Alternative francophone is preparing a special issue on digital comics. Submissions should take into account creators working in French. A comparative approach with creators working in other languages is welcome.
Who’s Afraid of Digital in Comics?
The form to which one thinks when referring to comics can be seen to have taken into account a specific materiality, that of paper (be it newsprint, booklet or book) and editorial structures (depending on the case, penny papers, syndicates, youth oriented publications, etc.). Many formal caracteristics of comics are in fact answers to this materiality and these structures. With the growth in possibilities in terms of data storage and transmission, comics creators have seen in the digital an opportunity to free themselves from old formal and financial constraints and to explore a new frontier. However, against this phantasmatic opening, reality opposed a new set of constraints, many of which resounding as calls to creativity.
Mostly, digital comics present the scan of a page or a strip. As is the case for pages of a digital book, theses skeuomorphic interfaces content themselves to a page per page presentation, in some cases imitating the flipping of a page, oft with a sound effect. Yet, one finds a slew of new formal possibilities when the drawn work takes a digital form. Anthony Rageul (2014) on the one hand, Chris Reyns-Chikuma and Jean Sébastien (2019) on the other, inventory some ten forms.The former’s classification is in line with an aesthetic of reception: a new temporality as to reading with the assimilation of homochronous time (that of cinema) or through the construction of a narrative by the successive appearance of images; a new relationship to space through the computer window metaphor; the possibility of interaction and manipulation. The latter’s classification, centering on the diversity of auctorial projects, develops two englobing categories as to the manner in which a creator chooses to organize the narrative: in some cases, the work carries within it a strong arthrologic figure, that is the instance which presides over the narrative’s articulation as Groensteen (1999) defines this concept; in other cases, the work acts as a figure of arbitration, opening a series of choices to the user, either in the closed structure of an arborescent narrative or in much looser structures.
Digital comics constitute a new type of creative work. Yet, they appear in cultures in which there is a profound mutation in the reader’s horizon of expectation as to comic–a knowledge of its tradition notwithstanging. A recent profile of activities practiced daily by French youth aged between 15 and 25 gives an idea of the cultural references systems of young readers (Vincent-Gérard et Vayssettes 2018). Music and social networks are the spirit of the time. Online videos are now head-to-head with TV-viewing. Reading a book, as a daily activity, has dwindled to 18% of the surveyed. Moreover, the readership’s reference systems also depends on the publishing ecosystem. In the case of the Franco-Belgian culture, Gilles Ratier has published yearly surveys of publications in bande dessinée, including the introduction of digital publications.
Rageul (2014) has shown that one form of digital comics, Turbomedia–Marvel’s Infinite Comics– has had a tendency to take the forefront among other forms of experimentation with the medium to the point where “the observer can find recurrence of this form in an ever larger corpus […]. This phenomenon perfectly illustrates the transitory phase that, according to Lev Manovich […], is characteristic of current digital technologies. This transitory phase consists in a search for a language that would be the medium’s own.” (p. 79-80)
However, those creative practices, which end up deconstructing the ‘principle of the page’ dear to Groensteen open up real avenues. There are works that, from the moment of their conception, seem to explore paths in the spirit of the work done by the Oubapo movement on multiple readings. There are others that conjugate the homochronous time of cinema with the heterochronous time of reading. Yet, others expect that an active part will be taken by the ‘wreader’ (or ‘lect-acteur’ in French), expressions we owe to Landow (1992) and Weissberg (1999). Will creative works, with the possibilities opened up by the computer, still be comics or are we witnessing the birth of a new media? Gardner (2012) sees in the convergence of comics and film a reopening of a door closed in the early 20th century.
We encourage case studies that look into the possibilities offered to reading by digital comics:
- Do the works studied play with the codes that are characteristic of the constraint of the page?
- Do they choose to maximize the possibilities of the medium?
- Do they play with the constraints of the interface (the screen, the touch-screen, the keyboard, the mouse) ?
- Were they developed with the thought of the best possible reading comfort for a digital interface?
- Or, in terms of reception, evaluate the spectre of possible agency: from the reader benefitting from the medium’s heterochronous time to the wreader moving forward in the space that he is given.
Deadline for a 300-400 words proposal: November 9, 2018
Deadline for completed article: April 30, 2019
Publication: December 2019
The articles must be original material (see Alternative francophone’s author guidelines):
The completed articles will go through a blind peer reviewer process. The final decision with comments will be sent by email in a 2 to 3 months delay.