To Researchers

"The times do change, and so do the desires"
Luís de Camões

In my Master Degree dissertation (Comics and Internet – Aspects and Hybrid Experiences, in portuguese), presented in october 2009 to the brazilian academic community, I analyzed the relationships between comics and Internet, highlighting some interesting advantages the latter brings to the former if one compares web to printed media, cradle of the sequential art: extremely low publishing, advertising and reproduction costs; immense potential visibility, despite the challenge to conquer and captivate a public – which I called readers-internauts – used to browse through a dispersing and fragmented information torrent; more artistic independence and, consequently, more freedom of speech, because creators do not need to submit themselves to editors; proximity to the readers; and especially the possibility to employ certain skills and expressive techniques like animation, dynamic layout, soundtrack, infinite canvas, hypertext and augmented interactivity, which can only exist in comics with the help of computer technology.

From a meticulous analysis of these advantages, I divided webcomics in two categories: Heirs and Hybrids. Heirs are formally closer to the paradigms of the press, and are presented in form of static images. Hybrids are essentially experimental, and make use, in various degrees, of the expressive techniques I mentioned above, trying to achieve new aesthetic and narrative results, breaking the established models of the printed media.

In order to make this rupture possible, except in the case of animated .gifs, some computer language, like HTML, JavaScript and ActionScript must provide the foundations for the Hybrid webcomics. Considering these three languages, the friendliest to non-programmer artists and, because of that, the most largely employed – at least until the arrival of the complex and wordy 3.0 version – is the ActionScript, thanks to its intimate relationship with Adobe Flash, which has painting and drawing tools integrated to a multimedia programming environment. Inside Flash, it is possible to get many effects using graphic interface, minimizing the artist's learning curve in coding, and the exportation to the web is a simple process. Exactly because of this easiness and versatility, and because of the almost omnipresence of the Flash plug-in in the personal computers, I have chosen to use this software to make my Hybrid webcomic: the story of Samuel.

Creating a Hybrid webcomic, besides being one of the pre-requisites to finish my Master's Degree, was challenging to me, as I made clear in my dissertation. I was in a big enthusiasm to see how I would perform interweaving sound effects, animations, mouse events, buttons, random panels and instant translation with the drawings and the story, in the most harmonious and interesting way I could do. However, during the four years that passed since the public support of my dissertation and the present moment, considerable technical, practical, and conceptual obstacles came along for the work I was doing. Such obstacles arose from changes in the Internet's technology and in the way people navigate on web.

Technically, as an option to display multimedia and interactive content over the Internet, Flash and its plug-in, properties of Adobe, have been put aside in favor of free technologies like JavaScript (and its JQuery library), CSS3 and the HTML5 itself. One of the main reasons for that change was financial, because Flash requires the purchase of a license in order to legally run. Facing the steady development of these open standards and their growing browser support, Flash's proprietary nature discourages the formation of new developers and the perseverance of the old ones. The disbanding intensified when in april 2010 Steve Jobs wrote his article Thoughts on Flash, in which he pointed other alarming flaws of that software, explaining why Apple would not allow Flash content in its smartphones and tablets. Given the facts that mobile gadgets represent a growing and remarkable part of the Internet access – devices like iPad did not exist at the time of the conclusion of my research – and that the fruit from Cupertino is one of the biggest players of its market, it was easy to see that Flash, in the way it was built, would fall in disuse very soon.

Furthermore, Flash plug-in was facing, with the time, more and more security and performance issues. Its updater became annoying, because it displayed a persistent pop-up screen on computer rebooting, reminding the users to manually execute the process. Eventually, Adobe itself has decided in 2011 to end the Flash Player development for mobile platforms. These events were sufficient to affirm that Flash, while depending on its own plug-in, was dead to the Internet. And with it, my Hybrid webcomic's technological support died as well – except if the future shows me a way to adapt it to free and open standards. It would be foolish to insist on a platform which excludes a considerable part of the users just because they can not, or they do not want, to read my work using conventional desktop computers.

Concerning the practical part, I came to the conclusion that a Hybrid webcomic like Samuel is very complicated for just one artist to thoroughly undertake without taking months or even years. Short Hybrids can be produced with some agility by just one person, although the most common is the gathering of many different professionals to make them, much like in the traditional press comics. Longer, radical and complex Hybrids were always made by a dedicated team, in order to get them done faster.

Many times I asked myself if I was not taking too much time and effort to find technical solutions using ActionScript. I took many days wondering about how to add complex intereactive effects to Samuel and how to integrate them to the comic's storyline, when I should really focus in the fundamentals, or in other words, in what any respectable comic book artist must do best: tell a story which involves his target audience, preferentially with good drawings for what is proposed. Dealing with code, testing, debugging and improving its syntax may be stimulant and even amusing for a programmer. But for a visual artist like me, nevertheless I have some ability to understand the brute language of the machines, is a very grave, boring and even mortifying mislead.

About the concept of webcomics, the kernel of this art form is not constituted in any way by technical experimentation, but by storytelling – the unweaving of the plot's threads, panel by panel, by the reader, winning his or her attention through an invitation to witness the characters in situations of longing, losing, satisfaction, anguish, desire, fear and ecstasy, giving that reader the opportunity to touch his/her own soul and the artist's at the same time. Even the name that my mother language, Portuguese, gives to the comics – histórias em quadrinhos, stories in small squares – puts in evidence the inextricable importance of the narrative. There will never be good comics without good stories to tell, whatever appeals may have the visual or the experimentation skills employed on it. Good stories, and not just their technological form, are what really resists to time and critics, and what, in some way, touches the universal and leaves a legacy, to the mankind, of the culture in which they were bred.

Because Hybrid comics were the subject of my research, maybe I wrongly suggested that they would be, thanks to their intrinsic experimentalism and formal novelty, the true expressive force, the top refinement of the webcomics – risking to unfairly reducing the Heirs' importance to mere silly digital transpositions from the press to the web. To the ones who could infer, from my writings, some superiority of the Hybrid webcomics over the Heirs, I just would like to make clear that both categories are equally important to the continuity, the surviving and the renewal of the sequential art. If there are more Heirs than Hybrids in the Internet, it is simply due to the fact that the latters are much more complicated and take much more time to make than the formers, and not because of laziness or lack of boldness of the comic book artists.

So, I decided to continue the story of Samuel in the plain way of Heir webcomic. If the dynamic characteristics and innovations of the Hybrid form are lost, my work will however keep the inherent advantages of publishing a comic in the Internet, changing from an experimental but expensive form to another without interactivity, but viable. The direct contact with the readers will continue. The artistic freedom will continue. The possibility to give the audience access to my work from any device, anywhere in the world – with no obsolete plug-ins or proprietary software interfering with the enjoyment of my artistic creation – will also continue.

The inevitable change in the foundations of my webcomic absolutely does not invalidate my research. Flash is just a discontinued foundation, a tool that can be and must be replaced for similar ones, or even be transported towards different platforms. The hybrid proposals for webcomics continue valid for any existing and coming interactive multimedia technology should they have compatibility with the browsers available in the market. When and if a new software or method appears to successfully take Flash's place, maybe I will make other Hybrid webcomic – less ambitious, if I have to go for it all alone.

For me, freedom of speech and visibility without restrictions, more than any experiment, are the true essence of the webcomics. And it is what will guide me, and what I will defend, while I publish in the World Wide Web.

Thiago Mallet
October, 2013

Flash If you want to see the original version of Samuel, please click here (Flash plug-in required)