So this week I was honoured to be part of a select group invited to a talk at the Asia Lit Festival called ‘Communicating Through Comics’. Where two speakers Ben Dix and Asia Alfasi spoke about how they found their way into creating comics.
You see comic books are more than just about caped superheroes fighting evil robot armies for a winner-takes-all end of the world death match. The books that they focused on are ones that have also inspired me to pursue comics as a serious literary form to express stories that reflect and challenge how we see the world.
Now if you’ve never read these two they will change your perception of comic books forever.
Comic #1 that changed by view on how comics can change the world:
Palestine by Joe Sacco
This is a brilliant book in so many ways – without going into a full on book review, I think what tipped for me the scales of comic books doing something that other literary forms can’t do is that it can put you into the shoes of someone else is a way that is so visual and create empathy within seconds. I don’t think normal prose can do that.
It will take a thousand words for prose to describe you something that a comic panel can do in a second.
When you’re able to string panels together you can achieve so much more than long winded detailed prose could ever.
Comics has traditionally been seen as the medium of the outsider, misfits, geeks and the loners.
For me, this is why comics can show the other side more than other mainstream entertainment forms can.
Because in comics the cost of taking anyone anywhere and presenting an argument is low – the cost is a writer and an artist – sometimes those two people can be the same person. Of course it can be enhanced by a colourist and letterer.
But you compare that cost to the cost of doing that in any other format
- in film: writer, producer, director, entire film crew, editor, entire CG and post processing and sound crew – approx 200 people
- in games: game designers, developers, artists, animators, sound, production and QA – easily between 80 to 120 people
- in TV: similar to in film but on a smaller scale – approx 30 to 50 people
- in animation: again the holy trinity of writer-producer-director, animation departments (all the way through concept artists to FX artists), voice artists, editors, soundscape – anywhere from between 10 to 50 people at the lower end.
So the cost of taking a risk is that much lower in comics, the cost of failure is lower and the cost of changing direction is that much quicker – at least in theory.
And that’s what I really loved about what Joe Sacco achieved in this book – he managed to tell a story of ‘the other side’, the side that the media hold back. As an independent comic creator, you don’t have the same overheads and expectations as an editor at a major corporate news desk has.
Even if the news editor did want to present a balanced two sided view they have ring masters who have an agenda – whichever news outlet it is, whatever point of view that agenda is, essentially it boils down to the keeping advertisers happy and keeping the advertising revenue flowing.
Well what about the BBC? They don’t have advertisers!
Well they still have a series of stakeholders who set an agenda for them to follow – like them or loathe them, mainstream news corporations are there to make money – headlines sell advertising spots. So long as news corporations send out the right tones they will attract an audience – where there’s an audience there’s advertising revenue to be made.
The internet has changed that now as anyone can put forward an alternative point of view.
Well hold on a second, most bloggers run ads on their blogs – you got ads running here.
100% correct – the difference though, bloggers (myself included) aren’t told what to blog about.
There’s no taskmaster to tell us what to do. We don’t dance to the tune of the organ grinder.
If people don’t like the content they don’t come back – it’s not really in any blogger’s interest to get an audience that isn’t on the same wavelength as them.
If we were only interested in making money we’d go and work at an investment bank.
Asia Alfasi spoke so powerfully about her experiences growing up in Libya where the freedom of the media and the propagation of international programming and art was curtailed under the Gaddafi regime. She spoke about how art, in particular anime was a way in which she could experience the outside world.
This for me pressed home that comics can help so many people for whom other media is not freely available. Despite tight governmental controls a comic can be passed around and distributed in an underground way.
She spoke also spoke about Joe Sacco’s Palestine, but how that felt like an outsider’s viewpoint – an outsider observing, recording and leaving. She put forward the comic Persopolis by Marjane Satrapi.
As an insider Marjane Satrapi is able to take you inside her world. A world that most people will only ever see through the lens of the news media – remember those guys, the ones selling advertising space.
And this is where comics really hit their sweet spot – Marjane was ultimately able to turn Persopolis into an animated movie, but this came after the comic book.
Due to their lower making-cost, comic books are able to find an audience. This is an audience that speaks to each other, that recommends books to each other – in fact this recommendation systems out-dates and can predict with better accuracy what other readers will like with a higher accuracy (if not sales) than computer algorithm recommendation systems.
If a comic takes hold and finds an audience that can then be the precursor to another art form, typically an animation, movie or game. A studio is more willing to make a movie/animation/game if they know there’s an inbuilt audience.
Why I chose comic format for Digitopia
This is essentially why I chose a comic book format for Digitopia. Not only could I make it faster, but I only needed to get buy in from an artist, colourist and letterer.
I was able to find an audience through Kickstarter to fund issue 1 of the comic.
In 30 days I was able to present my story to an audience you are interested in comic book – 118 of whom decided to back Digitopia 1.0.
Working with talented artists (Sebestian Piriz and Simon Robins) I was able to relatively quickly get a layout for the story I wanted to tell.
We were able to quickly try different combinations of panels and compositions to tell the story.
In my opinion it’s this stage of layout which is where the magic of the story happens.
We can then build on that and translate these layouts into inks
Next stage would be that Simon would add the colours and the letters to it to complete the process from idea to finished page.
Why a Web Comic?
I then went about putting this all together as a web comic. I wanted to make this comic free for everyone. A web comic it is a way for me to get the story out there instantly and build up a fan base for the work. If, as I hope to, go onto make this into a paper based comic I will either have to finance it through Kickstarter or approach a publisher to fund it.
Having it as a web comic gives the potential Kickstarter backer or publisher an instant place to go to and see that this comic is actually happening, with or without them.
To do this as a film or animation would take an army of designers, artists, animators, VFX artists and post production. As a comic book we were able to work as a team of 3 working in our spare time. I was able to manage it without going (too) crazy.
I’m at the stage where the team and I are finishing off issue 1 of the book – the plan is then to take it to Amazon, in particular Kindle to keep building that audience.
If you want to read it a free digital preview of Digitopia, just fill in this nifty form below and I’ll email you a copy within a few seconds of you hitting the ‘Send me my free comic preview’ button (yes I’m that fast 🙂
Also while you’re at it tell a friend – or tell many friends, the social sharing buttons will do the work for you.
Thanks for reading, you can read the whole of Digitopia (what we’ve completed so far) for free at my web comic sub domain www.comic.digitopiafilm.com.