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Eric: It's that time of the month, again!

No. Not that time of the month.

My latest edition of Feeding Snarky is online at Comixpedia! Go forth and read it!

This one might get me some interesting comments.

Also in this weeks' offerings is the latest of T Campbell's groundbreaking History of Online Comics columns. It seems less about history and more an informative current affairs piece now, but by God it's insightful, and you should read it.

Sadly, I haven't noticed anything by the Invisible Wednesday White yet this month. But I'll keep you posted.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at February 13, 2005 10:36 PM

Comments

Comment from: Dave Van Domelen posted at February 13, 2005 10:48 PM

You're gonna have to change your Comixpedia mini-bio soon. :)

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at February 13, 2005 10:58 PM

In a couple of ways. (For one, I think I passed the threshold into being a staff contributor. ;) )

Of course, this is assuming Gossamer Commons isn't terrible. But I have faith that Greg will keep us on track if I start slipping up.

Comment from: Snowspinner posted at February 13, 2005 11:19 PM

And here I was thinking it was the time of the month where you caught us up on a certain batshit crazy redhead.

Or maybe where you finished the shortbreads. :)

Comment from: Dave Van Domelen posted at February 13, 2005 11:29 PM

Eric: Well, even if it IS terrible, you'll need to at least say "two webcomics, which were terrible" instead of just one.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at February 13, 2005 11:29 PM

Snowspinner -- oh, we are so due for catching up with Annie.

As for the Shortbreads... I'm kind of thinking Oscar Night, since they're so late.

Comment from: Wednesday posted at February 13, 2005 11:37 PM

There won't be anything from me this month because of medical issues, but I should have something in the Examiner that's been in the works for a while.

Comment from: TODCRA Productions posted at February 14, 2005 12:07 AM

Hooray! I thought I was the only person who tended to think that the Infinite Canvas was a Kinda Neat Idea That People Probably Shouldn't Use. The reason I don't really like it is that it's so much _work_ to read. (And, well, the folks who do the right-scrolling, or, worse still, both right-left and up/down scrolling, completely suck. And, um, the site design of Serializer is one of the (minor) reasons I cancelled my subscription. Most of the strips I dug on it sorta stopped updating, and the site design doesn't really promote... browsing, so I never bothered to find replacement strips.)

But yeah... I tend to think that just because the standard 4 panel/comic-book page format is old doesn't necessarily mean it's out of place on the internet. It's one of those cases where some things evolve just because they're, well, pretty much the best.

Sometimes Infinite Canvas can be done well, but you're right -- it usually comes off as "Clever" rather than "Good". Like, Scott McCloud earns boats of respect from me for being able to figure out, say, the Carl strips. But it doesn't seem that most of them are really... funny or anything. (I think he could do to go back to some of the older Mad Magazines where they'd do really inventive formats that worked both on the "Man, that's clever" level and the "Man, that's funny" level. I mean, look at the Fold-In, say.

Oddly enough, I tend to think that a lot of the best use of "Infinite Canvas" is in print comics (which, you know, isn't IC per se since it's still decidedly finite) -- stuff like Jason's work where he'll just have a nigh-blank page with a small panel at the bottom. Or, Chris Ware's stuff, where he basically just arranges his panels however he wants, with background stuff going on and in non-standard orders that almost allow you to read the story in any order.

But yeah; I vote in the Webcomic Awards (although I don't know if I'll get to this year; my comic basically just went defunct this year, and I don't remember if there's a thing against voting if you don't have an active strip, and, well, if not, there probably should be so I probably wouldn't on principle) and the "Best Use Of Infinite Canvas" category is one of those ones where I usually have no idea. I think I typically end up thinking to myself "No." And then I think I typically vote for, say, Homestar Runner (which always struck me as odd to be included since, you know, it's not a comic, nor Infinite Canvas).

Comment from: Shaenon posted at February 14, 2005 3:52 PM

Man, Eric, I could hardly disagree with this week's Snarky column more. Above all, I take issue with the idea that expanded-canvas layouts are inherently "experimental." The expanded-canvas approach shouldn't be experimental; it should be natural. A Web browser isn't shaped like a comic-book page, so there's no reason to set up your comic that way. But we all read "Reinventing Comics" and we know this dance.

The problem, I suppose, is that format experimentation, at least in the beginning, attracts formalists, who frequently aren't as interested in relaying a specific narrative as they are in playing with form and presentation. That can be frustrating to readers who care more about stories than storytelling. But there are webcartoonists who do both well, Patrick Farley being the first I can think of off the top of my head. The end of the Snarky column disingenously praises good writing over interesting graphic storytelling, as if the two were mutually exclusive, but they're not.

I should add that I'm saying this all as someone who writes and draws plenty of traditionally-formatted comics, and in fact has only attempted one expanded-canvas work so far. Other cartoonists should be better than me, dammit!

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at February 14, 2005 4:10 PM

Shaenon -- first off, yes. There are webcartoonists who do both well. And Patrick Farley (who I came late to the party to, or I'd have mentioned him in the column) is incredibly cool.

I don't think that the infinite canvas is inherently experimental. I think people who experiment rather than tell good stories (graphically or narratively) produce... well, strips that are either boring or are clever instead of good.

However, it's when people take the experiment and tell good stories with it -- be that via the writing or the art -- that the clever little bits become useful tools in webcomics.

I'm not saying you should agree with me. I'm just saying I don't disagree with you, despite standing by my thesis.

Comment from: Joe Zabel posted at February 14, 2005 6:02 PM

Eric-- I agree with Shaenon, infinite canvas is not an experimental technique, any more than Manga is a newcomer to print comics. And it seems to me that I do a lot of scrolling when I go through the archive of Narbolic, so I think she may be overlooking something about her own use of the technique.

Beyond that, your opinion seems basically irrational. To understand why, check out the mirror image version:

"I think people who use a traditional format rather than tell good stories (graphically or narratively) produce... well, strips that are either boring or are clever instead of good.

"However, it's when people take the traditional format and tell good stories with it -- be that via the writing or the art -- that the clever little bits become useful tools in webcomics."

Nobody who favors experimentation is saying that it transforms a bad comic into a good comic. But what you seem to be saying is that experimentation is inherently bad, and that it is only good when it's redeemed by the superior nature of the work.

Either that, or you're really saying nothing at all, except, duh, good comics are good, and bad comics are bad.

As for Serializer, I don't know what kind of browser you have, but I've used a lot of machines, and never encountered one in which right browsing was less automated than down browsing. But in any case, Serializer has always had an amusing little remark on its homepage, "do not be afraid to scroll to the right thank you!"

Alas, some people will be afraid no matter how much you assure them.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at February 14, 2005 6:17 PM

Eric-- I agree with Shaenon, infinite canvas is not an experimental technique, any more than Manga is a newcomer to print comics.

And here, your honor, is where I hit "fatigue."

Let me make this as clear as I can, in hopes of people understanding my opinion, whether or not they agree with it.

I do not claim that using infinite canvas == Experimental. Neither do I claim that infinite canvas == bad.

My thesis, simply put, is that I don't like strips that try to be experimental rather than trying to be good comic strips. A large number of the "infinite canvas" strips you see are just panels piled next to each other one after the other, in an effort to be avant garde. However, there's nothing in the way it's being done that suggests there's any reason for the panel layout to be that way. It is it's own justification, and that, quite honestly, bores me.

Someone who goes infinite canvas because they have a story to tell (or other artistic impulse) and this is the technique that fits it the best isn't being experimental to be experimental. They're using the tools -- and sometimes even pushing the boundaries of them -- as part of their artistic expression, and I'm 100% behind them.

Do you honestly think every person who's dropped forty panels in a row on a side scroll has made a good comic strip on the basis of the fact that they've got forty panels in a row on a side scroll? No. Of course you don't.

Neither do I think every time I see the side-scroll that there won't be an artistic reason for it. But when there isn't, I lump it into "clever" instead of "good" or even "competant."

I don't mind in the least that people think I'm wrong. I just wish I'd written this well enough to understand what my opinion actually is.

Oh -- and:

As for Serializer, I don't know what kind of browser you have, but I've used a lot of machines, and never encountered one in which right browsing was less automated than down browsing. But in any case, Serializer has always had an amusing little remark on its homepage, "do not be afraid to scroll to the right thank you!"

When I read any vertical web page, I slap the spacebar with my thumb to continue reading down. When I read any side scroller, I have to click the arrow, or drag the slidebar, pausing along the way to keep reading. William G indicated that he can push his mouse wheel and drag side to side. Said trick doesn't seem to work with my logitech mouse on my Mac, and wouldn't work at all with the trackpad. And, when I go to a portal page, I'm not "afraid to scroll to the right," I'm annoyed that they've put the choices for what appears on that site off my page in what looks like intentionally bad web design.

Intentionally bad web design, I would add, that apparently is supposed to evoke a sense of "sophisticated art-comics," which means to me it's trying to emulate infinite canvas comics, for no good reason at all.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at February 14, 2005 6:23 PM

Oh. And:

"I think people who use a traditional format rather than tell good stories (graphically or narratively) produce... well, strips that are either boring or are clever instead of good.

"However, it's when people take the traditional format and tell good stories with it -- be that via the writing or the art -- that the clever little bits become useful tools in webcomics."

Um... yeah? And?

I don't disagree with that. When I see someone do a four panel webcomic because they want to make a webcomic, without any sense of either narrative or aesthetic, I give up on it the same way. Hell, some of those people even think they're being "experimental" because they're publishing on the web.

I'm still standing by my thesis.

Comment from: Joe Zabel posted at February 14, 2005 6:57 PM

"My thesis, simply put, is that I don't like strips that try to be experimental rather than trying to be good comic strips. A large number of the "infinite canvas" strips you see are just panels piled next to each other one after the other, in an effort to be avant garde."

But Eric, this is just a straw man. There are no artists who just try to be experimental rather than trying to create good comic strips. It's simply a matter that some artists know how to make good comic strips better than others. Anyway, the vast majority of artists working at the crude, rudimentary level you describe are much more likely to imitate Penny Arcade or PVP than Farley or McCloud.

Sorry, I didn't even realize that one could scroll by hitting the space bar. However, I've thereby discovered that this blog window isn't as automated as it could be-- I can't type this response just by hitting the space bar, I have to use the other keys on the keyboard. Therefore I must conclude that you are an effete avant-garde snob who has created an intentionally bad blog design with no regard for my comfort and well-being! How very annoying indeed!:)

Comment from: Joe Zabel posted at February 14, 2005 8:20 PM

PS: I just discovered that if you hit the right and left arrow keys on your keyboard, it performs right and left scrolling. So unless you're wearing mittens or something, I would say that the right scroll is equally as automated as the down scroll.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at February 14, 2005 9:01 PM

Hey, don't mock my mittens, man.

(And sorry for the less than cheery tone of my last couple of replies. Long day at work, which I should leave off Websnark.)

Comment from: Joe Zabel posted at February 14, 2005 9:27 PM

Let me just add, Eric, that it's to your credit that you're willing to express a negative opinion. We have too many diplomats in webcomics, and not enough disputants.

Comment from: thok posted at February 14, 2005 11:33 PM

Remember that having more freedom doesn't necessarily lead to better art. And Shannon should know this-she did request a sestina from Snarky.

That leads to an interesting question. If infinite canvas is free form poetry, what would represent a sonnet or a sestina? (I'd say that the standard 4 panel strip would correspond to a four line couplet.)

Comment from: Amanda W posted at February 14, 2005 11:54 PM

This is a common theme in art (in general), actually -- whether or not experimentation/nonconformity has any intrinsic value. I, personally, am of the opinion that nonconformity for the sake of nonconformity is inherently useless and usually (though not always) indicative of deficiencies in other areas of the work, and that one should only specifically disobey convention when there is a specific reason for it.

Interpreted: If there is a reason to make you have to scroll horizontally to read a webcomic -- i.e. the background is a very wide panoramic shot, or it's some sort of artistic representation of a chronology that requires horizontal movement (like someone running or a car moving), then that's a good use of nonconformity. If you're making me scroll horizontally just because you *CAN* and not because there's any reward to it, then don't be surprised if your readers aren't entirely appreciative.

Comment from: larksilver posted at February 15, 2005 1:12 AM

I tend to agree with Eric on this one.. not that everybody else's points aren't valid. I especially like the Jackson Pollac reference, because that's precisely what's going on.

It's like this in music, too. How many tenor sax players have you seen who decided that they "should" play jazz when they didn't really GET IT, because that's what tenor sax players DO, right? Even good players playing bad jazz still make.. well, bad jazz.

I think that's what happens to some webcomics. For whatever reason, particularly those who really WANT to be avant-garde and who have been inspired by Reinventing Comics and other such sources, there are those who do the infinite canvas thing because they think they should.... not necessarily because they get it. And, just like that tenor sax player, I at least am left wondering "now I just heard him play an exquisite classical piece, lush and warm and with depth and feeling... why the hell is he wasting his time with this?"

We were all raised on the 4-panel newspaper comic, or at best the static "traditional" comic page. Just the way that most musicians are brought up on Mozart and Beethoven and Bach. For some, that format is just not ENOUGH. There's not enough room to stretch, to grow, to BREATHE. For others, it's home... and should be. Because some work best with risk, stretching the boundaries of the tools available, even inventing NEW tools as needed. Others, well, they make beautiful music within the "lines," within a format that gives them a solid base, a place where they understand the rules, and can transcend them.

For all that... first forays (and sometimes, even 2nd and 3rd and 4th) tend to, well, suck. I mean, when I think back to all those student recitals in school, I remember watching the talented (but young) students try new things, develop, and grow. Even Clapton had to jangle the notes on the guitar before he learned how to make the damn thing dance. So maybe we should be patient with the infinite canvas-ers who have a story to tell and by damn are looking for a larger world in which to tell it.

And meanwhile, I guess we (as an audience) will just have to pray that the ones who just want a "gimmick" or do infinite canvas because they think they're supposed to will grow the wisdom to realize it's not their thing. It's not that they're bad artists and writers, necessarily, it's just that it's maaaaaybe not their medium.

Shutting up now. Sorry about the essay. Fast typing speeds and lots to say don't always make me popular, I'm afraid! heh.

Comment from: Shaenon posted at February 15, 2005 2:59 AM

"This is a common theme in art (in general), actually -- whether or not experimentation/nonconformity has any intrinsic value. I, personally, am of the opinion that nonconformity for the sake of nonconformity is inherently useless and usually (though not always) indicative of deficiencies in other areas of the work, and that one should only specifically disobey convention when there is a specific reason for it."

But it's not "nonconformity for the sake of nonconformity." It's using the tools that exist on the Web to make a damn webcomic. The space exists; the layouts are possible. Why stick with the four-panel gag format just because it's the only format newspapers will publish, or the comic-book-page format because it used to work on comic-book pages?

Understand, I use both of these formats, as well as others. I actually enjoy working with the extreme restrictions of the four-panel strip; it's an oddly rewarding intellectual challenge. But I deeply admire the work of cartoonists who have moved beyond that. Yes, sestinas are lovely and fun to write. But there's a reason that very few of the great poems are sestinas.

Believe it or not, artists sometimes do things that are different for reasons other than showing off how cool they are. It's called creativity. Questioning limitations is a big part of it.

Comment from: Amanda W posted at February 15, 2005 8:10 AM

Why does "nonconformity for the sake of nonconformity" have to be "showing off how cool they are"? Plenty of artists avoid conventions simply because, as you said, the tools are there, or because they believe experimentation *does* have inherent value on its own and thus enhances the quality of their work (a fine belief, but I can't promise to agree with it), or because they believe they are doing something new or beneficial to their goals.

That's all well and good -- just, like I said, I personally don't believe it adds anything to a work, and often detracts from it. Conventions are there for a reason, usually, and while they should not always be strictly stood by, they offer good boundaries for the artist who is not sure whether straying from them *would* better befit their work.

To put this all in Eric's words, being "clever" does not necessarily have value on its own (depending on one's opinion -- art has to have some degree of subjectivity from the artist and the viewer). However, the "cleverness" *can* be beneficial to the work as a whole *if* there is a specific reason for it (see above).

There seems to be this implication that disregard for experimentation means one considers experimentation to be a big ego trip, which is not necessarily true, and I certainly don't think Eric thinks so. He is, after all, writing serious literary critiques of webcomics -- an experimentation in itself. ;)

Comment from: Daemonic posted at February 15, 2005 11:29 AM

Up until reading all these comments, I had never really thought much about the medium it is presented in. Four-panel, three-panel, square, rectangular, required scrolling, stationary, moving (well... ok, I havent seen any of those yet), whatever.

To me the shape isn't important. Its the content. And maybe I'm missing something here (nothing unusual there), but does it really matter what the method of presentation is if it works, if it gets the point/joke/story/gag/whatever across? As long as it doesn't go out of the way to make itself hard to read, whats the big deal? So what if I have to scroll, or read in a circle? I can still laugh at the joke (if I get it).

Goes to show you I'm not an artist, I'm way too damn practical. :D

Comment from: Daemonic posted at February 15, 2005 11:32 AM

These things need an edit button.

After reading what I wrote, I just want to qualify that I dont think the art is not important. It is, more so for others than me (maybe it comes from having trouble drawing stick figures), but I always read for story over art.

And someone mentioned art is subjective, and I think thats pretty important to remember. One man's art is another man's trash. And vice versa. :)

Comment from: nothings posted at February 17, 2005 10:10 PM

I wish I had commented back when this first went up, I sort of forgot about the whole commenting thing.

It seems to me that there's a problem with this essay: it's not very well-written in terms of having a clear thesis. It begins with the apparent thesis "I don't like experimentation" and then later starts talking about all the good stuff that comes about as a consequence of experimentation, which seems to undermine the apparent thesis.

I think it amounts to saying "experimental comics don't tend to be very good on their own, but they show the way for other comics to follow along and do great things". And this doesn't seem to me to be a very revolutionary thesis; I mean, this is pretty much the expected outcome of experimentation and exploration, isn't it?

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