Dark Horse recently announced Dark Horse Presents, an initiative to produce short serialized comic books for MySpace. The first, Sugarshock, written by Joss Whedon no less, appeared yesterday. It’s good, but the computer screen just isn’t the right format. Newsarama syndicates one page of Powers each day. It’s one of my all time favorite comic books, but it wasn’t designed as a daily, so the pacing doesn’t work. You can’t get a whole page onscreen at once, so you can’t appreciate the artist’s layout properly, unless you shrink it down to a point where you can’t read the lettering (try Marvel’s digital comics on a 17” monitor). Marvel used to have a method where you could click on each panel and it would pop up and zoom in, but I’d imagine that took a fair amount of effort for their web team to craft, and it still meant you had to see isolated panels of what were drawn to be one whole page.
The web is just built for the short format. YouTube videos are great if they’re a minute or two long, but you don’t ever want to watch a full-length movie at your computer. Short news articles and blog posts, good, long, researched pieces or novels, bad.
What does work very well on the web is the comic strip. I regularly read PvP, Penny Arcade, XKCD, Boy on a Stick and Slither, VG Cats, The Perry Bible Fellowship, and Marmaduke (sorta). The traditional comic strip format works so nicely on the web. You can read a strip without scrolling. A funny strip is easy to email to people. You don’t need sound to enjoy them at work. And comic strips expose a true talent for compressing a story into a few small panels. If you want to tell a five-part story, each day’s installment still has to be funny. That takes real skill.
This isn’t to say that the web is perfect for comic strips. Few webcomic sites provide good indices of their archives. Try going back and finding a particular Penny Arcade strip you remember finding funny. Ideally each page would tag its strips by subject matter for easy reference down the road. And all that lettering on each strip is just part of the image, so Google can’t index the scripts. Still, as digital distribution of comic books continues to be a hot topic amongst the big publishers, and with DC launching its own online service soon, I’d like to see more attention paid to the comic strip than the longer form book. No matter how you try to shoehorn it in, you’re always going to want to read a full-length book in your hands, printed on paper. The strip, on the other hand, loses nothing in its conversion to pixels.