Interview With Online Comics Pioneer Scott McCloud On Comics, His Mac, & Windows

I have been enthusiastically supporting Scott McCloud and his books since the publication of the Understanding Comics in the early nineties. (The book is highly regarded by all the most stellar names in comics and even beyond.)

The "sequel", Reinventing Comics, is no less brilliant in my view, talking about many things, not the least of which is the subject of digital production and delivery of comics, and what it takes for Web comics to become successful. (Better screens, portable reading machines, a re-thinking of layout, and micropayments on the Web, just to mention some of the more important issues.) McCloud has all the basic info on his site,

Eolake Stobblehouse

Eolake [TMO]: You are quite excited about comics on the Web. To some they may seem like paper comics only in poor resolution. So whatis to be excited about?

Scott McCloud: Iim most excited about moving beyond what paper can do; breaking past the edge of the page, allowing the story to take its own shape, find its own size. Too many Web comics are just paper comics scanned in and uploaded. They even use that same upright rectangular shape we associate with the printed page and include the kind of fine lines and cross-hatching designed to look good on the printed page but that are ruined by screen resolution.

Print still has many advantages. I just think theyire temporary. Iive seen prototypes of hi-res screens. Itis just a matter of time before they hit the market. The one thing print will always provide is a tactile experience, of course. But thatis why recent experiments with format and paper stocks make a nice counterpoint to the Web comics movement. Print should do what print does best, and so should the Web.

TMO: What makes you think that an artist or writer can survive without a publisher and distribution apparatus?

Scott McCloud: For one thing, I do now! When I was creating only printed comics in the 80s, I chose not to self-publish because of all the work involved. Here online though, I do everything myself and itis all relatively easy (though, of course, it required some learning at first). Thereis a difference between survival and profitability, of course. I donit lose money but I donit make too much either.

TMO: Do you think comics can survive in a medium that also easily supports sound and animation?

Scott McCloud: Yes, if we find comicsi core assets and help to expand them online. I think of comics, at their core, as being a map of time. As you move from one panel to the next, you move from one moment to the next. Online, without the restrictions of the page, we can draw that map to any size and shape. Thatis a model that can scale upwards as bandwidth increases and lead to a kind of comic that looks nothing like animated films.

On the other hand, if "webcomic" comes to mean ordinary comic book pages with animation and sound stuck into them, then the moment bandwidth increases, the animation will begin to take over. I see that as comicsi exit ramp and itis not as interesting to me.

TMO: What might a comic look like in the year 2015?

Scott McCloud: I hope comics will have taken on many new shapes by then. I donit think comics have to be restricted to 2 dimensions, so the idea of a comic that turns corners or rotates would be worth pursuing -- if it serves a narrative purpose of course. Iim hoping many comics will be viewable all at once, from a distance, and reading them will be a matter of "diving into" that temporal landscape and moving along the path of the story. It actually sounds a bit weirder than it is! What Iim imagining would - I hope - be very readable and intuitive. It just wouldnit require flipping pages thatis all.

TMO: What does a potential comics creator need?

Scott McCloud: For online comics, itis important to have an image editor like Photoshop (though it has cheaper cousins that might do the job) and a text editor like BBEdit or even SimpleText for writing HTML. And Web access of course! From there, has some good beginner tutorials, or you can pick up a book on the subject. Basic HTML is pretty easy to learn. I suggest everyone hand-code their sites for the first few months. Keep it simple though. The only other tool you absolutely need is your imagination!

TMO: Personally I recommend Learning Web Design by Jennifer Niederst. Anyway, what is your relationship with the Mac?

Scott McCloud: As a graphic artist Iive always had a Mac. My first was a tiny little Mac Classic-style Performa 200 purchased in late-i92. Today I have a nice graphite G4 and a PowerBook G3. I couldnit live without them!

TMO: What do you see as the difference between Macintosh and other platforms? And where do you see it going with Mac OS X?

Scott McCloud: Iim still on 9.0.4, being a not-so-early adopter, but as far as the difference between the Mac OS and Windows, Iid say itis like the difference between Jim Henson doing Kermit the Frog and Brian Henson doing Jim Henson doing Kermit the Frog. The original feels more fully integrated and natural. One thingis for sure though, compared to 1984, the GUI certainly conquered a lot of territory!

OS X seems like a healthy transition, but only the future will tell. Itis a big step to take for some of us long-time users. Did I just say "long-time users" ? Hmm... Starting in i92, I wonder if I qualify yet?

TMO: Thank you, Scott. I heartily recommend readers to get your books, or at least visit your site.

Yours, Eolake

Eolake Stobblehouse is a contributing editor to the Mac Observer, specializing in cultural matters, and comes to us by way of MacCreator. Send him your comments and tips.