Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is This the End of Caped Crusaders (In Print)??

I finally logged into my neglected Netvibes page. (My blog wasn’t the only thing I’ve neglected these past few months.)

I remembered why I used to check my Netvibes page regularly, as one of the first items I read captured my interest. The article Marvel Moves Into Motion Comics With Spider-Woman describes how comic publishers are releasing “motion comics” with Marvel’s first major foray into the form with a new Spider-Woman series.

Over the last couple, during the down time of my thesis, I’ve been reading a lot of comics. Toronto’s public library has a bunch (kudos to them for realizing it is a legitimate literary and artistic medium). It started with my young daughter’s growing love of superheroes (one of my proudest moments of her is when she chose to go as Spider-Girl for Halloween) and I wanted to get some comics and DVDs to share with her.

I haven’t read comics at all since the 1980s, so my sudden return has provided an occasion for reflection and nostalgia.

Back in the 1980s most comics were still printed on newsprint which limited the artistic possibilities (colour palette, tones, etc.). But, I don’t think it is better stock that is responsible for the changes alone. I’m not sure if more adults are reading comics are its being taken more professionally, but the quality of the artwork has improved dramatically. The individual cells of the comics are much more vivid, imaginative, and better drawn. The relationship between cells and elements has evolved significantly, having moved away from mostly linear organization.

Current story-telling is a bit more adult. The villains are more complicated, as are the inevitable nefarious plots. I don’t remember any mention of sex in comics in the 80s, and death was rare. Not so, nowadays. Superheroines costumes definitely seem to have gotten ludicrously trampy to the point that there’s no way they could fight crime in them without constantly revealing their secret identities. I don’t think superhero comic story-telling has matured as much as the artwork has – perhaps the still tiny size of most comic books limits greater depth. (Of course, there are non-superhero graphic novels that have richer stories and there's the odd exception, eg. Watchmen and more recently Marvel’s Civil War.)

I've regained my love of comics and have now added appreciation for their artistry. The main reason I stopped reading comics back in the day was due to their hefty price, considering that one normally reads a bunch of titles every month. So I was initially excited to see the prospect of comics online in a way more than just scanning old print copies and offering them online.

Apparently, “motion comics” have been gaining ground since last year’s version of the Watchmen. Although the term “motion comics” implies a new medium, the article’s author, Scott Thill, astutely points out that motion comics are not new:
Motion comics, crudely put, are usually Flash versions of their paper counterparts enhanced by voice-over narration, musical scores, camera pans and other cinematic tricks. In other words, animation.”

Watch the Spider-Woman clip below to get the full picture.

But is this the end for caped crusaders? Thill questions if this digital form will eventually be the end for print comic books. But he notes that print has its strengths,“Part of comics’ inherent charm was the soundtrack, voiceover or extra-textual material they inspired in readers’ heads.”

Motion comics/animation and print comic books are completely different art forms. I don’t think one form is better than the other.

Certainly the animation does do some of the work that the print readers did themselves, such as decoding the relationship between cells and between words and art. Readers filling in the story in the spaces between cells, called closure, is fundamental to the form. Granted closure and spatial decoding exist in motion pictures too, but I would argue in a less deliberate and less open manner.

I also think the speed is a defining difference. While animation by its nature does not have to be fast-paced, we do want motion and thus work tends to move from item to item fairly quickly resulting in more visceral responses. Reading the words of print comics, observing the artwork, and decoding the story require a slower pace that I think is more contemplative and imaginative. (Of course, this is a simplification.)

I heard that with the phenomenal popularity of digital music (i.e. iTunes) and consumers downloading mostly single songs, the album as an artistic form will largely cease to exist.

Certainly, the Internet has enabled a much greater spread of artistic work than otherwise possible by price efficiencies and vast reach. But I lament the possible end to an art form that I just recently rediscovered I love.

No comments: