The Meeting Points of Comic and Film
Studying the history of animation film, it becomes clear that film is a multimedium that can approach comics. When I approach film from a comic point of view, I am reminded of a technique for reducing the amount of motion as much as possible so it almost becomes a sequence of static images. This technique, called ‘limited animation’, was developed by animators and producers in the 1950s and ‘60s (Cavalier 2011: 398). Tezuka Productions in Japan and Hanna-Barbera in the USA are animation studios that pioneered in the development of this technique. The function of limited animation is to lower the amount of animation to a minimum in a production. This results in a screenplay where all shots capture static objects or poses. When edited together, they create motion with closure just as in comics.
2001 is probably the year motion comics emerged. I cannot find any documentation to identify the first motion comic, but the first I have observed, where the creators defined it as a motion comic, is Broken Saints by Brooke Burgess, Ian Kirby and Andrew West (Video 7). It consists of 24 chapters that were published online from 17 January 2001 to 2003. A revised version was released on DVD in 2004 (Burgess 2001). This motion comic was made with Macromedia Flash (Adobe Animate in 2018), a software that at the time made a small revolution for interactive graphic content on the web because it was easy and intuitive to use. Watchmen, the Motion Comic (2008) is known for establishing the concept of motion comics for a worldwide audience. These works are very similar to animation films with limited animation, and sometimes they are difficult to distinguish from animated films, one example being the Marvel Super Heroes TV series from 1966. How do we distinguish between animation films and motion comics? I would answer this by saying I do not think we need to try. I think animation’s limited animation and digital comics’ motion comic constitute a meeting point between the two art forms.
It is not just with limited animation that film approaches comics. At a motion comic workshop at Fumetto International Comic Festival in Lucerne (2015), the instructor Eric Loyer pointed my attention to the split screen in movies. Films like Grand Prix (1966) and The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) use the split screen to create multiplicity, rhythm, motion, tension, chaos and repetition. The title designers Saul Bass (Grand Prix) and Pablo Ferro (Thomas Crown Affair) made split-screen designs that can be associated with magazine layouts and panel layouts in comics. However, the split screen in film does not show chronological sequences as in a comic. I think it is most suited to showing simultaneous events in all the frames. Split-screen editing feeds new, smaller screens into the main screen, and this approach is similar to the presentation form called ‘panel delivery’, which I write about in Chapter 3, in the section similarly titled. At the workshop in Lucerne, I ended up experimenting with a comic that used a fixed split screen in combination with panel delivery. This resulted in an alternative and more rigid form of panel delivery that is known to have more dynamic and mutable forms (Video 8).
The Boundary between Comics and Film
Aaron Meskin, in his article from 2007 entitled ‘Defining Comics?’, argues against Greg Hayman and Henry John Pratt’s attempt to distinguish comics from illustrated books or picture books and especially children’s picture books. In such works as well as in digital comics, the formats blend together in ways that make them hard to define. When their boundaries are challenged, the question of whether a work is a comic or not will eventually emerge. In my artistic research, I have developed my own answer to this question and come to a conclusion that corresponds with that of Meskin. He draws a parallel to reflections from art theory and takes recourse in Jerrold Levinson’s intentional-historical definition of art. He concludes thus:
Perhaps something is a comic just in case it is/was nonpassingly intended for regard-as-a-comic … (Aaron Meskin 2007: 375)
With this perspective, artists have the power to define their own work, and their intentions should be considered in the defining process. In my case, Sound of the Aurora and Close, Closer, Closest might be perceived by the audience as films when I perform them, but for me as creator, I regard them as digital comics, which was also my intention (the former is only a performance; the latter can also be read on a tablet/iPad).
So where is the boundary between comics and film? Since film is a multimodal medium, I think the differences are in the imagery, not in whether or not the work is automated. My subjective opinion is that the boundary lies between full motion and image sequences. If the main presentation relies on conveying actions through full motion, the work is a film. If actions are communicated through pure static sequential imagery, it is a comic. If the work mixes both forms, it can either be a motion comic or a limited animation film, depending on the artist's intentions.
Why Use Motion in Comics?
Years before I began my artistic research, I was confronted in a panel discussion with this question: Why use motion in comics? It was a critical question, and the rhetorical undertone was, as I interpret it, a claim about there being no need for motion in comics. Perhaps it is unnecessary, since the comic functions well in its established static form. But the question has continued to follow me through the whole of my artistic research, and I want to address it in this section.
I will start with my personal motivation for exploring motion in comics. I was born in 1980 and grew up watching animated TV series from the 1960s and ‘70s. Some of these were broadcast on TV while others could be rented from a video store. These were also the productions that made heavy use of the limited-animation technique. I think it was because of this exposure that I developed a nostalgic relationship to limited animation and maybe a higher tolerance and love for the form. I have heard people call it poor man’s animation, so I understand it is a matter of taste. When it comes to comics, I have read them and drawn them since kindergarten. I think my fascination for drawing has attracted me to all illustrated media and art. This perhaps does not explain why I mix comics and motion, but it is definitely a cultural backdrop that may have facilitated my personal motivation.
Another aspect is my artistic motivation. As a comic artist, I search for an approach that distinguishes my work from the mainstream and traditional comic scene. In Norway, digital comics are mostly known as web-comics that lie close to the comic book format. Motion in comics is not fully explored in the Norwegian comic scene.
To close this chapter, I stress that computer technology is the real reason for the modern development of motion comics and digital comics in general. The high standard of technology which we experience today enables the use of movement and lowers the difficulty-threshold for creating digital comics. As long as movement is technologically possible to create, there will be artists who use it – or any other technologically enabled quality – as a means for expression in their digital comics.