A contentious roundtable about the use and abuse of experimentation is featured in this week’s edition of The Webcomics Examiner.
Titled “Gunfight at the Experimental Webcomics Corral -or- The Shroud of Tarquin,” the roundtable discussion is moderated by Neal Von Flue, with Cat Garza, Eric Burns, T Campbell, Eric Millikin, Tim Godek, Bob Stevenson, and Philip Sandifer arguing a set of highy-contrasting opinions on the subject.
It’s an interesting discussion, although what is meant by experimentation is fuzzy at the edges — I think the panelists to this article don’t really see eye to eye on it.
I do agree with the sentiment expressed that once something’s been done a bit it isn’t really “experimentation” anymore. I mean Eric B talks a lot about navigable archive systems (back/forward, first/last) and I’ll agree that b/c of the immediate availability of the archives to the reader — it is a fundamental change from a newspaper comic, but it was done in 1997. Sluggy Freelance in 1997 is the “experiment” in that – everything that comes after isn’t really an experiment anymore. (I’ll grant there have been a few improvements in this area since then – notably Little Gamers “bookmark” code snippet and the idea of adding a transcription of the webcomic for search purposes – and no OhNoRobot wasn’t the first to do that, just the first to bring it to the masses in an effective way).
I’ve thought about experimentation in webcomics off and on over the last year. Webcomics is a wonderful truly bastard media, able to lay claim to many parents so to speak. But it’s hard to come up with true innovation – it really does take a certain level of genius to do it. We ought to be careful not to indulge into much self-reverential patting on the back over alleged experimentation — save the praise for things that really shatter expectations in a fundamental way.
For me an “experimental” comic isn’t a genre per say. I know when you say “experimental comic” what generally comes to most people’s mind is “some artsy, pretentious ‘weird’ thing that makes little sense, has few readers, and most people don’t like it.”
To me, an “experimental” comic is more of a personal experiment for the creator. Let’s take my own “experimental” comic Apophenia 357 for example.
I know that wordless comics are nothing new. I know that comics inspired by chaos and random source matterial and even e-mail Spam are nothing new. I’m willing to bet that comics where the goal is to get the reader to create their own narrative are nothing new. There are probably a lot of people who would blanch at my calling Apophenia 357 an “experimental comic” simply because I’m probably doing stuff that other people have done before. But it’s stuff I haven’t done before. It’s stuff radically different on many levels from what I’ve done before.
My hypothesis was that a wordless comic created from a random source of inspiration would be able to engage enough “readers” that some of them could be convinced to share their interpretations of the comic and that their interpretations would not only be different from each others’ in remarkable ways but also vastly different from my own. The experiment was actually creating the comic to test the hypothesis and the experiment appears to be a success.
Along the way there was personal experimentation that went into creating the comic. I’ve never worked within 9-panel comicbook narrative before. I’ve experimented with colouring technique (using pencil crayons for the first chapter and watercolours with some minor pencil crayon detailing for the second chapter). I’ve experimented with different character design and inking technique than what I’ve used with GGC. In those kind of ways the comic continues to evolve.
The whole package together, in my mind is what makes Apophenia 357 an “experimental” comic. Of course the fact that a lot of people probably think it’s “artsy, pretentious, weird shit that makes little sense, has few readers and not many people like it” is just icing on the cake.
Experimental or not, Apophenia 357 is a really interesting series, and I hope you keep working on it, Ghastly.
I keep waiting for a spam that contains the words “and the whole world blew up and everybody was dead” so I can end it.
Instead everyone’s penis just keeps getting bigger and bigger.
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