Digital comics are cheap to produce. They’re accessible, they’re democratic. They’re not beholden to big publishers, printers or distributors. Anyone can create them, and anyone can read them. They are the ultimate liberating force in the history of the medium.
You knew I wouldn’t end it there. You knew I couldn’t just write one paragraph of glowing praise and then shut up. You knew there would be a “but”.
And here it is.
Digital comics make us lazy.
Writers get lazy: we’re creating digitally and trusting spellcheck to pick up grammatical errors and typos because we can’t be bothered to proof-read.
Editors get lazy: trusting the same lousy spellcheckers and letting the mistakes follow through (to be fair, this isn’t only a problem in digital comics, but it’s a problem enhanced by working in a technology-driven world).
Artists, inkers, colourists: yeah, you. This is where I point my wrath your way and see what I get back. You’re getting lazy. Let me give you a quote from Tim Pilcher’s Comic Book Babylon, his memoir of life in the UK comic book industry in the 1990s. It’s a long quote, but bear with me:
“Steve [Whitaker] clearly explained every step of the colouring process. In those days it was still done with colour separations. The colours would be a combination of cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y) and black (K). Photocopies of the black and white artwork would then be coloured up using Dr Martin’s Dyes. These would then be marked up, based on a colour chart. This would include various percentages, usually 25%, 50% and 75%. For example, a nice mid-green would be marked up as “Y25C50K25”, that is:25% Yellow, 50% Cyan, 25% Black. These colour mark-ups would then be sent to the separators who would mark the plates up based on the guide…. When each plate was eventually printed on top of each other, it would create a full colour image.”
Now, you digital comic artists out there, tell me: would you be arsed doing all of that? No. Because you don’t have to. Because digital has made you lazy.
Harsh? OK. Harsh. Some of the most beautifully coloured comics of recent years have been digital. A good colourist will take the time to think it through, creating a palette that helps to shape mood and character within the story. A good colourist will know when to meet your expectations and when to subvert them, when to give you story cues through colour, when to conceal what’s really going on.
“It’s not “only” a comic. It is your comic, your representative, the ambassador of your creativity out there in the world. It’s your party piece, your audition song, your best shoes, your newly-shaven face.”
A good colourist, working digitally, will make their own bloody textures.
Yep, boil it right down and this is what annoys me. Just as I get annoyed by typos and grammatical errors which time and attention could have addressed, I get annoyed by the lazy (there it is again) use of textures, brushes and effects that you can get from an hour of reading Photoshop for Dummies.
“Is that it? Is that really the bee in your bonnet?” you say. “It’s only a comic.”
“It’s only a comic” never washes with me. It’s not “only” a comic. It is your comic, your representative, the ambassador of your creativity out there in the world. It’s your party piece, your audition song, your best shoes, your newly-shaven face.
“Don’t take it so seriously,” you say.
I do take it seriously, and so should you. Remember all that stuff about the great democratic experiment that is digital comics? Remember the liberating power – we’re all creators and we’re all customers? Well, here’s the thing: your digital comic will find readers out there in the ether. And they will compare it with others. And if yours is the one that you were too lazy to proof-read, or the one where you just slapped an easy texture on some rainclouds because it was easier than thinking it through, then it’s the one that people will look at once and never consider again.
You may be lazy, but your reader isn’t. They may only be spending 99p to buy your comic – they may not even be spending that – but they will make their choices based on what they see.
In a liberated world of endless customer choice, creators can’t afford to be lazy.
In fact, we have to work harder than ever.
Lizzie Boyle is an author, blogger, small press comics aficionado and founder of Disconnected Press. You can find more or writing at lizzieboylesays.wordpress.com or follow her on Twitter @lizzieboylesays