Comics writer Mark Waid (Daredevil, Irredeemable) has been uncommonly evangelic about the prospects of digital comics for a while -- I know because I had the privilege of joining Waid for an extended chat on the subject last year, when he was already talking about experimenting not just with digital comics business models but also digital comics storytelling. Which is to say, creating comics specifically for devices like computers and the iPad, rather than for print.

Waid released today some examples of the storytelling methods he has been developing for the digital space, and you can watch his demo video below.

In a posting at In Media Res, Waid said that for creators and publishers not backed by corporations like Disney and Warner Bros. (the parent companies of Marvel and DC, respectively), the print comic book has become financially untenable, at least in the sense of a monthly single issue. The writer also explained his view that existing digital comics are mainly comics designed for print that have been reformatted for computer screens and tablets, likening them to the "pan-and-scan" method of transporting feature films to square-shaped televisions.

Waid believes that the new form factor of the iPad or widescreen monitor as well as the ability to control exactly what and when a reader sees a storytelling element necessitates a new approach to comic book making, and he and artist Jeremy Rock have been experimenting along those lines.

As I proceed, my artists and I are constantly learning more about what does and doesn't work with digital. Yet without resorting to the crutch of cheap, limited animation, we're still able to suggest movement by altering the art between panels on the "page turn" that happens when the reader taps the left or right edge of the screen. We can break long captions or art elements into pieces that seem to "drop in" as the pages are turned. And we're only just beginning to learn. I encourage my artists to break borders figuratively and literally-to imagine infinite canvases, new visual language, and more. The only place I stop short is at the addition of voice, music, or anything else that takes the full and total control of time away from the reader; that's the one essential element of comics (the consumer's ability to decide the rate at which s/he wants to absorb the story) that I feel is inviolate. As for the rest...welcome to the future.

The demo video shows static elements such as artwork and text introduced in a highly controlled manner that for some will be more palatable than the much maligned "motion comics" format, where a "camera" moves around the comic book page and where figures and other elements are actually animated within panels.

Creator reaction to Waid's demo has already begun via Twitter. Comics artist Cully Hamner seemed intrigued by what he saw, while cartoonist Bryan Lee O'Malley wasn't convinced the results were all that distinct from motion comics. Writer Ivan Brandon agrees with Waid's premise that digital shouldn't be looked at as a new form of paper, and said he's "playing with ways to push it further still." You can read more reactions at this link.

I think Waid puts forth some clever ideas that for the most part maintain comics' nature as static images presented in such a way as to guide the reader through a narrative, but I also find myself reacting uncomfortably to some of the "tricks" seen in the video. But as Waid said, these are just examples and experimentation is ongoing. Brandon summed the discussion up nicely, tweeting "What can I do digital that I CAN'T do on paper?", and it's a conversation definitely worth having.

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