A couple of weeks ago, a huge number of publishers got together for a bookfair. The kind where you can’t even buy books (also known as the worst kind).
As a student the whole thing is rather intimidating and tiring. I may not have been learning much while gaping open-mouthed at the scale of it all in my ill fitting, un-ironed ‘grownup’ clothes while the real grownups had important meetings and did important deals but at least there were talks. Most importantly at least there was a talk about comics.
Doug Wallace from Self Made Hero chaired a panel featuring artist Paul Dufield, Matt Jones from BERG and founder of Orb Entertainment Paul Rhodes. They were discussing, as my title suggests, graphic novels and digital opportunities. Which can really be rephrased as the future of comics.
The main points everyone agreed on were that technology has utterly changed comics as it has with all publishing and there is no going back. Whether we like it or not, digital comics are here to stay but we can’t know in what form. E-readers are still developing and the iPad is forcing them to up their game. In the next five years we should see just what kind of device the public really want and just how much different media will crossover with one another.
Since that’s up in the air the panel couldn’t really say what that will be but they did point out what they think it should include. Colour for a start. This is largely inevitable. The major flaw with the older Kindle models is the lack of colour but Kindle Fire will change that.
What was a very interesting suggestion was that Comixology and its ilk have a better system for recommendations. I think it was Jones who said that a comic equivalent of last.fm or Pitchfork would be great because at the moment there is no technological match to asking a person in a shop what is worth reading.
There was also talk of how technology can add to the print medium rather than simply crushing it. Jones pointed out the Warren Ellis book he worked on, SVK, which comes with a UV torch. Within the narrative the reader should find that the torch has its purpose and adds a whole new layer to the story (he said more particularly how but I don’t want to spoil anything, it seems worth a read). It’s an incredibly creative technological addition. There was also mention of Newspaper Club, the website that allows people to order discounted printing from newspaper printers when they aren’t in use. You can publish a few hundred comics quite easily because of the internet, not despite it.
The main point I took away from the whole thing was that it doesn’t matter what medium you choose for your comics as long as the comic is good and part of that is using a medium to its best advantage. There was praise for people like Patrick Farley and his webcomic The Spiders which uses the canvas of the browser spectacularly as well as the way Emily Carroll uses the linking of webpages to add to a story and determine its pacing.
It’s inevitable that for a while comics designed for print will just be shoved onto a digital format without much consideration for the design. What’s better is that good comic book artists and writers will look at what they can do with digital formats to make the story the best it can be just as print media should embrace what it can do better than digital.
I’ll be writing a dissertation about all this digital comics malarkey over the summer so I’ll let you know if I’ve figured out the future of comics by August or whether it leads me to a cider-fuelled breakdown. Either way should be interesting.
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