Saturday, August 26, 2006


Live Discussion

The following (below images) is a short exchange of comments responding to an update that I posted on the Refuge mirror Livejournal in the altcomix comics community. I thought the content was interesting and instead of letting it get lost amongst the continuous flow of posts there I have posted it here for blog readers as well:

Chapter 4 finished:

Refuge graphic novel - Chapter 4 finished!

Chapter 5 started:

Refuge graphic novel - Chapter 5 started!


This is very interesting. Forgive the long post, but I have to bring in some quotes to make sense of what I want to say.

Anyway, a side scrolling internet comic like yours does not fundamentally change the way comics are read, but it does change the dynamic in an interesting way. What is lacking is the sense that each sequential panel is part of an already present holistic structure since the reader only has one or two panels to start with and no sense of what is going to happen next. According to Charles Hatfield, comics are composed of several kinds of tension, one of them being Sequence vs. Surface. He explains:

“In most cases, the cussessive images in a comic are laid out contiguously on a larger surface or surfaces (that is page pr pages) . . . . From a reader’s point of view, then, there is always the potential to choose: beween seeing the single image as a moment in sequence and seeing it in a more holistic fashion, as a design element that contributes to the overall balance (or in some cases meaningful imblance) of the layout” [Charles Hatfield, Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005) 48-52.]

In the case of Refuge, getting a sense of the wider design as/before you read, the choice of seeing the sequence or the overall design, is much more difficult. As a result, although every comics sequence is to some extent uncertain, your comic has a strong sense of unpredictability. I’ve only read the first two of your stories, but the oddness of the situations add to a sense that anything could happen. In addition, having the comic on the surface of a webpage adds movement to the static image sequence. My scrolling, the panels appear to move past you, something that can’t be achieved to the same effect in comics that are static and inert except in our minds.

Very cool.


Hi, first of all thanks for the in-depth analysis. I agree that the page layout in comics does give it an extra dimension and allows the reader not just to look at individual panels but also across the surface and at the interaction of that panel with the page/pages as a whole, this in turn adding to the object nature of the printed comic.

The online comic can not compete, I suppose, with this object reality but instead has to use its own quite separate context to advantage. The comic has to work in some way with its inherent make up. Because of the interactive nature of online art it is almost impossible not to have to scroll down or across, or click onto the next page etc, to view it. Some comics, like mine, have tried to make this activity an integral part of the comic, trying to create an extra illusion of time and space through the illusion of an endless narrative, let to right (or right to left) and up and down.

The side scrolling comic does not rely so much on the surface look of a page as apposed to the individual panels, I suppose it is putting narrative, story, the thread of one image after another, above the look of a page. The notion of time passing becomes both physical and illusionary with the moving images from left to right. Once a panel is gone, it can be in the past and replaced by another so the panels accumulate in memory but also at the same time the reader is always at a certain point of the narrative, a point in time that is fluid or seems transient, about to change and not sure, as you say, what is coming next. I feel that time is a real issue with side scrolling comics, that notion that you are scrolling a strange real of film around inside one of those old children’s viewers.

As a comic artist I get involved in the narrative, sometimes to the detriment of continuity of overall look, so this inability to have the whole chapter day to look at on the few pages suites my work process. I have however not blocked the option of doing print comics, in fact I intend to reorganise this one at some point to bring it our in print volumes. There seem be two audiences for comics, one for print and one for the web.

This is a fascinating subject ‘scarfe, I could go on longer but this could turn into a lengthy essay. Have just been to your site and you appear to be studying graphic narrative as part of your MA cultural studies thesis. What sort of areas are you going to cover? That sounds interesting.

Thanks again for the comments.


My MA thesis is actually finished as of today, actually. I just have to print it and have it bound. It is called "FOREIGN BODIES: COMICS, HABITUS, AND TRANSCULTURAL INTERACTION." Essentially, I'm looking at Joe Sacco's Palestine and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis and Persepolis 2 to explore how incredibly well suited comics are to represent the unspeakable or unthinkable process of what Pierre Bourdieu calls "habitus" because the comic form simultaneously presents the material and discursive bases of power and meaning making. That won't make any sense if you are unfamiliar with the concept of habitus (and even if you are, it still might not make any sense). I could go on to explain, but I don't want to bore you.

As for your comic, I like what you said about the interactive quality of online scrolling comics and how you tried to integrate that quality into your comic. You describe it as kind of like a strange reel of film, and I think that is a perfect way to describe it.

There is a scene in one of your strips (if they can be called that, which I doubt) where the two men jump of a train and the panel grid switches from a horizontal to vertical progression to create the sense of downward momentum. I really like that. This can be done in print, but because the reader/viewer of an online comic can scroll, those panels appear to move in the downward momentum they attempt to depict. One of the things I always hated about early “web comics” or comics on DVD that big superhero publishers like Marvel and DC put out was that they were basically comics turned into cartoons. The panels would slide onto screen, spin around, word bubbles would appear and disappear, static images of characters would lean forward and back when punched etc. The images themselves remained static, but they appeared to the viewer to have movement via animation. This never looked right to me. They looked lifeless because an integral part of comics is that the reader must read between the images to imagine movement in the mind’s eye. To have it done for you dulls the experience, I think. As for a web comic such as yours, it is not animation and it is not static, but kind of in between: the progression from image to image still has a sense of movement.

I don’t think it’s a matter of competition between print or online comics. They both offer unique possibilities. Online comics that are comprised of pages (like Dave Willis’ Shortpacked as a quick example) still work on that tension between reading the panels as their own discrete moments or as part of a holistic structure, but scrolling web comics offer a uniquely different way of seeing and reading. I look forward to your other chapters.


I won't attempt to try and translate 'Habitus' but to say that comics are a good medium to translate cultures to one another and therefore creating an understanding, particularly on a personal level. They can translate the psychological reality of a situation through the combination of text, image and narrative. In that way it can make the personal political. People are usually convinced of the reality of something more through images, if not an actual exact portrayal of events then a portrayal of their psychological reality seen through the eyes of an individual. 'Palestine' breaks through the barrier of communicating to those that do not spend all their time reading papers. Also, because of its documentary style it manages to convey the idea of a story happening in real time. There is a tradition growing I think of the real story being told in comic form, from 'Maus' the various autobiographical works to 'Palestine' and 'Persopolis'. Conveying hidden truths or the personal side of events seems to be comics strong point.

Anyway, I am sure you're thesis explains things more concisely than my of cuff remarks.

I was thinking of putting this short exchange of posts on my blog or journal as I am always lost for things to say in it about my work and think that there are some interesting comments here. These posts are just going to disappear together with my post in ‘altcomix’ as more things get posted. Is that Ok with you?


"They can translate the psychological reality of a situation," or as I argue, gesture to the fact that psychological realities are not fixed, but constructed.

Feel free to post our commments on your blog or journal. I added you to my friends list, and I look forward to your updates.

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