The second parameter for digital comics is the screen. McCloud (2000: 222) refers to the screen as a window. This is an old metaphor, first used by the Renaissance painter Leon Battista Alberti in his treatise On Painting (1435, book 1 section 19). A window is transparent, and it frames and shows the world on the other side. The frame of the moving image, however, is different from the architectural window and the frame of the painting. The spectators of a film remain immobile, but their point of view may change according to the content of the moving images (Friedberg 2006: 6).
McCloud presents two ways to treat the screen when making digital comics: as a window or as a page (2000: 222). McCloud’s window is actually a mobile window that can scan a larger canvas or move through virtual space exposing the comic panels in all kinds of arrangements. This virtual space he describes as an ‘infinite canvas’ – infinite because it lacks physical limits. He also presents two ways of organizing digital information: by hypertext and spatial models. Hypertext (jumping from one piece of information to another) can link pages and panels, whereas in spatial models, the screen moves either to expose the panels or the fictional world. But this prompts me to ask: Is this theory still relevant today?
I suggest that the page and the window are incorrect metaphors for digital comics. Instead of the basic screen-window metaphor, it is logical for me to think in terms of a ‘fixed window’ and a ‘mobile window’. The page, as I see it, is only one variation of what a fixed window can present. If I were to describe the page metaphor, I would say it is a flat two-dimensional (henceforth 2D) surface with a fixed format. It is presented in a fixed window or as defined surfaces within a mobile window. A page can contain a whole comic, the whole multiframe, or only part of a comic, a hyperframe. With the fixed window, and by using hypertext, I can deploy the panel-delivery presentation technique, where I feed panels into the fixed window, creating mutable panel layouts. I can also change the content within the frame using a technique I call ‘cinematic panels’. This technique changes the content within the panel frame. (I write more about these techniques in chapters 2 and 3.) There are thus three ways of making comics within a fixed window:
1. The page: a fixed frame with panel layouts, image/images and text/texts.
2. Panel delivery: animage stream that makes panel after panel appear on the screen. The term is suggested by Daniel M. Goodbrey (ref. interview).
3. Cinematic panels: a single, fixed comic panel is replaced with overlapping panels. This term for describing an image-stream structure points to the same phenomenon as we find in the moving image/film, thus the word ‘cinematic’. Cinematic panels are as close as the comic can come to the film without using automated animation. Such panels can appear in panel delivery and probably on a page (I have not observed this), but can also function in full screen. ‘Cinematic panels’ is a term I myself have suggested.
Since I see these three ways of making comics within a fixed window, the multiplicity can stand as an argument for not treating ‘the page’ as a general metaphor for how to conceive of the screen in digital comics.
I also want to address McCloud’s theorization of the two ways in which digital information is organized (2000: 231). He uses the term ‘spatial models’ to describe navigation on spatial surfaces, and ‘hypertext’ and ‘hyperlink’ to describe jumping from one piece of information to another. ‘Hyperlink’ was a term which initially seemed irrelevant for my project, because I associated it mostly with databases and labyrinths of non-linear structures. Once I eventually realized how important the image stream was in the digital comic’s structure, I concluded that it was precisely in McCloud’s theory that the image stream belonged. Perhaps not in the way we organize information, as he writes, but in the way we present information. I therefore do not claim there is anything wrong with McCloud’s theory, but that I create a parallel theorization in order to describe phenomena related to visual presentations.
‘Image stream’ is a basic term for describing film and moving images. In an image stream, the images overlap each other, or the transition between them is so fast that they seem to overlap. I would claim that several pages in a digital comic constitute an image stream, but in contrast to film, they have a lower frame rate and have closure in-between the images (this was also mentioned in chapter 1, in the section ‘The Differences between Comics and Film’). The digital page, in contrast to the physical page, never uses the reverse side of the surface. In contrast to physical comics that require a page-turn to read the next page, in an image stream you just jump to the next page. The concept of the image stream also covers what happens in panel delivery and cinematic panels, both in digital and analogue screen-based comics. It is not that ‘hyperlink’ is incorrect terminology, but ‘image stream’ does a better job of describing what happens in a visual and spatial sense.
As a conclusion, there is no doubt that McCloud’s theory is still relevant, but my contribution is to say that it is also important to point out the two forms for presenting visual information on screen, and to see them as equal in status to how we organize other types of screen-based information. Nevertheless, in light of how I observe digital comics today, the umbrella term ‘screen-based comics’ covers both the analogue format and the digital format. I also suggest rephrasing the terminology in point 1, and add an alternative perspective in point 2:
1) The screen in digital comics could be described as ‘a fixed window’ and as a ‘mobile window’.
2) The ways of presenting information on screen could be described as ‘an image stream’ and as ‘spatial models’.
In the first statement, I switch ‘page’ with ‘window’ and focus on the fixed and the mobile properties. According to Alberti’s window metaphor, the screen would be a window in both categories. The second statement is not a re-phrasing but a supplement to McCloud’s way of organizing information. Statements 1) and 2) stand in a conceptual relation: the image stream is related to the fixed window, and the spatial models to the mobile window. These are not fixed forms, however, so can be mixed together, an aspect I will address later in this chapter in the section called ‘The Computer’.
Ann Friedman’s book The Virtual Window (2006) has made me look at comics in an alternative way. Whereas a physical window frames our perceptual view, the window metaphor in a computer’s graphical user-interface refers to sub-screens within the screen of the computer (Ibid., p. 2). The main screen of the computer is traditionally associated with a workbench or desktop, as it is called in the most common operative systems (Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s iOS). Such a desktop is the space where sub-screens or windows appear, and these sub-screens enable us to access folders, documents, text, images and so on. This structure with multiple windows within windows is also a fitting description of the structure of most comics, whether printed or screen-based. If I see the digital comic from a sub-screen perspective, what would it look like?
When I count the spaces I observe in-between the windows in a digital comic, I find in total four levels of spaces, and three levels of windows. By ‘total’, I mean that different comics can have different sets of levels. The levels I present under are those I find most common:
· The real world, our space
· The digital desktop, virtual space (most relevant for webcomics)
· The negative space, virtual space (where panels are arranged)
· The fictional space, virtual space
McCloud (2000) introduces the metaphor of the infinite canvas. Where would this concept fit in this picture of levels? The infinite canvas builds on the principle of a numerical representation of images and space, which I will address in the section on the computer. This digital non-physicality opens up for unlimited content. It is often illustrated with a never-ending comic scroll, or an open surface that never ends. But I interpret McCloud as also including networks of hyperlinks, which can include fixed window presentations in addition to mobile window presentations. I also see the infinite canvas as having the ability to be both 2D and 3D. I have previously always thought of the infinite canvas as the negative space with a mobile window, but based on this analysis, I think it is more plausible to think of the infinite canvas as a metaphor for the virtual space in new media. The virtual space will, in my sub-window perspective, include both the negative space and the fictional space.
‘Negative space’ is an established term in the fields of visual art and graphic design, and I find no argument for changing it. The negative space in a digital comic is not just an empty surface; it can also be an empty three-dimensional space. The size of the negative space and its limitations are decisive for what format the digital comic has, just as the size of a printed page in a traditional comic decides the books format.
The four spaces that I have highlighted in this section are divided by sub-screens. Despite the separation, the spaces can interact with each other. The barrier between these sub-screens can be called ‘the fourth wall’, a term from theatre, which describes the concept of the invisible wall that separates the stage from the audience (Scavenius 2007: 277). An example of how the term is ordinarily used is in the idiomatic saying ‘breaking the fourth wall’, which means that fictional reality and our reality interact. A classic example of this is when an actor turns to the camera and speaks directly to the audience. This term is also relevant for comics, where the most common way to break the fourth wall is when characters or objects pop out of the panels. The negative space actually represents an extra space in-between the comic and the reader/audience, and it is something that film and theatre traditionally lack.
In digital comics, the fourth wall can also be broken on a technical level. An example is scroll activation, where the action of scrolling down a page, a motion running through the panel space, affects and activates motions in the fictional space (Video 29 in chapter 2). Motion controls can also break the fourth wall, as I do in my comic Close, Closer, Closest. There I use motion controls to affects the illustrations and to connect the real world to the fictional space (Video 114). Another idea for how to break the fourth wall, one which I have thus far not found a reason to use, would be to have the comic collect information from Internet or other real-time sources such as GPS. With this strategy, the comic could have the same weather as the weather where the reader is. If it rains, it rains in the comic, if it snows it snows. Real-time information is an aspect Lev Manovich introduced me to through his book The Language of New Media (2001), and I will refer to it again shortly.
In Sound of the Aurora, I used real-time information in the real space that affected the fictional space. I did this by using a filter. The term ‘filter’ denotes an overlay effect that can be added on top of any layer, also on the screen of a digital comic. These visual effects are used in film and animation for colour manipulation and effects and may also be used in digital comics for the same purpose. I used a filter in Sound of the Aurora when I projected the comic onto a textile; when wind blew across the textile, it created waves in the image.
At this point it is worth mentioning another system for addressing levels in a visual narrative. The concept ‘diegesis’ is well-established in film and narration theory and points to where the narrated events and situations occur (Prince 2003: 20). There are several diegetic levels, but the most relevant in this context are the diegetic, non-diegetic and extra-diegetic levels. In film theory, the non-diegetic level is a level where narrative content that is not present in the fictional reality can exist. This can be sound, text and image. Non-diegetic sound can be a narrator’s voice or a film soundtrack. Examples of non-diegetic text are expositions, titles, and credits. An extra-diegetic level would pertain to content that is not part of any diegesis (Ibid., p. 20). To give an example, in my own comic Close, Closer, Closest, a menu that can pop up whenever the reader likes could be described as extra-diegetic (Video 115).
Should I use the established diegesis rather than the sub-screen map when conceptualizing digital comics? I think both are useful. The concept of diegesis offers a neutral-level system that relates to fictional storytelling. The sub-screen map, on the other hand, is more specific to digital comics and makes it easier to identify, locate and plan the vast operations, properties and formats in a digital comic. The sub-screen map shows the role and position of the infinite canvas in the structure of the digital comic. It defines a space between the fictional reality and our reality, which is the negative space. With these levels defined and the notions of filters and the diegesis, we end up with a terminology fitted to describe my comics on a theoretical level.
Another theorist who has changed my view on digital comics is Lev Manovich. I think his theory in The Language of New Media (2001) continues where McCloud’s Reinventing Comics (2000) stops. Manovich (2001: 95–99) describes four types of screens:
1. The classic screen
2. The dynamic screen
3. The realtime screen
4. The interactive screen
The classic screen is the traditional static picture. Manovick defines it thus:
…the existence of another virtual space, another three-dimensional world enclosed by a frame and situated inside our normal space. The frame separates two absolutely different spaces that somehow coexist. (Ibid., p. 95)
This definition corresponds well with the window metaphor and the levels of the digital comic that I described earlier. The second type, the dynamic screen, which can show an image that changes over time, can show motion and spatial movement as we know from film and animation. The third is the interactive screen: you gain access to the content on the screen by using some kind of control mechanism such as a keyboard, mouse, joystick, touch screen or virtual-reality goggles that let you move around in a virtual world and interact with graphical objects. The fourth screen is the realtime screen, and like a live web cam or radar, it captures images that only exist in the present.
I interpret the types of screens Manovich describes as abilities of the modern screens we know today. And since the art form of digital comics is screen-based, I would like to suggest that the four screen types show four possibilities of the visual expression of digital comics:
1. Static visuals
2. Dynamic visuals
3. Interactive visuals
4. Real time visuals
As I will mention in the next section on the computer, the principles of new media such as modulation make it possible to mix and intertwine these abilities. At the same time, each ability can also mark a main direction in digital comics:
1. Static visuals: digital comic books such as those sold at Comixology (Video 116).
2. Dynamic visuals: motion comics (Video 117)
3. Interactive visuals: hypercomics and game comics (Video 118)
4. Real time visuals: augmented reality comics (Video 4 in chapter 1)
The variations within each of these and how you combine them lead to diversity in digital comics. I focus on dynamic imagery within digital comics in this artistic research, but all the abilities and directions are relevant and must be considered when I make a digital comic.