Web comics: now more than just PDFs

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Comics are getting cooler on the web, you guys
  • A screenshot of the Guardian's election comic. Those panels are coming together, fyi.
I was talking to my dad about voting in the election the other day when the subject of online ballots came up. They would have saved him the headache of a 20-minute wait (or Michael Miner a two-hour goose chase). It occurred to me that there's a much greater benefit, too—through hyperlinks and bigger web pages, you can store much more data in an online ballot. Imagine being able to read a candidate's platform, either condensed or at length, as you voted. Assuming voters are curious about whose name they're checking off if not committed to participatory democracy, they'll take a second to do some pundit-free thinking.

That got me thinking about something way more fun: comics and the Web. Not web comics, like XKCD or Dinosaur Comics, although both are fantastic, but comics that are made to be read online, and no where else. To me, the idea of reading a print comic or graphic novel online feels even worse than picking up an e-book, a deprecated way of consuming something made for higher resolution than a screen can provide. But a couple of comics I've seen lately have made me think that web development is catching up to what comic writers can do. I think we might start seeing some really interesting new interactive art online soon.

The first one was a Google doodle celebrating the 107th anniversary of a groundbreaking comic called "Little Nemo in Slumberland," a beautiful and forward-thinking strip that often played with the conventions of comics long before the term "graphic novel" came about.

There's not much to Google's doodle, which invites you to click the frame to send Nemo tumbling out of bed and into an ornate dreamland. He pauses every few frames to allow you to appreciate the scenery before you click him on his way again, eventually plopping him back in bed for a "was that real?" moment. The magic is that it moves when you ask it to, which keeps your eye on the page and mouse ready to bring on what's next. It's compulsively watchable in the way that GIFs are, and GIFs are taking over the Internet. (This is what a GIF is, mom.)

The other great comic was the Guardian's black and white and red summary of the election that moves as you scroll down, tossing clashing characters against each other and flashing when lightning strikes. It's a real work of art—yeah, art!—that changes all the time and adds character and glib commentary to a story you already know. This is more than one-click gimmicks, it's a creative new way to tell stories with images now that we've got the bandwidth to do it, and I bet graphic artists like Joe Sacco and Alison Bechdel and Chris Ware will start messing with this form. Actually, the latter already has.

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