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Comics have long been in the stranglehold of two main companies — DC and Marvel — with a few others biting at their heels, most notably Darkhorse and Image. But there is a piece of technology that could change all this. The internet.
Of course the main firms have their own sites with downloads (check out the Spider- Man desktop player at www.marvel.com/community), animation (watch the adventures of Lobo, Superman and Gotham Girls on www.warnerbros.com, DC’s parent company) or added extras (a nine-page Hellboy epilogue on www.darkhorse.com). But these are just extensions of material that is readily available. It’s the access to smaller independent output and even produce developed specifically for the net where the real innovations are taking place.
The big names may be leading the field, Marvel’s on-line comics section (www.marvel.com) is incredibly user friendly and some of its biggest titles, such as Ultimate X- Men and Elektra, can be perused for free. But the net is a great place to track down smaller independent output that can be hard to find in your local comics store. For example, full back issues of comics authority Scott McCloud’s Zot are available on-line (www.comicbookresources.com/r.cgi/zot).
But the possibilities that only computers can produce are where the real developments lie. There are certain art styles unique to computers such as the crisp work of When IAm King (www.demian5.com) or the sharp computer-generated images of Triston Farnon’s computer-savvy Leisure Town (www.|eisuretown.com).
Interactivity can be added giving the reader a greater feeling of participation in the narrative. Former Sandman cover artist Dave McKean’s Club Salsa (www.clubsalsa.com) allows you to choose your own way through
Produce developed for the net is where the real innovations are taking place
the bizarre story of illegal black chillies. Animation and sound can be added, something that just is not possible on the printed page. Free downloads such as Flash and Shockwave can lead to all kinds of possibilities. One of the slickest being the selection of on-line Star Wars comics (www.starwars.com/eu/feature/archive onlin ecomic.html), but what else would you expect from George Lucas?
Of course, at the moment there are several problems, one being how the artists will receive payment for their work. People are still loath to pay to view content on the net, a good example being Stephen King’s ill-fated serial The Plant. Readers were asked for a donation to read each instalment, though he is one of the most profitable authors in the world, no one wanted to pay and the project soon coﬂapsed.
Another major stumbling block is download time or the World Wide Wait. Even getting a simple picture to download can take 30 seconds and, when waiting for a whole series, frustration can lead to giving up, even when the content you have seen is interesting. But this is only a technical problem and with the increase in broadband technology it should be surmountable in the near future.
As these problems are tackled it should lead to comics tailored to your needs. Just look at the increase in music and MP3s on the net, the choice has increased exponentially making it easier and easier to download those really, really obscure tracks. And this should be a model for all information sharing on the net (recent courtroom problems concerning Napster aside).
The real revolution will take place when the generation that grew up always having a computer within easy reach starts producing its own output. Creativity in the new electronic medium is already on the up. Now artists are no longer tied to the dimensions of a page and graphic style of pen and paper, it can only increase. (Henry Northmore)
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