Art and Narrative: Viva la Revolution
Above all, I love good stories.
In some ways, my life thus far has been one long search for imaginative tales of wonder, in whatever form I can find them. From my first film experience following Darby O'Gill into the underground lair of the little people, to the creative awakening of seeing a Star Destroyer fly over my head. From joining Dorothy on her search for a way home, to watching as a young nobleman became a desert messiah on the planet Arrakis. From the first time I saw Charlie Brown take a fruitless run at that football, to the discovery of a School for Gifted Students who happen to have extraordinary powers. It's all been in the pursuit of fantastic narratives, artfully told.
Let me tell you my most recent experience with one such story.
I recently purchased the first season of The West Wing on DVD. It is a television series that I had heard a lot of good things about, and wanted to give it a chance. Never having seen an episode of it during its initial run, I did not know what to expect. And I never would have expected that it would turn out to be one of the most amazing storytelling experiences of my life.
Every episode could be held up as an example of how to artfully craft a narrative. Exceedingly intelligent, surprisingly humorous, and touching beyond belief, this television series has inspired me to reevaluate my own approach to storytelling and I'm grateful for having experienced it. The show has so impressed me that I felt compelled to seek out the second season on DVD. Unfortunately, it has yet to be released in this country. But it has already been released in the UK. So what did I do? I bought an all-region DVD player and ordered the second season from Amazon.co.uk. You see, I desperately wanted more of that wonderful story. I had to have more. I needed it to continue, cost be damned.
When was the last time you read a webcomic with the power to compel you to experience it, no matter what the cost? When was the last time you read a webcomic which made you lean forward with delight and anticipation? When was the last time you read a webcomic that caused you to swell with emotion and gave you cause to tell everyone and anyone who would listen, "you must read this"? And when was the last time you read a webcomic that transcended the medium in which it was delivered and existed only as artful narrative?
I've read a few. They're out there. They are the comics which initially drew me to the web as a medium for comics and they continue to resonate with me. They are tales told by gifted storytellers and would delight and inspire in any medium. Here are just few of my favorites:
- The Circle Weave by Indigo Kelleigh
- Nowhere Girl by Justine Shaw
- The Makeshift Miracle by Jim Zubkavich
- Dicebox by Jenn Manley Lee
- Scary Go Round by John Allison
These are comics by creators who seem to be, first and foremost, compelled by a desire to tell a good story with compelling characters, and have used the Internet simply as way to get it seen by others. The focus on story and character (complimented with wonderful artwork that reflects the creator's unique style and not current fads) makes these comics stand out in a dense crowd of contenders.
I've read a lot about the so-called "webcomics revolution". I've seen a lot of time and energy spent on searching for a way that the Internet can change the way we create or display comics. I've seen the question "what are the best plots for webcomics" posed in this website's own forum, as if "webcomic" was a genre and not the delivery system that it truly is. In some ways, this revolution seems to be a search for the "killer webcomic app". It has led down many roads, but in my opinion these roads all lead to a dead end filled with the remains of trendy gimmicks that did nothing to advance the art of storytelling. In my opinion, if webcomic creators truly want to start a revolution, they should aim at attracting the greater audience of Internet denizens that would otherwise never even consider reading comics on the web.
These potential new readers will not be won by embedding panels within panels or making pages 20 feet long on the horizontal axis. They will not be inspired by associated web-blogs or interactive live journals. And they will be less than impressed with an increasingly self-referential community that insists in seeing itself as set apart from the world of comics and storytelling in general. Only a fantastic narrative, artfully told will win the hearts and minds of those who would otherwise never give webcomics the time of day. In other words, a good story is and always has been the "killer app" for webcomics.
Unfortunately, I can't tell you what that story is, nor should I be able to (but I do feel that asking "What is the best plot/style/page format" is probably bad place to start). If you want to find your own "killer app", your own artful narrative, I suggest you follow the example of the creators I mentioned earlier. Each one of them is using the web as a delivery system to get their own very personal stories into the hearts and minds of readers all over the world. And there are a lot of hearts and minds to be won in the true revolution.