“Comic creators need to think about what digital (and only digital) enables you to do” Lizzie Boyle Says: Five things to remember when creating digital comics

Lizzie-Boyle-SaysThis month our intrepid columnist Lizzie Boyle Says looks at 5 things to think about when creating digital comics.

Lizzie BoyleThe creative process is the creative process, right? There’s a writer, an artist, an inker, a colourist, a letterer: sometimes they’re one and the same person. There’s a story, some characters, action, plot, meaning. So if we keep doing what we’ve always done, this digital comics thing will be a doddle…

It turns out it’s not that simple. Here are some additional things to have in mind when you’re creating for digital:

Who’s in control?

If you’re producing a simple PDF of your printed pages, this one doesn’t matter so much. But if you’re using the potential of digital to give the reader more control over the story, then you’ll need to think differently. Are you giving the reader control over every panel, one at a time? Are you clustering panels in twos, threes, sixes, tens? How much information are you giving to the reader at every virtual turn?

We all love the idea of control – remember those Choose Your Own Adventure stories? But the greatest trick is making us think we’re in control and then subverting us. So, as a creator, how can you let the digital reader control their way through a story and then pull the rug out at just the right moment?

How does time work?

Comics are great for speeding time up and slowing it down. Digital comics can do the same thing. Again, the speed at which panels appear and the opportunity for the reader to transition between them make all the difference. If you allow animation (which is anathema to some), you can watch days pass through a moving sun, or let seasons go by with changes in the weather. If you want the action to flow, you can give the reader plenty to look at; if you want it to stutter and hesitate, make the reader work harder – more clicks, more touches, strange angles, jarring panel layouts. The dynamism of digital can take the effects of analogue comics and make them more powerful.

Is the page turn dead?

Nope. As long as digital comics fit into a “page-shaped” screen, then we’ll stick with page turns. Reading some of the stories shown in The Guardian’s set of comics released last week, it’s very clear to see that the linear / simply scroll down approach to storytelling means that surprise is very hard to achieve. The more dynamic, side-to-side page turn – the reveal – is great for storytelling, suspense and horror (just as it is in a printed world).

It’s important to think about the range of devices that are being used, the size of the screen and how much of that screen you plan to use

Are you limited or liberated by the dimensions of the device?

If someone is reading your epic on their iPhone, are you wasting your energies producing mega double page splashes of the wonders of the universe? As part of the creative process, it’s important to think about the range of devices that are being used, the size of the screen and how much of that screen you plan to use. That said, if digital makes it difficult to do the extreme long-shot, it’s incredible for the extreme close-up: the opportunities of zoom can be exploited, whether for side jokes, clues in a mystery or simply just to get right up close and personal to the art.

How do you integrate other things into your story?

This is heresy to some, but digital obviously gives you the opportunity to bring more into the reader experience. Animation is the one that gets people uptight – motion comics are the Marmite of the digital space. Perhaps less contentious – and more interesting – are the opportunities for integration of sound – timed SFX, spoken dialogue, musical cues. (I regret to inform you that Smell-O-Comic remains a thing of the future…)

Digital comics are comics, and they aren’t. Publishing your analogue comic in electronic form is well and good – and probably vital if you want to reach new audiences or keep your print costs down. They’re also a great addition to your Free Comic Book Day offer. But to really do justice to the medium, creators need to be thinking about what it is that digital – and only digital – enables you to do with your work.

Lizzie Boyle is an author, blogger, small press comics aficionado and founder of Disconnected Press. You can find more or writing atlizzieboylesays.wordpress.com or follow her on Twitter @lizzieboylesays

Author: Lizzie Boyle