Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Does the web ruin everything? Why print comic books might be better than their digital counterparts

Finals week is over for me, which means I have time to create more content for which I know you've all been dying to read. No need to pine any longer. Since my mind is trying to get out of school mode, I thought I would write about something that has more a fun aspect to it - also because I just wrote a 4000+ word report about it. What is this fun topic, you may wonder? None other than comic books and graphic novels - more specifically, print vs. web. Comic geeks, Scott McCloud fans, and literature enthusiasts, prepare to criticize!

I'm no long-time comic book/graphic novel reader. In fact, my cousin got me into the genre less than a year ago with my first graphic novel series ever - none other than The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman. Since then I've read other works such as Invincible (also by Kirkman), Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan, and The Boys by Garth Ennis. I love them all, but I do feel like I'm missing out of the classics by Marvel and DC. Maybe I'll have some down-time during spring break. Nevertheless, my newly-acquired love of comic books and graphic novels prompted me to base one of my graduate school assignments on them, and learned some very interesting concepts in the process.

I have to thank Mr. Scott McCloud for enlightening me with the genre. I first watched his TED talk a few months ago, and from that point on I've been fascinated with this work. His books Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics reveal very interesting things about reading them and applying such publications to the digital world, the latter of which I will focus on during this post.

When comics go digital

When we read comic books and graphic novels in its original form - print - it is up to us as readers to learn the "protocol" of navigating through the panels in chronological order, as intended. In digital form, however, that protocol no longer seems to apply. With online versions such as The Prisoner online graphic novel on, the "window" does the navigating for us. Readers are not required to make connections between panels, something that McCloud calls "closure." I'm not entirely sure if this is a bad thing, although some might feel that reader engagement is hindered. However, if you read just one chapter from The Prisoner, it seems as if reader engagement isn't a problem. Animation is applied, and images and text appears when it is intended to.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying that the web ruins everything (although some may feel otherwise). I'm just saying that there's something special about print comic books and graphic novels, something more authentic. The reader travels at a pace that they prefer, and imagines what is happening in between the panels that is unique to them. Holding the paper in your hand and physically turning the pages offer more of a "real" and immediate experience - something which, in my opinion, is lost when you turn on the computer monitor.

Maybe I'm just old school, or simply have a special place in my heart for the print form because of my undergraduate degree in English. Nevertheless, the world has gone digital, and won't stop anytime soon. Before you dismiss reading print versions of anything, take a walk to your local comic book shop and look around. Open one. Turn some pages. Engage yourself in an experience that can't be replicated by the web. Sometimes the tangible is just as good - if not better - than what the new millennium has to offer.

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