Wired Next Generation Event Report

Saturday morning, I threw a load of comics and paper and pens into a wheely case and kissed the kids goodbye, and then leapt onto a London-bound train. When I got off the DLR at Shadwell, the sun was beaming down, everyone had washing on their lines, and I had to follow signs that said “Pirate Ship”. All the omens were good.

WIRED Next Generation was in Tobacco Dock, a huge and intriguing space which did not disappoint on the pirate ship front.

I met up with Alison Gazzard and we checked out the show, which included drones, awkward ipad virtual presence bot things on wheels, X-wing made of bike parts, 3D printing, South Africa in virtual reality, and my personal favourite GIANT COLLABORATIVE TETRIS!!! me and Alison had a go, and it was so hard. I was in charge of left/right and Allie was in charge of rotate/drop. The pressure was *enormous*.

We waited outside our workshop room, and chatted to the man who made the  X-wing out of bicycle frames ( https://twitter.com/HeavyPetalUK)while the group inside made musical instruments out of fruit and veg.
When we were allowed to enter we watched them unplug and dissemble the various devices, which had electrodes jabbed in lemons, potatoes and notably, a small aubergine.
Feeling not at all intimidated by all of that, we set to work putting out all the hi-tech equipment we were going to need…

We put out some quality comics to inspire them, and then quickly put away again all the ones I realised had swears in… o_O

First we were scared nobody would come and we’d sit there with only crickets chirping.
Then the crowds started to gather, and we became scared everyone would come.
In the end we had all 20 of the kids who had booked, and then five or six extras we couldn’t bear to turn away.

We gave them some plot ideas, in the form of clippings which I’d chopped out of New Scientist the night before.
The idea was to say that ideas can come from anywhere, and its totally legit to find inspiration in everyday places, but I think it just meant they all thought I was a loony.

Anyhow, they all got going thinking up ideas.

Their ideas were AWESOME.

This was the one inspired by an article which said a huge subterranean ocean has been discovered beneath the Earth’s crust.

This was one from an article about using things creatures really do in nature to inspire inventions.

When he gets angry he becomes magnetic. Hilarious and disturbing events follow…

This table had two clippings, one about 12.5 fingers being the optimum amount, and one about brain probing which causes people to be back in places they once were.

This was the awesome work of one attendee who has a bright future ahead of him I think!

This was all from a story about trousers (really, I gave them quality material to work with…) and I have to say the results were…amazing.

I really want to read comics about Dr. Disproportionate and Mr Dubstep.

Note the infographic at the bottom which clearly demonstrates the difference between trouser crabs and crab trousers.

I want this on a T-shirt please…

This was a story I really wanted to see more of, a sci-fi epic by Finnbar Wilson.

Finnbar Wilson, creator of the World’s Scariest Thing. I want to work with Mr Wilson some day when he can fit me in. @_@

So that was our workshop!

We did attempt to skew it toward ways of doing the comics if you were reading it on a ipad, (aided by Alison’s awesome paper cut out iPads) but in the end, talking about the ideas and the characters was too fun, and we got cut off short before we could properly finish and say goodbye.

I ran away and into a taxi, and got home at ten that night.

thank you for having us WIREDNG! we’d love to come back next year if you’ll have us?

HUGE thanks to all our attendees, without whom we’d have just been two crazy ladies in a room on our own. If you attended and want your name up next to your work, drop me a line using the Contact page, or tweet at me @electricomics or say hi on Facebook.

I have two email addresses already, and if any more of you get in touch, I will set you guys up as beta testers when we are at that point. You were so awesome thankyou!

Apologies for the hideous quality of the pictures, I took them on my iPad, on the floor this morning. It shows, I know.

Electricomics Everywhere…

So not only are Leah Moore and Alison Gazzard teaching a workshop about digital comics at the #WIREDNG event tomorrow in London (For more details click HERE)
Daniel Merlin Goodbrey is also appearing at The Lakes Comic Art Festival too, in Kendal.
He will be talking to the legendary Scott McCloud, along with Russell Willis from digital comic app Sequential.
If you are going to Kendal anyway, make sure you catch the panel. If you are in two minds about attending…GO! If you weren’t planning on it, what were you thinking? Go and listen to them talk. They know all of the things!

If you arent going to either of these events, we are of course attending the mighty and amazing Thought Bubble Festival in Leeds in November, so click HERE to book your ticket and we will see you there with all manner of exciting things!

Electricomics at the WIRED Next Generation event October 18th 2014 – Tobacco Dock

This Saturday, Leah Moore and Alison Gazzard will be leading a digital comics workshop at the WIRED Next Generation event.

How to…
Make comics for the digital age

Electricomics

Electricomics will explain the link between storytelling and software, taking you from stapled pages to app design. You’ll not just move comics to the screen, you’ll make the comics own the screen.

Electricomics at the WIRED Next Generation event
Saturday, October 18, 2014
4:00pm – 4:45pm

[ready_google_map id='1']

Tobacco Dock
50 Porters Walk
Wapping
London, England E1W 2SF

We will be bringing all the state of the art equipment, such as PAPER and PENS, so all you need to bring is your brain. To be honest, even that’s optional.

See you there!

Click HERE to buy tickets.

WIRED2014 – Next Generation On Facebook
WIRED2014 – Next Generation on Twitter

Can’t make it? Search #WIREDNG and you won’t miss a thing!

Crackling with activity…

We had our third meeting last week, and it went really really well. We are finally getting to the point where we can begin to imagine what it is we are making, and what we might be able to do with it.

What I hadn’t realised about Research and Development is that the process itself is the project, not the finished thing.

I’ve been slogging away and wondering when we’ll have something to show for it, worrying what people are going to think of it all, will it be up to snuff? But actually, sitting there talking about what goes into the actual comics, and what goes into the code for the app, and what tools we might be able to offer, and which ones are harder to achieve, it was suddenly clear to me that this is what the grant is for. its for the talking, and the thinking, and the problems to solve, and the tricky stuff that drives you all crazy.

I have no idea if what we end up with will be what any of us imagined at the start, but i am very excited to see how we all get there, and what happens along the way.

Mitch Jenkins, the world class photographer and director who recently finds himself reduced to reporting our meetings (often tucked away in a hide so he can observe our natural behaviour), has been at it again. This time he had a large and noisy polaroid contraption, which reduced anyone he photographed to a startled ghost. He has very kindly put them up on his blog for all to see, along with his own meeting report:

http://mitchjenkins.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/overload.html

As he points out, he is a very busy man right now, dashing from city to city to screen ‘Show Pieces’, the five amazing films he and Alan Moore have made together, and from the world of which the whole Electricomics project is but a tiny part.

A quick glance at www.mitchjenkins.com shows that his talents are truly squandered snapping us eating biscuits in an attic. Thankyou sir. Your hard work is much appreciated!

The Ocasta chaps have been very hard at work also, writing code, assembling libraries of Javascript (I type like I know what that means) and figuring out how to translate the frankly huge list of hopes and desires in the scripts into reality.

They are taking on more people to cope with it all, and still have need of iOS people, if that is you, please use the Contact Us form to get in touch and make the subject iOS.

In a similar but non specific request, any genius code monkeys out there willing to Beta test or lend a hand to the Electricomics project, please use the contact form again but put CODE MONKEY in the subject title. We are fast realising we need all the help we can get!

When we were writing our script for our story Sway, I had no idea what the end result would be, and no real idea of what it would take to get to that result.

After sitting down with Martin and Steve and the gang and actually seeing what they have to do to make that real, I found it rather humbling as a writer.

I have been very accustomed when writing comics, to just thinking what might look cool, what might be an awesome thing to put in a story, or what my current obsession happened to be. I would happily send off the script to whichever editor had commissioned it, and that would be my job pretty much done. the artist would presumably draw it, and then the other processes would happen and my comic would pop out fully formed at the end.

Working with the team as it is, where we have tech and research partners who have varying degrees of familiarity with the comic making process, and ourselves as the arts partner with almost no idea of anything technical or academic, the project is becoming a lesson in co-operation, in playing to your own strengths, in asking what things mean, and what the next step is, and actively seeing that script through the process at every minuscule stage.

My comfortable detachment is gone. I have to account for my ridiculous scripting decisions, and either stick with them, or ditch them quick. Efficiency is the new king, and Ego is cast out.

And yes, for anyone wondering, all that even goes for the big hairy fellow himself. Big Nemo is obviously  ambitious boundary pushing multi faceted and clever. It’s an Alan Moore comic, of course it is, but it has been under just as much scrutiny by the whole team.

Colleen Doran has been wrestling with the behemoth like Big Nemo script and even posted this in the wee hours of last night:

It still astonishes me that I have Colleen Doran working on my project. I am giddy as a result.

I have received rough layouts from Paul Davidson, who is working with Pete Hogan on Cabaret Amygdala Presents… and they are just fantastic. His layouts are what a lot of artists would just hand in as pencils. We are lucky to have him while we can still afford him!

I have rough layouts from the great Peter Snejbjerg for Red Horse which he is doing with Garth Ennis. I cannot wait to see the actual art for it. I am trying to maintain my editorial mask of detachment, but I fear it won’t last.

I also have rough layouts for Sway, which I co-wrote with my husband John Reppion, and which is being drawn by Nicola Scott. Nicola Scott, people. I know.

I have also seen the sketches for our first very beautiful cover. If you pay close attention to Instagram and Twitter and our Facebook page, I may show you a tiny bit of, just so you can be excited too.

I’m nice like that.

I haven’t mentioned our research team, Alison and Daniel, but don’t let that fool you. They dont just sit there nodding and making little notes and being enigmatic, they are really digging in and getting their hands dirty. Dan is working on something which attendees of Thought Bubble will get a peek at, and Alison and I have another event which we are plotting, where we will use the innocent youth of London as guinea pigs for our own devious experiments.

More on that soon I promise. More of everything soon!

Stay tuned people. We are just getting to the good stuff!

Leah Moore

I'm not running away with these cakes. I am just holding them for a friend.
I’m not running away with these cakes. I am just holding them for a friend.

 

Electricomics confirmed to exhibit at Thought Bubble Festival 2014

ThoughtBubbleBanner

It’s official, and there is no turning back now, we are very excited to say that Electricomics will have a table at Thought Bubble Festival, on Saturday November 15th and Sunday November 16th, 10 am – 5pm

We will be in New Dock hall, which of course is where all the cool kids are, and we will have lots for you to come and see and buy, and maybe just maybe if you are really good, there’ll be an item exclusive to Thought Bubble.

I’m sure you already all have tickets, but if not…

Click Here To Buy Thought Bubble Tickets

There is also the small matter of the 28th Leeds International Film Festival.

Show Pieces at LIFFBoth Writer Alan Moore and Director Mitch Jenkins will be attending the 28th LIFF with Show Pieces, the short films from the dark world that Electricomics grew out of.

On Friday November 14th at 6pm, there will be a screening of the films and then a Q&A  session with both Alan and Mitch.

There are tickets still available:

Click Here To Buy Tickets to Show Pieces with Q&A.

The clever clogs among you will have realised that you can go to the screening, and see the films and have a Q&A with the films’ creators on the Friday night, and then get up and come and see what the Electricomics gang have for you at the Electricomics stand bright and early on the Saturday morning!

What are you waiting for? Those tickets won’t buy themselves!

-Leah Moore

 

Electricomics: Digital Pages and Rhythms of Reading

By Alison Gazzard and Daniel Merlin Goodbrey

Many of today’s leading digital comics services primarily aim to offer a reading experience that replicates traditional comicbook forms on a tablet or smartphone device. This approach, although valid, raises questions as to what features of print based comics need to be retained in their translation to the digital form and what can potentially be changed. Part of the challenge of the Electricomics project lies in answering this question and delving into how the language and tropes of traditional comics are impacted by digital technologies.

The 'Producing A Series' Panel at The Fifth International Graphic Novel and Comics Conference.
The ‘Producing A Series’ Panel at The Fifth International Graphic Novel and Comics Conference  at The British Library. Goodbrey thinking thoughts in left of image. Photograph by @Pilpel

The aim of this article is to present a snapshot of our current research and the ideas discussed during our recent presentation at the British Library during The Fifth International Graphic Novel and Comics Conference. None of the ideas or approaches discussed here should be thought of as the final word on digital comics, but rather as part of an ongoing exploration of the form. One of the starting points for this exploration has been the concept of the page itself. In comic books and graphic novels, pages are particularly significant units. A useful definition of the page comes from Charles Hatfield (2009), who observes that:

‘The “page” (or planche, as French scholars have it, a term detonating the total design unit rather than the physical page on which it is printed) functions both as sequence and as object, to be seen and read in both linear and nonlinear, holistic fashion.’

In setting out to create native digital comics, retaining the concept of the page gives comic creators a useful unit of layout with which they’re already intimately familiar. In traditional comic books, stories are built around the turn of the page, which allows creators to delay the delivery of punch lines or craft moments of surprise or suspense within their narratives. The page also serves to presents the panels it contains in fixed juxtaposition with each other, allowing for both linear and nonlinear reading as outlined by Hatfield. This simultaneous juxtaposition of images is identified by many prominent comic scholars as a key aspect of the form (McCloud 1993, Groensteen 2013, Miodrag 2013).

The established comics industry (publishers, artists, writers, inkers, colourists, letterers, etc) also bases all costing around traditional pages. Construction and composition of each page forms a vital part of the communication process between the different members of the arts team. In the early stages of the Electricomics project, we’re in the process of transitioning from traditional page to digital planche. In this transition we’ve observed a tension between the comics creators, who take a holistic view of the page, and the technology partners, who are keen to deconstruct the page into separate assets and mechanics that will need to be implemented in the toolset.

In general, the development of digital comics has seen the page change alongside other digital media to become more “plastic” (Murray 1997) and mutable. Panels can be delivered individually to the screen and their contents altered individually, rather than as whole-page units. This allows surprise and suspense to be achieved in the individual delivery of panels or for narrative effects to be created from the rearrangement or alteration of existing panels (Goodbrey 2013). Although it’s important to also recognise that the more these effects are relied upon, the more they weaken the fixed simultaneity of images and the potential for non-linear reading.

Panel delivery used to create suspense in a sequence from Insufferable by Mark Waid and Peter Krause.
Panel delivery used to create suspense in a sequence from ‘Insufferable Volume 1, Chapter 1′ by Mark Waid and Peter Krause.

It is also important to consider the page within the larger context of the multipage format. Traditional, printed comic books and graphic novels have the quality of flippy-throughiness’ (Nichols 2013). Due to the nature of their construction it’s easy to flip forward and backwards through the pages and there is a fixity to the physical location of all the information in the comic. This idea ties into Groensteen’s concept of comics as a spatial network, where ‘every panel exists, potentially if not actually, in relation with each of the others’ (2007).

Digital pages by the very nature of their lack of fixed physical structure, erode the quality of flippy-throughiness. The more a digital comic embraces the mutable nature of the screen and seeks to control the individual display of panels, the more markedly this erosion can be observed. As the reader’s concept of the comics wider spatial network becomes less manageable, this can serve to interrupt the rhythms of reading that are inherent in how we read and explore multipage comics.

One approach to the challenge presented by the lack of flippy-throughiness in digital comics is to embrace McCloud’s concept of the ‘infinite canvas’ (2000). In an infinite canvas comic, all the panels in the network are given a fixed spatial relationship on one large plane or canvas. The screen then acts as a window under the reader’s control, which can be moved around this plane in order to read and navigate the comic. This gives the reader a fixed spatial configuration or shape to hold in their head and full control over their progression and place within the network.

Illustration of the infinite canvas from I Can't Stop Thinking! #4 by Scott McCloud.
Illustration of the infinite canvas from I Can’t Stop Thinking! #4 by Scott McCloud.

Making use of an infinite canvas approach to creating digital comics can be problematic, in that it diminishes some traditional page layout techniques and can be problematic in terms of costing and production nomenclature. But within the physical limitations of a digital environment, the infinite canvas perhaps best captures the spirit of how a multipage work is traditionally read, explored and flipped-through.

The reader of a comic is not just, as Lefèvre (2009) notes, ‘a passive agent: he or she looks at images with prior knowledge and activates the images.’ As the reader explores the spatial network of a comic, their reading activates the words and images in the network to create the fictional passage of time that exists within the narrative of the comic. Rhythms of reading are built up through exploring this spatial-temporal relationship between the reader’s own experience of time and the portrayal of time within the story world of the comic. Another aspect of digital remediation that impacts on these established rhythms of reading is the integration of animation into the spatial network. As Groensteen (2013) asserts:

‘Comic readers generally set their own rhythm, with no constraints; as soon as they have to make allowances for the exact length of an animated image or sound, the reading process must be synchronised with these additional factors, and readers’ freedom is sacrificed – or else this synchronization may already have been programmed by the author, who therefore also imposes the rhythm at which images scroll.’

The active nature of the comics reader invites parallels with the role of the “user” in interactive fiction. A useful way to potentially examine the temporal relationships in comics is provided by Jesper Juul’s work on time in videogames and interactive narrative sequences. Juul (2004) proposes the idea of ‘play time’ which in comics we can equate to “reading time;” the time that the user takes to navigate and read the page as presented to them. Opposed to this is ‘event or fictional time’ that occurs within the narrative itself. We can depict the relationship between the two with the following diagram, modified from Juul’s original to include our new, comic-specific terms.

The relationship between Reading Time and Fictional Time, based on Juul's mapping between Play Time and Event Time.
The relationship between ‘reading time’ and ‘fictional time,’ based on Juul’s mapping between ‘play time’ and ‘event time’ in videogames.

 Our relationship with the comics sequence relies on negotiating the control of our own reading time alongside the fictional time of the narrative (as created in collaboration between the reader and the comic’s creators). However, digital comics can sometimes break the normal rhythm of this relationship by adding in what can be seen as “cut-scenes;” moments of animation or animated transitions where control is taken away from the reader. In this instance the reader loses their sense of ‘agency’ (Murray 1997) within the rhythms and interactions of their own reading.

One approach to the integration of animation that sidesteps this issue is the use of “ambient” moments of looped animation with panels. Groensteen (2013) identifies an essential conflict in digital comics between ‘two types of temporality: the concrete, measurable time of motion and sound, and the indefinite, abstract time of comics narration.’ However, looped animations are by their nature also indefinite. By nesting these animations within fixed point in the spatial network of the comic, they do not interfere with the established rhythm of reading.

Polymorphic panel in sequence from Copper #25 by Kazu Kibuishi.
Polymorphic panel in sequence from ‘Copper #25′ by Kazu Kibuishi.

There also exists some precedent in print for the use of such animated loops. Cohn (2010) describes the concept of ‘polymorphic’ panels in comics, that that depict multiple events with no fixed duration, such as a dog shown in multiple positions in one panel, as it chases it own tail. Ambient animated loops or animations that depict recurring events without a fixed duration can be seen as a continuation of such techniques within the digital context.

Experimenting with different approaches to the integration of animation in digital comics is an important part of the Electricomics project. Alan Moore has already started to explore the uses of animation in his development of the Winsor McCay influenced Big Nemo comic that will released with the toolkit. In his script, Moore describes the integration of small sections of animation and discusses these in relation to the way “traditional” special effects and animation techniques can further extend the diegetic space of the world without interrupting the overall flow of storytelling for the reader. In a recent interview with us about this work, Moore notes:

‘I personally like the idea of trying to retrieve traditions and techniques and approaches from the kind of ‘stone age’ of comics and seeing what you can do with those approaches given the additional dimension that modern technology affords us’

‘[It's] definitely a way of trying to take the basic techniques that Windsor McCay had created at the turn of the last century and finding out that, yes actually, they did work beautifully in this new medium.’ (Moore 2014)

The issue of maintaining a sense of control over the relationship between reading time and fictional time also has implications for the inclusion of elements of interactive narrative in the design of digital comics. As a team we’re just beginning to grapple with ideas on how to signify reader choice without overly disturbing rhythms of reading or dropping the reader out of the story world.

In these early stages of the project, as suggested in the introduction to this article, it would seem premature to draw too many conclusions as to the nature of the digital comics medium. However, based on the body of our research to date, we might reasonably be able to conclude as follows; while certain qualities of print comics are eroded by digital mediation, creating successful digital comics can be seen as a balancing of tensions between maintaining the key characteristics of the comics form and embracing the new qualities offered by digital technologies and display.

References

Cohn, N. (2010) ‘The limits of time and transitions: challenges to theories of sequential image comprehension.’ Studies in Comics. 1(1) pp. 127–147.

Goodbrey, D. (2013) ‘Digital Comics – New Tools and Tropes.’ Studies in Comics 4(1) pp 187-199.

Groensteen, T. (2007) The System of Comics (trans. Beaty, B. and Nguyen, N.). Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi.

Groensteen, T. (2013) Comics And Narration (trans. Miller, A.). Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi.

Hatfield, C. (2009) ‘An Art of Tensions.’ In Heer, J. and Worchester, K. (eds) A Comic Studies Reader. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi.

Juul, J. (2004) ‘Introduction to Game Time.’ In Harrigan, P. and Wardrip-Fruin, N. (eds) First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Lefèvre, P. (2009) ‘The Construction of Space in Comics.’ In Heer, J. and Worchester, K. (eds) A Comic Studies Reader. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi.

McCloud, S. (1993) Understanding Comics. New York: HarperPerennial.

McCloud, S. (2000a) Reinventing Comics. New York: Paradox Press.

Miodrag, H. (2013) Comics and Language. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi.

Murray, J. (1997) Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Moore, A. (2014) Interviewed by Gazzard, A. and Goodbrey, D. on 13 June.

Nichols, J. (2013) Scrolls, Codexs and Flippy-Throughiness in (digital) Comics. The International Comic Arts Forum, 24 May, Portland, Oregon.

Our Inbox Runneth Over…

Since we announced the project, we have received a great many enquiries from people wanting to get involved. Some people already have work out there that is similar in idea to Electricomics in some way, so I thought it might be interesting to put them all up here in one place. I really like aspects of all of them, and I am so glad we have a chance to discuss this kind of thing. If you know of other projects that would fit here too, please send them in using our contact page, or tweet them at us, and we can look at them too.

Man and Guy by Stefan Van Dinther is a great look at story structure in digital comics and explores territory close to that of our own Daniel Goodbrey.Blue Donut Studios are already using limited animation on their storyboarding work, showing that this kind of software has more applications than just comics people making comics. Halftone 2 is a comic creation app which seems to have a lot of great features, and looks really fun to use. Murat is a fantastic project from the Czech Republic by Ondrej Novak & Vojtech Seda and Motiv collective (www.nomotiv.org) I really enjoyed the page view, and the cumulative effect of the moving elements becomes quite hypnotic. I am really impressed by how much of a traditional comic layout they have retained, but also by how much they have crammed in.Lastly there is a academic piece from 2011, “The visual novel medium proves its worth on the battlefield of narrative arts By Alex Mui which is a really interesting look at The Visual Novel.

We’re very lucky to have so many people talking to us, and joining in with the project.

Hopefully this process will become more direct once we have our community area up and running, but until then, please continue to Like, Follow and get in touch, and add your own voice to the discussion!

Leah Moore

Electricomics at the International Graphic Novel and Comics conference

The Electricomics research team, Alison Gazzard and Daniel Goodbrey, will be presenting at the International Graphic Novel and Comics conference on Friday 18th July.

They’ll be talking about all things Electricomics, but especially the project goals, and their approaches to the research side of it.

If you can, come along, talk to Dan and Alison and get involved with Electricomics!

You can get day tickets at £35 each (or it’s £85 for the whole three days) Booking details:

http://www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/comics-unmasked/events/event160729.html