Abstracting Comics Across the Digital Divide

I’m going to be posting a lot of my grad school writing assignments up here, especially when I manage to time them into comics.  In my Digital Rhetoric course we were asked to read this paper by Philip Agre, “How to Be a Thought Leader in Your Field” and work through one of his exercises.  Our instructions were such:

  • Pick an issue using the technique described by the letter in step one that you’ve been assigned from the Agre Thought Leader article.
  • Explain how you used the technique to move from a broad, general description of an issue to a more narrow definition of an issue that field insiders will recognize and that you can contribute to.
  • Your post will consist of a clever title and three detailed paragraphs of text.

And here’s my response:

Abstracting Comics Across the Digital Divide

Picking an issue for Agre’s “How to be a Leader in your Field” exercise is the easy part.  Seeing as I’m a comic book journalist and comic creator hopeful, the big issue concerning my profession seems to be more a question – What’s the best way to take advantage of comics in the digital space?  Like I said, the issue picking is easy, it’s the alphabet work that gets tricky and Letter E has two parts: 1) Redescribe one of your profession’s existing functions in an abstract way, and 2) identify other activities to which the same abstraction could be applied.

Comics are a form of entertainment and in the most basic sense they’re a type of visual narrative that aims to give it’s audience an intellectual escape. Entertainment to escape, not exactly an abstract leap is it?  For the longest time I couldn’t get my head past the idea of comics as escape.  However while watching a talk given by Scott McCloud, the legendary comics scholar, he posits the idea that comics, while they absolutely provide an escape from the rigors of daily life, create a window through which we look back at our own world.  Suddenly I had my abstraction!  From there one might say, as McCloud does, that every media, not just comics, gives us this special window.  Whether we recognize it or not, it’s a part of their intrinsic appeal.  Youtube clips, movies, music, magazines, novels; the abstraction applies to every one.

Logically then, if all media (hence all entertainment media) reveal this window, only the genre of transmission matters, and if only the genre matters, comics need only look to other genres of digital entertainment to leave their paper shells behind.  But how best to apply this idea?  Marvel Entertaiment has recently released a series of digital motion comics that synthesize digital video production and comic storytelling.  They’ve also transferred thousands of print comics to the digital space through Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited, a viewer that simulates the physical process of reading comics.  It seems that every comics company is trying to find a way to bridge the digital divide, but no one’s found a consistently effective or profitable way to do it yet.  The industry needs to research, experiment with, and embrace the benefits of preexisting visual digital genres before it can carve out a place for comics all their own.

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