What makes a comic digital?
by Roger Whitson — Washington State University
February 20, 2012 – 00:00
Are digital comics digital because they are created using digital tools? Maybe, but the definition would lose meaning since most comics produced today are created using Photoshop or distributed through digital applications like Comixology or Graphic.ly. I’m more sympathetic to the idea that a digital comic exploits digital technology to create an experience that is uniquely enjoyed in a digital environment. I have two examples that serve, for me, as illustrations of what digital comics can do.
Chris Ware’s Touch Sensitive, created for McSweeney’s, explores the touch interface of the iPad by comparing it with, as is stated in McSweeney’s description, a world where “the act of touching seems to shift from that of affection to aggression.” As readers move from the early panels, which feature pleasurable swipes that float from one linear panel to another, they gradually move into sequences where panels flicker in and out of the composition. Furthermore, the touch-swipe feature is complemented with a sudden shift in panel composition towards the end, which imagines a future where direct touch has been entirely replaced with haptic interfaces. The experience of reading the text mirrors the growing alienation of the characters from each other. Ware has a large personal investment in book publishing and design, and this investment is reflected in the lavishly produced covers and book-jackets featured on several of his comics. In Touch Sensitive he parodies the simulation of touch on the iPad and in digital culture but creates a very different encounter with touching in the process.
Second, Evan Young’s The Carrier uses GPS, email, text message features, and the internal clock of the iPhone to construct a serialized story about espionage and amnesia. Each of the chapters of The Carrier is delivered in real-time and over a period of ten days. If, for example, you read the first chapter at 3:30, you will receive the next chapter 45 minutes later. Text messages lead the reader to webpages that feature polls or other interactive features. Certain GPS coordinates unlock further features, like community contributed Flickr images or hidden email messages. While not as critically or aesthetically sophisticated as Ware’s comic, Young’s The Carrier extends the digital comic into a multimedia ecology of interrelated content and invites readers to help create the story.