The webcomics blog about webcomics

From The Far-Flung Corners Of The Commonwealth

Readers of this page will have long since recognized the esteem in which we at Fleen hold David Morgan-Mar of Irregular Webcomic and many, many, many other endeavours (especially, for the purposes of this discussion, mezzacotta, about which more momemtarily).

Those in the know will remember that Morgan-Mar (perhaps I should say Doctor Morgan-Mar, as he is part of a proud tradition of STEM PhD-holding webcomickers) does not make comics as anything other than a hobby; he works in optics research for a division of Canon (all the more surprising given that he may be responsible for more pages of webcomics of anybody this side of Andrew Hussie, especially considering mezzacotta, which I promise we’re about to get to). We typically don’t see Morgan-Mar on this side of the Pacific Ocean (or the equator, for that matter), except for his occasional attendance at a scientific conference, which he was coincidentally doing in the immediate past.

When he returned from the annual SIGGRAPH, Morgan-Mar responded to an email that I’d sent him on an unrelated topic (wine, to be specific), and he had some interesting observations about the overlap of the conference and webcomics. I found his experiences to be fascinating and I’m sharing them with you; lagies and jenglefenz¹, please welcome David-Morgan Mar. Yaaaay!

There was a talk by Ozge Samanci (who you’ve mentioned on Fleen:²) titled “Impact of Digital Media on Comics”, which of course I attended. It wasn’t really about webcomics per se, but rather a Scott McCloud-esque survey of what new things the digital presentation format can bring to comics. Looking at my scribbled notes:

Digital media can give 4 things to comics:

  • Procedural — you can generate content computationally.
  • Participatory — you can interact with the viewer.
  • Encyclopaedic — you can segment and categorise ad infinitum.
  • Spatial — you can play tricks with the spatial layout.

She showed examples of some comics with looping animations in each frame — each individual animation does not progress the story, it only provides atmosphere for the short segment of time captured in the panel, so it remains a comic rather than becoming a work of animation.

She said in 2014 there are still no true examples of McCloud’s infinite canvas, only approximations which fall short of the true potential. (xkcd came up as an example.) A true infinite canvas comic, she said, would need to be procedurally generated, so you could really scroll *anywhere*. I actually talked to her afterwards about mezzacotta, which is procedurally generated and offers an almost-infinite scope temporally with its archives. She wasn’t aware of it and said she’d include it in future revisions of this talk!

She talked about geocomics — making a comic readable via GPS coordinates, where you physically have to travel to certain locations to see given panels. She mentioned using the digital presentation to provide film-like effects such as panning and zooming for the viewer within a comic panel. She talked about engaging the reader as a character within the comic, letting them interact with the other characters. Or control the presentation of the panels, by allowing the reader to stretch the frame borders, for example.

She concluded by saying that webcomics pretty much haven’t really explored all of the possibilities of the medium yet, and there’s a very long way to go. The problem as she sees it is not the conceptualising, but the executation — you need an artist and a good programmer to collaborate (or be the same person).

After the talk I also mentioned to her my attempt to make a collaborative multi-stream branching comic with Infinity on 30 Credits a Day, and she said the problem with collaborative comics is always lack of participation. (Too true!)³

Anyway, it was plenty of food for thought.

On another minor note, in the interactive exhibitions there was a gadget someone had designed to provide haptic user feedback through an airbrush — to allow the roughest amateurs to paint desired works of art. They let you try the airbrush, and pulled up a stencil on a computer which guided the feedback system. They had a collection of several stencil shapes for people to use, most of them rather anonymous animals shapes, but one of them was a very familiar looking T. rex.

Many thanks to David Morgan-Mar for the info, and for the use of the photos.

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¹ For some reason, I only ever think of that gag when I’m writing about David Morgan-Mar. I don’t know if he’s an especially big fan of The Muppet Show, Harry Belafonte, or Mister The Frog in general, but given that all right-thinking people are, it’s probably pretty likely.

² Editor’s note: want to swell my head way the heck up? Report on something fascinating and relate it to something I wrote. I have such a grin on my face right now.

³ Or perhaps too much; Hussie famously relied upon reader input to determine the action in the next update of Homestuck for a good long while, but ultimately turned away from it due to it being too difficult to tell the story he had in mind. I almost said a logical story, but just as there are different algebras, there are different logics, and Andrew Hussie’s logic does not always resemble our Earth-logic.

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