The speaker interviews: Scott McCloud

Scott McCloud is the acclaimed author of “Understanding Comics” and “Making Comics”.

We’re delighted to have Scott speaking at Webstock. We asked local artist, Jem Yoshioka to interview Scott for us.

Jem: The web is an excellent medium for publishing comics. In your opinion, what are the advantages and disadvantages to this approach versus traditional publishing?

Scott: The primary advantages are a relatively level playing field, potential breadth of audience, lightning fast roll-outs and updates, a more intimate real-time relationship with our audiences, an enlarged palette of creative opportunities, and the elimination of an army of middlemen.

The primary disadvantages are immature business models (though some have taken innovative steps in this direction), audience disincentives to stay with long form works, and a lot of clunky, distracting design models for reading same that impede reader flow.

Oh, and the elimination of the aforementioned “army of middlemen” — if you happened to be one of those middlemen.

Jem: What are the strengths of comics as a method for communicating information?

Scott: When used to teach and communicate, comics provide an unparalleled degree of control over the reader’s narrative and visual experiences, much like film and television, but without the need for the massive collaborative efforts those forms require.

The static, symbolic images many comics artists use lodge themselves more firmly in memory than the ephemera of moving images. We remember symbolically, so static images are the perfect vehicle to encourage retention. And — as I hope I demonstrated in the Google Chrome comic — even some of the most challenging technical information can be communicated effectively when the underlying concepts are visualized.

Using comics, we can then deliver those images in deliberate sequences that can be read and re-read at the user’s own pace. Comics also synchronizes words and images in a way many traditional textbooks fail to do, and use words and pictures interchangeably and interdependently, harnessing the best qualities of each.

Jem: There are some excellent examples and experiments with interactive comics. Is there a particular style or quality you’re interested in seeing develop?

Scott: For those attempting to tell long form stories in webcomics, the quality I most encourage is a seamless uninterrupted reading experience, and that can be achieved in multiple ways. All that’s needed is a format built around a single mode of navigation, so that the readers need only adjust their expectations once, and then can lose themselves in the world of the story.

This can be achieved through clickable screen-fitting pages such as Nowhere Girl by Justine Shaw, or through a single extended canvas like the Wormwold Saga by Daniel Lieske, or even in the experimental multipath comics of Daniel Merlin Goodbrey. Despite their radically dissimilar reading models, each one allows end-to-end navigation using only one mode (page clicks, scrolling, or panel clicks respectively).

That said, some to the most interesting experiments in interactive online comics (such as challenge these principles — and in some cases, the very definition of comics.

In the mobile space, attempts by large print publishers to duplicate traditional page formats are clunky but acceptable for a growing number of readers. Unfortunately, few are designing for the device, hoping instead to just repurpose decades of pre-existing content. The results so far have been predictably bland.

Jem: The internet has increased the piracy of comics. How does this affect both creators and industry?

Scott: Like musicians, many cartoonists encourage the free dissemination of their work and manage to trade big audiences for other kinds of revenue (like advertising and merchandizing). Unlike the music industry, though, there’s no clear iTunes-like hub to offer an alternative. Walled garden approaches like the App Store have traditional publishers excited, but the jury is still out as to whether readers will follow them permanently.

Jem: What is your favourite thing about the online comics community?

Scott: I love the real-time interaction and the fact that artists can come out of nowhere to achieve sizable readerships based entirely on the merits of the work. Relative unknown Daniel Lieske’s first chapter of his Wormworld Saga hit the web only a few weeks ago (on Christmas Day no less!) and, through word-of-mouth alone, has already been read by 200,000 people.

Jem: New Zealand has a small comics community. What advice would you give to our local creators looking to make a career from comics?

Scott: We’re ALL local creators now.

That’s the beauty of this newest rebirth of a great old art form.

As for advice, I’d say talk to Dylan Horrocks; one of the smartest cartoonists anywhere in the world, who just happens to live in Auckland. 🙂

Thank you to Scott and Jem!

Scott is conducting a workshop, Writing with Pictures: The Power of Visual Communication on Wednesday 16 February. It’s a must for anyone looking to tips on conveying complex ideas in a visual manner and will show how techniques from the graphic arts world can be applied in web design and usability.

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