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

Chapter 5: Conclusions

In this chapter I summarize my conclusions from this artistic research project. My research questions have been as follows: What are the concepts of motion in digital comics? What types of motion can be used in comics, and how does motion affect the presentation, the story and even the reader/viewer? My main contribution to digital comic research comes through having created two new digital comics and using them as vehicles for reflecting on their components, the techniques used to create them, and how they relate to other works and existing terminology and theory. Through this reflection, I provide new perspectives, coin new concepts and augment existing definitions for phenomena in the relatively new field of digital comics. I start this chapter by reviewing the findings that I think are the most important, then close with thoughts on future research on motion in digital comics.


Close, Closer, Closest

By creating Close, Closer Closest (2016), I explored the fixed window and the image stream. The most important outcome of these explorations was to identify, define and name ‘cinematic panels’ as one of three digital-comic presentation forms using the image stream. The other two – ‘the page’ and ‘panel delivery’ – were already defined by others before my research started. The term ‘cinematic panels’ is based on the structural form of the phenomenon, which is the same as one finds in a traditional film. Cinematic panels make it possible to see an image move and change within a fixed window. They can show a simple form of animation, yet in the reader’s acquisition of them, the mental closure still takes place between images, just as is the case in traditional comics published on paper. I have concluded that cinematic panels and panel delivery are well-suited presentation forms for communicating to large groups of people, due to their ability to control viewers’ focus. This stands in contrast to the individual reading experience a traditional comic is designed to give. Cinematic panels can be presented in two ways: with either instant or dissolving transitions. I identify ‘broken motion’ as a potential problem that occurs in cinematic panels, but conclude that it can be accepted by the reader if it is used consistently.


I have also explored the concept that Daniel M. Goodbrey has chosen to call ‘panel delivery’. I have, through my investigations, suggested four models of panel delivery that relate in different ways to how the panels represent time. The first model could be compared to the mobile-frame concept ‘guided view’: all panels of the hyperframe are visible, but the present time is highlighted. The second model feeds panels onto a screen, presenting them in a format that causes them to represent the present and the past. The third model only shows the future and the present in the panels on screen at a given time. In the fourth model, all the on-screen panels need to represent the present time, just as in a split-screen segment in a film.


I have also found that panel delivery and cinematic panels overrule ‘reading direction’. This is an important concept in traditional comic reading, and it relies on a culture’s established pattern of reading. The image-stream feed, however, controls the focus of the reader/viewer, which also makes it possible to create compositions and sequences that do not need to rely on reading direction.


The focus of the reader/viewer has been an important subject for reflection in my research. When viewing a traditional automated film that runs at a specific frame-rate per second, the viewer becomes a spectator with no control over his or her acquisition. A traditional comic, by contrast, has a type of content that requires the viewer to be a reader who interacts with the content during the acquisition process. This interactive acquisition I call ‘reader control’, and I will say more about it shortly. But here are my findings regarding reader/viewer focus: when viewers of a digital comic are given some control over the acquisition process, they don an interactive role similar to that of readers of traditional comics, deciding for themselves what to focus on and the duration of their attention. This is similar to how an interactive segment in film (e.g., a text that must be read) turns a relatively passive spectator into a reader. A film, meanwhile, can present a comic sequence in automated form, thus turning the formerly interactive reader into a relatively passive spectator.


Sound of the Aurora

Through my work with Sound of the Aurora (2014), I explored the mobile window and spatial motion. In researching spatial motion for digital comics, I divided the topic into the two categories: ‘motion graphics’ and ‘mobile framing’. Motion graphics are graphics that move in fictional space and negative space. In fictional space, the elements that move can be figures, objects and the environment. In negative space, one finds panels and even objects ‘breaking the fourth wall’ (that is, the barriers between the levels of the digital comic, the imaginary and invisible walls through which the reader observes the fiction). When breaking the fourth wall, a fictional character or object breaks out of the world of the fiction and into the negative space, or even into our space, the space of the reader.


Moving or ‘flying panels’ in negative space are the spatial equivalent of panel delivery. This means that panel delivery can be made through an image stream and motion graphics. With respect to motion graphics in fictional space; I find a difference between moving yet visually static objects (e.g., a ship) and dynamic cut-out figures (e.g., a running person) in moving graphics, inasmuch as the static objects remain realistic representations, while the dynamic cut-out figures have a more stylized representation of realistic motion. Through the reader’s mental closure, all motion in a comic sequence gives the impression of realistic full motion. I therefore conclude that classic animation and realistic motion graphics are more closely related to traditional comic sequences than is stylized cut-out animation, at least when it comes to the realistic representation of movement. This would be the case despite motion graphics sharing a static expression with traditional comics.


Turning now to mobile framing: I found the mobile frame able to expose panels in the negative space, and it could also expose figures, objects and environments in the fictional space. I found three ways of working with a mobile frame in a digital comic: with a ‘fixed track’, with a ‘dynamic track’ and with ‘free mobility’. The mobile frame can expose content made of 2D images, 2.5D images and 3D images. It makes it possible to create the visual effects of the hand-held motion-picture camera and parallaxing.I found that a mobile frame can easily create sequences in fictional space. This is done simply by moving the frame to a new space within a sequentially-organized fictional space. What is more, when I used a virtual camera inside a 3D-illustration, I discovered that what I saw could be associated with a tableau vivant. 3D-illustrations are a more sculptural approach to creating digital comics, given that the fictional space can be observed from several points of view. 3D-illustrations incite the reader or performer to move in order to observe phenomena. In the 3D-section of Sound of the Aurora, I combined a 3D fictional space and mobile framing with an image stream presentation. The combination is a presentation form I have never seen before in digital comics.


Spatial motion in a digital comic can also be physical and take place in real time. I projected Sound of the Aurora onto a dynamic textile screen that functioned as a filter for the projected images. When I turned on a fan, the wind from it blew across the textile and created waves that merged with the digital content. Real-time motion is motion that is not recorded/programmed and automated, but happens there and then and can be implemented in reading experiences as well as performance experiences. Sound of the Aurora is a performance comic – a screen-based art form that is still not well established, but which has roots in the laterna magica (magic lantern) tradition that emerged in the late 17th century. Magic lantern performers also combined motion with sequential static images. The performance-comic art form can also share similarities with other contemporary expressions such as VJing and live cinema.


The Relationship between Comics and Film

Drawing on screen theories by Lev Manovic, I define four visual research fields based on the four visual properties of the digital comic: static visuals, dynamic visuals, interactive visuals and real-time visuals. I categorize my own research within the field of dynamic visuals.


‘Dynamic visuals’ means the visual material appears to move. Not surprisingly, then, traditional motion picture films are also in the dynamic visual category. But how are traditional films different from dynamic comic visuals? I conclude that in the full-motion film, the viewer’s mental closure takes place in-between cuts, whereas in a dynamic motion comic, closure takes place in-between the frames. Film approaches the traditional comic through techniques such as limited animation and the split screen. But with dynamic visuals in comics, the boundary between the two can blur and ultimately be lost. This often occurs when hybrids are created from established art forms. I follow Aaron Meskin, who, in his article ‘Defining Comics?’ (2007), concludes that the artist’s intention should be considered when defining a piece. In my case, this is relevant in the discussion of whether some of my works are comics or films. 


The Digital Comic

In my research on what a digital comic is, I conclude that it has four parameters: the comic, the screen, the computer and interaction. These parameters are indispensable and constitute the fundamental framework of the digital comic. I found the screen to be of such importance that even if the computer did not exist, we could still have screen-based comics. I have therefore suggested that ‘screen-based comics’ can be an overall term that encompasses both analogue and digital comics.


I have used Scott McCloud's theories on how comics present and organize information on screen as a basis for my definition of the digital comic. I have adjusted some of his metaphors so that they become more inclusive, also for properties such as motion. His terms for presenting a comic on screen – ‘the page’ and ‘the window’ – I suggest could instead be called ‘the fixed window’ and ‘the mobile window’. I have taken recourse in his technical concepts ‘hyperlinks’ and ‘spatial models’ and made a parallel theory using the concepts ‘image stream’ and ‘spatial motion’ to account for the two ways in which to present visual information on screen.


As mentioned in the previous section, I have found the screen theory of Lev Manovich to describe the properties of the digital comic. His theorization of the modern screen, the classic screen, the dynamic screen, the real-time screen and the interactive screen create a perspective that makes it easier to see the potential of digital comics. It also shows that motion, which is represented through the dynamic screen, is one of four properties which I think confirms motion’s rightful position in digital comics. I have also used Manovich’s five principles of new media to explain the nature of digital comics. Numerical representation and modulation help account for why the boundaries of old media are erased, and why motion can be a module of a digital comic. Variability goes far to account for why digital comics are so diverse in form and never fixed: they can always be updated, changed or made in unlimited variations/editions.


Ann Friedman’s presentations of sub-screens inspired me to create a sub-screen perspective on digital comics which helped me define its levels of screens and virtual space (Figure 8). This perspective or model has become an important tool for me when I write and talk about digital comics. When conceiving of the structure of a comic in terms of levels, I realized there was a need for a neutral term to describe the level or space in which panels are arranged, because ‘the page’ is only one of several presentation forms in a digital comic. I therefore named the space or level in which panels are arranged ‘negative space’, based on the graphic-design term ‘white space’ in page layouts. A traditional set of levels would therefore be as follows: ’our space’, the ‘negative space’ and the ‘fictional space’. By defining these three levels, it becomes possible to map the techniques that are used to create digital comics.

A final aspect that must be mentioned with respect to my research on digital comics is ‘reader control’. I have created a schema for understanding reader control in light of Lev Manovich’s fourth principle of new media, namely automation.I suggest three forms of reading control in digital comics: full reader control, partial reader control, and no reader control. This scheme’s purpose is to make artists aware of automation and the reader’s role in the acquisition of a digital comic.


Future Research

My artistic research has involved creating two new digital comics and using them as vehicles for developing a theoretical perspective and conceptual apparatus for the discourse on digital comics. My research builds on the research of others, and with its contributions, provides starting points for yet others to do more research in future. I look forward to seeing how the perspective develops and eventually changes through time. The perspective I created in chapter 4 was necessity for me to understand how to make a digital comic and how to find the position of motion within its structure. This was not my main mission, however, so I would like to see future research projects address this fundamental topic and focus on the fundamental parameters of the digital comic.


Using the perspective I have developed, my artistic research has addressed the field of dynamic visuals in digital comics. The researcher Daniel M. Goodberey, from the University of Hertfordshire in the UK, has addressed the interactive field in his research. I hope in future to see more research on real-time content in digital comics, as this is a property and a field I became aware of during this research project.


There is also a need for more research on the dynamic visuals of the digital comic, in order to discover the aspects I have left out, but also to narrow the focus on specific topics. More research is also needed on panel delivery and spatial motion such as motion graphics.My choice to explore the full-screen panel resulted in me paying less attention to panel layouts and negative space. Mobile framing is also a topic that I would like to see more research on. For example, I found few digital comics that experimented with a dynamic track on the mobile frame, an approach I look forward to doing more with myself in future webcomics.


I have only scratched the surface of 3D comics in my artistic research, but developments in VR-technology have accelerated during my research period, so it is natural to expect that digital comics in 3D will become a more common subject for future research, just as Scott McCloud concludes in Reinventing Comics (2000: 212). I also hope to see research on performance comics. I would like to see projects that develop new performative works, but also academic research, in order to find out more about the history of this alternative direction. The history of digital comics in general is a topic that must be prioritized in the future. The lack of alternative perspectives on the historical development has made my research period especially challenging. Historical documentation and analyses are fundamental necessities to support future research in the field of digital comics.


2018    Frozen Motions in Motion by Fredrik Rysjedal

Figure 8: The sub-screen levels divide and show the relevant spaces in a digital comic. The amount of levels can differ from comic to comic. In a webcomic for instance, the desktop space would be a level in addition to what we see in the model above. This perspective can be helpful in planning or explaining a digital comic.
Figure by Fredrik Rysjedal.