The “ebook” has been the slow-burner for years at book fairs. At Comic Festivals, of course, events are organized about the e-Comic, although the approach is comparatively reserved and tentative. Facing up to the digital revolution – sooner or later this will also impact on the comic – is not happening as consistently as it should.
There are several reasons for this. On the one hand, demand for digital comics is still extremely small – not only in Europe, but also in the US. In France, sales generated from e-Comics amount to less than 1%.
However, there is a more important aesthetic and content-based reason for the latent suppression of the subject. While digitizing a prose text is straightforward, keeping largely the identical form and being launched on the market as an improved PDF, digitization of the comic raises some fundamental questions, or more accurately: it places the comic, as we know it, in question.
In contrast to a novel, a comic is not simply digitized 1:1 – the layout must be reworked. It’s questionable whether the design of the comic page, which is the most important and coherent element of comic syntax, makes any sense on a digital reader device because only a handful of readers have big enough screens. Possibly, a dynamic comic-page layout with panels of varying widths and heights, with full-page and double-page or trimmed images will become a sequence of individual images. The comics’ narration and sequencing must now be revised, indeed even invented. Besides, many authors will want to use the additional possibilities that the e-Comic offers: animations, sound, 3D perspectives and interactivity.
That will create a new expressive form that combines elements of the comic, animated film and computer game. This development has been upcoming for years; currently, the name for these hybrid forms is ‘motion comics’. Although the science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick already described the first motion comic in 1964 (!) in his novel “The Zap Gun”, to my knowledge until today no convincing motion comic has appeared, and not a single approach has established itself as forward-looking. On the contrary, these “prototypes” of a new form of expression predominantly combine – to put it provocatively – the weaknesses of their components: poor image narration, rudimentary animations, cheap sound effects, infantile interaction and all in a terribly tame, non-dynamic and non-user-friendly way. That inspires nobody. For this reason, for the time being, if you want to read a comic, it’s preferable to pick up a book, or a DVD, if you feel like watching an animated film.
Another reason for the lack of interest in the e-Comic is naturally the fear that the comic, as we knew and loved it, might become obsolete because of the new medium. Digitizing in the comic sector will have a much more lasting effect on the narration and reading of comic strips than on prose texts. The media transfer will fundamentally revive the expressive form. In the long run, the comic book and e-Comic cannot survive as two media for a largely identical work. So, it’s questionable whether the comic and e-Comic can have a long-term parallel existence like the ebook and the book, or like vinyl and mp3 – presumably, writers and publishers will have to decide from the outset whether they want to produce a comic or e-Comic – the one at the other’s expense.
Nevertheless, this is no excuse for the failure to face up to the reality of the new medium. It will take its revenge.
Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright