by Zach Whalen — University of Mary Washington
February 23, 2012 – 00:00
The video I’ve edited for this discussion is a compilation of Youtube reaction videos, a popular genre wherein intrepid individuals point the camera at themselves and record their reaction to something, usually something horrifying or disgusting. In the video to the left, the subjects are all reading and responding to a webcomic by Korean artist Horang, which you can read in English translation or in the original Korean. First, though, a warning: this is one of those things that tries to startle its readers, like that maze trick or the haunted car commercial. View it at your own risk, and do not turn your speakers up.
The memetics at work in the circulation this comic have a good deal to do with the social construction of the act of its viewing, which is another way of saying it’s a cheap — some might say gimmicky — prank that one person uses to embarrass another. But at the same time, it’s also a uniquely constrained example of digital technology enabling a specific property of a comic for a special purpose.
So far this week, we’ve been looking at digital comics in a number of ways, including the intersections of print and digital affordances, a glimpse at possible futures, and the fundamental question itself. But we haven’t yet really looked into the whole culture of webcomics, which is entirely premised on digital technology for its existence. I don’t know that all webcomics are essentially digital simply by their being viewed on the web, but the relatively straightforward digitalism of a well-placed animated GIF can be charming, unsettling or parodic in ways that don’t necessarily disrupt the "unique alchemy" of comics (to borrow Mark Waid’s term).
Referring to this Korean webcomic, Scott McCloud seems to agree, mentioning as an aside that what truly makes this effective is not that the comic moves, because it doesn’t. Rather, it’s takes hold of the browser’s scroll function and moves rapidly through a series of closely juxtaposed images, creating an illusion of animation by wrenching control away from the reader.
So I’m curious, can a concept of Digital Comics account for the baroque complexity of Meanwhile alongside shocking horror comics and the pseudo-interactivity of MS Paint Adventures or its inexplicable, so-ugly-its-almost-beautiful spinoff, Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff?