The Future of Comics?

December 26th, 2008 | Posted in News

The Watchmen Motion Comic
A screen capture from “The Watchmen” motion comic

I’ve written in the past about the exciting work that my friends Michael Jantze and Kelly McNutt are doing in exploring the transformation of static comic strips into a format for the 21st century. The challenge is to figure out a way to translate the traditional strip comic into a multimedia format that keeps the original feel and function of the strip and is both visually arresting and relatively quick and inexpensive to produce. The idea is to bring strips into the age of the internet by making them deliverable by e-mail, web or cell phone in a Web 2.0 format. They call them “Audio Comics”. Here are some examples using Micheal’s “The Norm” strip:

I think they are brilliant, combining the images and sounds of actual newspaper elements with simple but interesting animations and voiceover. They are on to something here.

Comic strips are not the only cartoon print media trying to break away from the page and rediscover themselves in limited animated form on the internet. Editorial cartoonists have been dabbling in animation based cartoons in online newspaper websites for some time. Here’s one of those by cartoonist Chappatte:

Lately comic books are trying to get into the action. Warner Bros. Digital Distribution and Warner Premiere have produced several “Motion Comics”, which are in a similar vein as the examples above… namely taking the static images of existing art and combining them with animatic-like limited animation, music and voiceovers to create a “multimedia” comic. “The Watchmen” is now a motion comic series available on iTunes.

The Watchmen on iTunes

There is also a series called “Batman: Black and White” on iTunes featuring art by Alex Ross from the comic of the same title. Individual episodes are about 25 minutes long and cost $1.99 each.

This concept is interesting but still in it’s infancy. Both the motion comics mentioned above have good and bad points, and they differ in their approach. “The Watchmen” includes the word balloons and text, which appear as the narrator reads them. The animations are limited anamatic style motion, pans and zooms that do not try and be an animated film but more a reading of the comic itself. “Batman: Black and White” tries harder to be animated, with more layers of moving images, some individual articulation of characters like moving arms, etc, and no word balloons or text boxes.

Of the two approaches, I think I favor The Watchmen‘s less involved approach. I don’t mind the text boxes and animatics… it isn’t tying to be something it isn’t. I don’t understand why they just have a single narrator reading all the individual parts, however. It would be much less distracting to at least have a female reading all the female parts, if not a full cast doing all the parts. Having a male narrator doing a bad ‘female’ voice takes away from the experience.

Batman: Black and White” uses more of a vocal cast and then eliminates the text entirely. That makes for more of an engaging experience. Some of the images are very busy and kind of hard to figue out what’s going on… there are lot’s of extreme close ups of very tiny parts of panels which demonstrate the limitations of this approach.

Sorry I could not embed any teasers of these “Motion Comics”, but the copyright owners don’t permit that kind of thing. You can see short teasers of each episdoe on iTunes. The motion comics themsleves are interesting forays into a possible future of comics, so you can decide for yourself if you want to plunk down the coin to watch them.


  1. patbollin says:

    Tom – I hate to come off the curmudgeon here, but I hate this stuff. To me, when you add sound and motion to a comic strip, and the reader no longer has to be truly involved with the reading process, you no longer have comics. What you usually have is pretty bad animation. Just my 2 cents.

    Pat Bollin

    • Tom says:

      I can see where you are coming from, Pat. Personally I also would much rather read a comic book or comic strip printed on paper. That medium is an art form. Comic books I think have settled into a niche and will continue as long as they have movie deals and marketing to support the printed properties. However newspapers are dying and the internet/multimedia is the future of delivering the kind of content newspapers have been providing for the last 100 years or so. If comic strips are not going to become a thing of the past, the art form may need to evolve as well.

  2. well I say that nothing compares to reading the real comicbook. If you are watching it you can’t really think about what’s going on, but if you have the comic book and it goes as fast as you do I think you have a better relation ship with the story than if you are just watching a movie type comicbook. BTW watchmen rules!!

  3. bluemoonpaul says:

    Comics are also being adapted for the iPhone. No bells and whistles, just reading comics in another format on another device. As an addendum to Tom’s piece I’ve written about it at my blog:

  4. I’ve done an audio comic before, and to me, it’s a good way to advertise a static comic to the YouTube crowd. Since May 2008, that video has gotten 252 views and 3 comments. Not great stats, and I doubt many have clicked through to my site, but it’s working for me while I leave it alone with no monthly advertising fees. If I get more audio comics up there and become more famous, it’ll hopefully multiply. And who knows? Maybe a video will suddenly get thousands of views like Tay Zonday’s?

  5. meredithd says:

    I have to go into the “hate” camp on these. They might be good as an eye-catching banner ad, but I don’t know if they’re useful for anything else. I’d rather read a comic at my own pace. Are there any readers here that like them? I agree however that the medium of comics are going to change. My money’s on free, static webcomics (like mine!).


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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