Comics in transition : a comparative study of Web comic presentation formats 1995-2008

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2010
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NO FULL TEXT AVAILABLE. This thesis contains 3rd party copyright material. ----- Over the last 10 years English-language ‘web comics' have emerged as a pivotal new incarnation of comics, a form of graphic fiction which is itself already well-established and potentially sophisticated in application. These web comics - essentially comics created specifically for web publication - have emerged with a level of popularity that has seen a resurgence of interest in the comic form from new audiences. Their emergence has also resulted in more comic works being produced than in any other period of history. This study examines the pre-eminent formal mechanics of these web comics, an area which can appear initially complicated and overwhelming due to the level of design experimentation in terms of form, art and narrative elements, and the scope of work being published online. Furthermore, such web comics have become increasingly complex as various dominant formal approaches have splintered into numerous permutations, and also merged together due to the convergent nature and unique publishing possibilities of the web. Pertinently, this represents a terrain which many web comic creators admit to only a passing or vague understanding of. This study examines this area through a process of identifying, categorising and analysing common web comic forms within the dominating and distinguishable English-language web comic movement. This has allowed tor a detailed taxonomy of prominent web comic formats to be developed. In effect it clarifies the distinguishing formal approaches that underlie many seemingly heterogeneous web comic works. It offers a pragmatic understanding of what has become a daunting area to understand. In the thesis, what are identified as the four most widely applied web comic incarnations at the time of the study are examined in detail. These are identified as the online comic strip, the panel-based web comic, the online comic book and the widescreen web comic. In order to best articulate each category's distinctive formal nature, central to this study is a comparative formal analysis with what may be considered each category's most directly-related print comic format, as well as with each other. Through this process key similarities and differences to conventional print comics and other web comics are highlighted. As a consequence of this research approach the findings of this study serve to demonstrate the integral link between web comics and traditional print comic formats. At the same time the study demonstrates how - while creators have been loyal to the traditional comic form - comic storytelling has further evolved through the adaptation of comic publishing to the web. Through analysis the study clearly illustrates how web comics have expanded the formal design vocabulary or language of the comics medium. Significantly, a key outcome of this study is that it explicitly generates - along with a basic categorisation of formal design approaches - a series or list of permutations and design conventions that exist for each category. This represents a considerable contribution to scholarly research in the field of comics as it articulates, in detail, exactly how ‘mainstream' web comics have further expanded the possibilities of comic storytelling. In taking this approach the study provides a much-needed theoretical understanding to the design strategies commonly employed by comic creators in this new publication context of the web, and how comic design is likely to continue in the decades to come. As Anglo-American comic scholars continue to struggle with explanations of the formal nature of print comics, this study speculates on the next era of comic creation. The thesis represents the first long-term study into this area of web comic design and contributes to an understanding of a vital aspect of the web comic phenomenon. Also, as one of the most comprehensive studies into web comics on any level, it serves to provide a valuable and valid overview of the nature of web comics on a broader level.
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