trick of controlling time by having panels of scenery and such which in used in Japanese comics, but doesn't work so well in American ones (because we just skim ahead to the dialogue/action) would come into play with a one panel/one screen device.

In some ways, these comics might not neccessarily have to be more old style, but maybe more like movies.

Jim Shelley said...

@Trey snip... Also, the cinematic trick of controlling time by having panels of scenery and such which in used in Japanese comics, but doesn't work so well in American ones (because we just skim ahead to the dialogue/action) would come into play with a one panel/one screen device. endSnip

I think you've hit upon something very significant there! Reading The Snowman to my daughter, I was struck by how the creator utilized the technique you described to make his pacing so deliberate and subtle. That's something that's been tried in comics, but doesn't work so well.


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