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Expand Your Horizons Without the Hassle: The Infinite Canvas Program

The infinite canvas is one of the more obvious and interesting innovations that the web brings to comics. Since Scott McCloud coined the term in his 2000 book Reinventing Comics and raised the idea in cartoonist's consciousness, there has been much debate over the validity of the infinite canvas as a storytelling device and the difficulty the average webcomics reader has in following an infinite canvas work. The Infinite Canvas application (henceforth referred to as IC) is a webcomics program designed first and foremost to address the latter issue, presenting an infinite canvas comic in a format both easily followed for the reader and offering many resourceful options for the creator.

IC is still under development and is far from a perfect application. It has its own set of limitations and technical difficulties to contend with, but I believe the benefits of such a program far outweigh the temporary drawbacks. Making the concept of an infinite canvas more accessible to cartoonist and audience alike will perhaps allow us to more fully address the storytelling possibilities offered by comics on the web.

HAVEN'T I SEEN THIS BEFORE?

IC is not alone in its aims. Creators such as John Barber and Daniel Merlin Goodbrey have been exploring similarly innovative presentations of the infinite canvas format, mostly with Macromedia's Flash program, using animated panel transitions and other such features.

What makes IC exciting is that it's the first publicly available program to offer this mode of creation and display to the average user. Little to no programming experience is necessary to produce an IC comic. It uses an elegantly designed and fairly intuitive interface for the laying out of infinite canvas comics with (currently) a JAVA-based implementation for display of the finished product. It eliminates the need for complicated html tables and the excessive scrolling sometimes seen with infinite canvas comics. The JAVA programming allows an application for viewing the comic to be embedded into a webpage in the form of an Applet, or chunk of code, which IC creates automatically. I can say from my own experience that it is incredibly easy to create and publish a comic to the web using IC.

MAC VS. WINDOWS: THE AGE-OLD DILEMMA

Unfortunately IC is currently only available for Mac users (OS 10.2 or later). Originally a Windows version was proposed as well, but as Markus Müller (IC's creator) put it recently on his website:

Writing an application with two target platforms isn't a very simple task. If you want to provide native look-and-feel it is nearly impossible. I'm only one guy and developing an application like Infinite Canvas takes a lot of time.

It's my guess that not enough people have given input to the program to make it worthwhile for Markus to develop a Windows port. So for now it's still only available for Mac users to create comics. The finished product, however, can be displayed on most browsers regardless of operating system.

INFINITE CANVAS; INFINITE POSSIBILITIES?

Many of the features IC offers to comics creators are comparable to what is seen with Flash-based comics. It offers click/scroll navigation, zooming, and rotation similar to Merlin's Tarquin Engine; a zoom-in transition such as the one Scott McCloud uses in The Right Number; and a number of other options for panel transitions. Multiple path navigation is also possible using the Active Component function, allowing for comics with branching narrative threads such as Scott McCloud's Mimi's Last Coffee and the collaborative PoCom UK.

All the features are presented to the creator in a three-part interface: the canvas, where you lay out your comic; the navigation mode, where you plan out a path for the reader to follow including panel transitions and navigation options; and preview mode where you can check your work. When it's done, you use the export function to publish your comic to a simple html document (you can copy the JAVA applet part of the source code to any other html page to display the comic on an existing webpage).

Some things it can't do in its current incarnation are reveal/replace transitions (as in John Barber's K) or more complicated, layered animations (as in Barber's New York). Some of the animation can come across as jerky or clumsy, undoubtedly due to the JAVA application's implementation (a planned switch to Flash implementation for future IC program releases may fix this problem, though). Magnification or resizing of certain panels can offer some problems as well. A creator must plan carefully and avoid displaying the panel any larger than the size at which it was created. Zooming in too far produces a fuzzy pixelation of the image. Obviously there can be many improvements made to the program.

THIS IS WHERE YOU COME IN

Only through use of the program and successive updates can these problems be fixed. IC is still a developing program. It's designed with webcartoonists in mind and it needs the input of webcartoonists to improve. IC's creator, Markus Müller is actively looking for input on Infinite Canvas v2.0. So, cartoonists, get out there and try it out. It's free to download and easy to use. The more people involved in using the program the better and more powerful tool we'll have to tell stories with. Anyone with a Mac can use it. Who knows, with enough interest maybe Markus can be persuaded to eventually offer a Windows version as well.

A WHOLE NEW WORLD

The Internet offers a new realm of opportunity for comics storytelling. Infinite Canvas could be a huge step to make these possibilities an exciting and accessible reality. Give this program a look, and if you're a cartoonist, give this program a try. Only through experimentation and exploration of the boundaries of this medium can we reach any of the possibilities of web storytelling and achieve any growth as a respected artform.

 

You can read some of Tymothy Godek's webcomic work at his website.