Frozen Moments in Motion

An Artistic Research on Digital Comics by Fredrik Rysjedal

The Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design (KMD), The University of Bergen


The digital comic is a relatively new art form that emerged hand-in-hand with the development of personal computers. By 2018 digital comic books and self-published webcomics have become widespread. Despite this, physical comics in books and magazines are still the most predominant forms of comics today.


I became aware of digital comics in 2006 when Professor Ashley Booth challenged me to explore new forms of comics for my master’s degree (completed in 2008). Since then, I have found this new field and its qualities exciting from both an artistic and an academic perspective. I claim that most digital comics are made in the image of the traditional comic. In contrast to these, there is a certain type of digital comic – one could call it a movement or direction within the genre – that emphasizes the properties of the digital form. These digital comics are rarer, and voices promoting alternative digital comics that expand the comic form beyond text and image are unfortunately few and far between. The works of the avant garde in digital comics, referred to as the ‘reinventors’ by the historian T. Campbell (2006: unpaginated), inspire me, and are the reason why I chose to work with digital comics.


In the artistic research project Frozen Moments in Motion, I investigated the aspect of motion in digital comics with the aim of contributing to the international discourse in the field and offering new knowledge and reflection on digital comics. I investigated the topic through making two digital comics: Sound of the Aurora (2014) and Close, Closer, Closest (2016). These two digital comics are my artistic results. My project has addressed the following research questions: What are the concepts of motion in digital comics? What types of motion can be used in digital comics, and how does motion affect the presentation, the story and even the reader/viewer?


This written documentation will present my research process, methods and reflections. My comics tell stories, and from the start of the project, the stories have posed a challenge in that they easily overshadow my research focus. It is not the message in the story that I am researching, but the vessel, the medium. On the other hand, the way I use digital comics is connected to the story context, so it is impossible to ‘divorce’ the narrative context from the medium. This is why I maintain such a theoretical and technical focus in this text. In some artistic research projects, the artworks speak largely for themselves. In this present project, by contrast, the stories all too easily become the focus of attention, so I think the written reflection is necessary for making my research on the medium of digital comics accessible.


In chapter 1, I reflect on the relationship between comics and film. I start by addressing some of the fundamental concepts of the screen that identify the position of motion in digital comics. I then address how motion is received by readers and comic artists. From there I take a brief look at the differences and similarities between the medium of digital comics and the medium of film. I also look analytically at presentational forms in which comic media intersect with film and TV productions. Towards the end of the chapter, I search for the boundary between comics and film, closing with a question: Why use motion in comics?


Chapter 2 concerns the digital comic Sound of the Aurora (2014) and the concepts of spatial motion. I introduce the framework for the work, which includes its origin and story development, then I explore the predecessor of digital comics, the laterna magica, or magic lantern, and the live performing format it represents. From there I start my investigation into spatial motion. The focus on spatial motion is subdivided into ‘motion graphics’ and ‘mobile framing’. First I address motion graphics and look at how the magic lantern used them, then compare motion graphics with the comic panel sequence and classic animation to find out how they correspond. I then address interactive motion graphics and look at the concept of ‘flying panel delivery’, examining how motion graphics relate to time and responsive panels. In analysing mobile framing, I analyse the motion of the mobile frame in negative space, in fictional space, in 2D, 2.5D and 3D space. Filters and lenses as elements that can affect the imagery also come into the discussion. Finally in my investigations, I give my thoughts on automated motion. I close this chapter with my experience of the performing comic format by addressing the live editing and the performance, ending with personal reflections.


In chapter 3, I write about the digital comic Close, Closer, Closest (2016, designed for reading on iPad), and the concepts of motion made through the ‘image stream’, which is the second method for presenting motion on screen. After establishing a framework for this comic – that is, its story development and reflections on the choice of format – I present my process of making a digital comic for the reading tablet, discussing the user interface, programming and soundtracking. I then investigate the image stream, with special focus on ‘cinematic panels’ and ‘panel delivery’. I define cinematic panels and clarify their two forms of presentation: the instant transition and the dissolving transition. In the section on panel delivery, I explain the concept and its presence in digital comics, elucidating how it overrules reading direction and how time is approached in panel delivery. The chapter closes with a section on automated and interactive image streaming, and finally my personal reflection.


In chapter 4, I build the theoretical foundation for my perspectives in the previous chapters. I discovered early in my research that existing theory on digital comics did not give me an adequate basis on which to work. I therefore decided to reflect on what a digital comic is, with the aim of finding room for the use of motion. In the chapter I search for the fundamental parameters of the digital comic. On the way I discover concepts that shape my perspective and affect how I understand the various types of motion discussed in chapters 2 and 3. Chapter 4 is thus a theorization and reflection on fundamental concepts integral to the digital comic, so if this art form is new to you, I recommend that you read this chapter first. The reason why I present it as the fourth chapter is that it is at the core of my main research, and I keep it where it is because I recognize it as a relevant result of my process.


The literature for this research project relates mostly to my reflections in chapter 4, which, as I have just explained, provides the theoretical basis for the whole project. I would like to emphasize Reinventing Comics (2000) by Scott McCloud, which I have used as the main building block in the foundation for my research. Another building block is Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media (2001), which has helped me develop an understanding of digital comics as a new medium for art. At the same time as I have been doing my artistic research, Daniel M. Goodbrey in the UK has been researching hypercomics and game comics, and his articles have been very useful and inspiring to me. The same can be said for the texts which Craig Smith has written on motion comics. In theorising and reflecting on comics, I have taken recourse in the writings of Scott McCloud, as mentioned, but also texts written by Will Eisner, Thierry Groensteen, Fredrik Strömberg and Aaron Meskin. With respect to film theory, I have used foundational literature such as Film Art: An Introduction by David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson. This is because the field is more unfamiliar to me as an illustrator, but also on account of my project being foundational research on digital comics and because I unfortunately have not found relevant PhD-level research that could be used for this project. Since the project also includes artistic development, my reflections are partly based on practical work and experiments, but also on studies of other artists’ digital comics.

Chapter 5 summarizes my conclusions on the concepts of motion in digital comics. I end by addressing aspects of the project which have been interesting to study in depth, and by proposing other areas of research on digital comics which I would like to see in the future, based on the perspective I have built in this artistic research project.


2018    Frozen Motions in Motion by Fredrik Rysjedal

Picture 1: The performance comic Sound of the Aurora's premiere poster.
Poster by Fredrik Rysjedal.

Picture 2: The application icon of the digital comic Close, Closer, Closest.
Icon by Fredrik Rysjedal.