The inevitable discussion of comix

It almost embarrasses us to discuss comics as online content. Comix are such a net-nerd thing to be interested in. Fantasy worlds for kids treated badly by reality. Escapism, as computers can be.

But comics (or, to use the hipster orthography, comix) work famously online, despite a few hiccups.

Why doesn’t your site carry comix? You’re too serious? So is the New Yorker. Seems to work for them. You don’t want comic relief in your business Web site? OK, don’t make the comix funny. (What would we call them then – seriouses?) Everything you want to say can be summed up in words? Sure. Like we’ll buy that after our photography diatribe of recent memory.

The inevitable discussion of Scott McCloud

Another idée fixe of the new-media demimonde: “Everything I needed to know about the Web I learned from Understanding Comics.” The most significant comic book to enjoy something resembling mainstream attention since Maus, Scott McCloud’s 1993 treatise on what comix are, where they come from, how they work, and what they can be is sui generis. It’s a comic book about comic books where you learn about more than comix.

Prized by Web types for its absolutely priceless elucidation of iconicity (you’ll never again be in doubt about how to boil down an image) and discussions of time and linearity, the book really does relate to Web design, if only indirectly. It doesn’t apply much to Web content, though. Understanding Comics is one, two, or three steps too meta for that. Still, you cannot work in this industry and call yourself civilised without reading the book. Full stop.

Comix: An explainer of process

It takes five seconds at most to think of applications for comix in content Web sites. (You know what we’re talking about. As opposed to “transactional” sites, to use the conradblackism.) They’ll be cartoon strips just like in the papers. A no-brainer, you might say. Actually, the advice here is “Choose wisely.” You need something startlingly inventive to stand out from the crowd. The only so-called entertainment comix we know of online that meet the criterion are the profane, caustic, not-unmindblowing photo comix at Leisuretown. More about them in a moment.

What about E-commerce or business or marketing sites? Comix might work well here as explainers of processes. If you have a complicated product you’re trying to sell – and actually, Web servers, software, and applications, just the sort of things comix geex are interested in, represent this genre well – then go ahead and write out an explanation in words, but also give us pictures.

Why? Some people learn and understand better from words, others from images. You cover all your bases.

Case in point: Xplane, best-known for their editorial illustrations in Business 2.0. Xplane’s stick figures, combined with a few choice sentences, meet any definition of comix, including McCloud’s. (Discussion.) The stickperson format adds a light-hearted air to the subject-matter, hardcore technology. (Xplane’s Xblog, incidentally, is frighteningly chock-full of well-categorized information.)

Where does illustration end and comix begin? It has to do with telling a story. An illo or a photo can exist by itself. Comix are sequential (hence the term “sequential art”). An illo or a photo lends itself to a single thought, to epitomization. Comix lend themselves to processes, to explanation.

Comix are relatively low-bandwidth and require no plug-ins. Instead of push technology or channels or whatever other broadband tripe sent down the pipe, be the first on your block to use comic strips. Humourously or didactically, as you wish. Of course, the fact that comix aren’t a hot new technology engineered to inflate startups’ share prices may mean they are doomed. But we don’t want to end on a pessimistic note....

Leisuretown! we won’t. We’ve been reading comix for decades and are familiar with many genres of animation, including a neglected fave, rotoscoping. We also find photo-comics fascinating, though they are all but unknown in Canada.

And then there’s Leisuretown, the work of a mad genius that makes Claymation® look about as taxing as scribbling your name on a UPS delivery terminal. Deploying an army of dolls and figurines allied with a tight, acerbic discursive style and a whole lot o’ bile to spew, Leisuretown, like Understanding Comics, is sui generis. The true tale of quality assurance killed us dead.

We figure if Charles Burns can illustrate A-list magazine features and Matt Mahurin can become an international photographic megastar, there has to be room in the world for a commercial application of the Leisuretown æsthetic, if only to give Tristan Farnon some money to spend on new dolls. If nothing else, should exist to locate such a client.

Why haven’t you selected the link yet? (Mature audiences only.)

Posted on 2000-07-26