Probably like many CC readers, I read a lot of scans of comics on the internet. Unlike webcomics, where the cartoonist is conscious of the fact that people will read it online, these poor, often dead cartoonists have been hijacked (stolen, really) and forced into a formatting that they didn’t intend, and often didn’t know would ever exist. Their labored-over page turns and splash pages have been forced into click-throughs and scroll-downs. They’ve been completely screwed. Still, I’m sitting there waiting for my scanner to finish doing its thing, a stack of unread “real” books weighing the scanner bed down, and I’ll click over to thehorrorsofitall.blogspot.com to read some Bernie Wrightson. While I’m waiting for music to illegally download, I’ll go illegally read a manga scanlation. It’s too easy.
Obviously, I prefer reading these comics in their original, intended, print versions. But, again, it’s right there. Free. And I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.
I’m going to write about this experience a little. Just three random topics.
1. Large Documents
You click on a link expecting a small, web-friendly jpg image and the browser window slowly (“uh-oh”) loads, opens, and you find yourself staring at a quarter-inch of yellowed paper texture enlarged over your entire monitor. You scroll down and to the right, seeing a single brushstroke—what is that? The top of someone’s head? A branch? Or you’re looking at a couple of letters of each word as you read (“nu”…”ff”…”sa”…). Or you think you’re looking at the main character of a panel until you scroll around to discover that the person was actually in the far background and the central character can only be seen one facial feature at a time.
This reminds me of how little the human eye actually sees in focus at any moment. In middle school a teacher illustrated this fact by writing a word on the chalkboard. He told everyone to stare only at this one word. Then he wrote another word six inches above the first word. Nobody could see the second word if their eyes remained fixed on the first word. Like, try reading something at the top of this post while staring at this word. Maybe in seeing these comic scans enlarged, this is like seeing what the inside of my eye is seeing at a single moment as it darts around a comic page.
What comic pages work well in this unnatural view? Dense splash pages. Decorative design elements. Landscapes. I briefly looked around for something to scan that would look interesting this way and picked up a Blueberry book. This is actually only half of a printed page, so it doesn’t take long to load.
Holy crap—it looks great this way. In print, this page feels really dense and claustrophobic. Here, it’s a more spacious, but active, environment. The splattering of colors translates really well too. And, somehow, I think it captures the adventurousness of the Blueberry story. Click on the image and scroll around inside the page. It’s fun!
2. Bad scanning/pixelation
I spent a few years doing illustrations for a health services website where I’d have to (quickly) integrate drawings and photos in one piece. I’d use the “eyedropper” Photoshop tool to pick up colors from the photos that I would then use in the drawings so that the colors matched. The eyedropper tool could never find the right color. Is that guy’s shirt really so dark? Is that kid’s blonde hair so grey? The eyedropper was only picking up a single solid pixel color. It’d be as if you eyedropper-tooled a scan of a comic and were shocked that someone’s skin tone was either bright red or solid white.
Comics have moved from one format with famously awkward small units of color that optically combine to a new version of the same thing.
There are probably a lot of comparisons that could be made between this either/or visual information and other mediums. I was struck by how much a detail of a tapestry looks like a low-resolution jpg:
Also, there are wide variations of scanner qualities and preferences. I wanted to send an image of a “Classics Illustrated” page to a friend and I didn’t feel like scanning it myself so I found it online:
But this page looked nothing like the comic I owned. The colors are so washed out. Is this how this person scanned it? Or did their copy actually look this way? Maybe it looked correct on their computer and my computer was calibrated differently. Here’s my scan of the same page:
It’s possible that lots of scans I’ve read online look nothing like what the original reproductions (ha ha) do.
3. Coincidental Marriages
Most comic pages are hard to read on the computer. You scroll across and then down and realize you missed half of a conversation that was in word balloons hugging the bottom of the panels. You were just zipping away on the top 2/3rds of the panel. Or you have to laboriously scroll up and down to figure out how you’re supposed to read a page. Or you can only understand a spread by clicking back and forth to try and imagine what two pages look like next to each-other. But sometimes a page, coincidentally, feels really intuitive on the web.
Here’s just one example, a BWS Uncanny X-men page hosted by grantbridgestreet.blogspot.com (a site that provides a radio soundtrack for your comic reading!):
This page reads great on the web. I love how, as you scroll down, the hands become bigger and then it moves back to a wide view. The floating colors seem to drift around on the screen as you scroll.
Television’s changed the way movies are made. Generations of filmmakers raised on watching television now favor TV-informed traits. A close-up natural for the small screen has led to billboard-sized close-ups in the theater. It isn’t unusual to be sitting in the movie theater examining the enormous pores on Brad Pitt’s nose.
Maybe in the future, generations of cartoonists raised on reading comics on the internet will change the way they make print comics, unconsciously favoring stand-alone pages, long horizontal panels and “scroll-down” style vertical reveals.