Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Comic Relief

There's a charming bit of generational web humor in Doonesbury this weekend. I read it in print through that archaic method of home delivery, but of course now it's one click away online. Second Life enterprenuership is apparently alive and well, and Jeff Redfern is doing well for himself. Everything I need to learn about American political and social history of the last few decades I learned reading my mother's Doonesbury collection. I've followed the iconic representations of presidents and watched Zonker convince a gullible reporter that the next generation is following a national trend of casual drug use.

I still love my daily dose of Doonesbury, but now it's accompanied on my reading list by dozens of other comics, none of which are found in the appalling selection of the local paper. The newsprint comics have remained stagnant and inoffensive: even when some well meaning editor trys to get rid of Peanuts reruns or Family Circus, there's a protest among the older set who don't want they're comfortable status quo challenged. Thus to find socially intriguing comics today I look beyond print and end up squarely on the web.

There are many great moments of twisted social commentary going on around the web today. My personal favorite is Something Positive, Randy Milholland's dysfunctional twenty-something strip. There are also fabulous niche strips, like PhD Comics for all of us grad students and PvP and Penny Arcade for the gaming geeks.

There's a new exhibit opening up in New York at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art that'll have several of these webcomic artists featured. The exhibit is called Infinite Canvas. The name Infinite Canvas is a reference to a concept of the web as providing an unending space for a comic to fill: with paper, comics are always limited to the presentable surface, but online a comic can transcend these boundaries. The last course I designed over at the Corcoran was in Sequential Art, and we ended with looking at Scott McCloud's Reinventing Comics, his graphic work exploring the potential future for comics within this infinite canvas world.

Scott McCloud envisions possibilities for graphic novels online that break the traditional frames of the page. One of these, "The Right Number", uses a framework of continually embedded images to create a different order for a story: the panels are linear in their construction, but they are within eachother, not next to eachother. McCloud also created the idea of linear panels that don't take into account the monitor size: instead, you scroll down the document to follow the images further and further, as in his further essays on comics, "I Can't Stop Thinking!"

McCloud's ideas offer the notion of a place for webcomics that transcends the traditional boundaries of the page. However, the comics I mentioned previously and those that will be featured at this upcoming exhibit don't have any of the excitement of design that McCloud envisioned. These traditional web comics work just as well printed onto paper as they do on the screen: they follow the same general format of what you'd see in a graphic novel or the newspaper.

Thus, we have a form with all this amazing potential--and a few experimental works trying to take advantage of that potential--but even in the artistic world of the museum, all that's being recognized is the same traditional style of encapsulated panels...

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