Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Between the Panels

A couple of weeks ago I did an author visit at the Fairlawn-Bath branch of the Akron-Summit County Public Library. I had a really great time reading from Deus ex Comica and answering questions from the audience on a wide range of topics. During the Q&A session, the conversation turned to motion comics. Marvel is already in the game with their Spider-Woman title on iTunes, written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Alex Maleev.

I downloaded the first Spider-Woman motion comic when it was released, but haven’t picked up any of the subsequent installments, instead opting to consume the monthly storyline in traditional single issue comic book form

There is the question of the future of comics: Will they be delivered and read via monthly single issues, collected editions, or electronically on a computer or smart phone? But that is a discussion for another time, because motion comics are not a part of that debate. Motion comics are not comics, they are semi-static movies with spoken dialog and minimal animation.

I’m all for getting new readers engaged in the medium, but Marvel’s motion comic has little to do with the act of reading a comic. In fact, I’d argue that motion comics have as much to do with gainin
g new readership for comics as the big screen adaptations or Universal Studios’ roller coaster rides featuring these properties do.

Comics have a well-documented history of being censored and banned. But that combination of reading and exercising your imagination will always be the medium’s highest redeeming quality as far as I’m concerned. The kiddo gets enough stimulation spoon-fed to him via TV and video games. I first encouraged him to read comic books to get him to read. Now that he’s reading them voraciously, I’m encouraging him to slow down with his comics and let each panel sink in, urging him to experience the comic and let his imagination twist and expand and grow as he fills in the blanks.

A motion comic takes too much away from the experience of a comic book for me. Some of it is tactile. Like the album-to-mp3 struggles experienced by every generation prior to the current one, there is something to be said for holding the comic book or collected edition in my hands and smelling the paper and feeling the weight of it, knowing it occupies physical space in the world. But there is more to it than that because I see a future for reading comics and books on smart phones and computers. The motion comic’s biggest crime is that it takes me out of the role of active participant and renders me a passive consumer of the art.

When I read a comic book (either in monthly single issue
format, collected edition, or via an electronic delivery option), I am forced to engage in the activity. By its very nature, a comic panel can’t move. It can imply motion, but I have to use my imagination move the characters or action from point A to point B. It’s what happens between the panels, which takes place completely in my head, that makes reading a comic a dynamic activity. And that is what ends up left out of the motion comic experience.

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