The Coming Revolution Of Online Comics. Interviews Mac User Scott McCloud

Scott McCloud is a spectacularly important modern thinker, particularly for people interested in comics in any way. Mr. McCloud is clearly a very visual person who took to the graphical interface like a duck to water, and indeed he is a master of using visuals of all kinds in getting his point across. Reinventing Comics was created entirely on a Macintosh, with drawings done on a Wacom tablet, the work did not see paper until it was printed. When there are images in the book showing a computer interface, it is the Mac OS we see.

Mr. McCloudis first nonfiction book Understanding Comics, which is written/drawn in comic book fashion, achieved the very unusual combination of being eminently entertaining, becoming a bestseller in many languages, and becoming a widely used textbook on understanding comics. The book covers so many basic concepts it contains many important ideas that apply to creative subjects far removed from comics.

His subsequent book, published 8 years later in 2000, Reinventing Comics, is an almost equally important work. It is more topical than the first one, and covers a lot of subjects, but a largish chunk of it concerns the future of online comics. If you really keep your mind open, the possibilities it reveals are staggering.

Some people have a lot of objections about presenting comics (or text) online. They say that the reading experience is somehow intricately linked to paper. Scott McCloud is one of the people who can explain why that may not be. Here are a couple of quotes from an interview at

Scott McCloud: Youive always got to remember when youire comparing print to digital media, that youire comparing a technology thatis 500 years old that hasnit really evolved much in the basic core technology. The way we create print has changed a lot over the course of time, but the actual experience of opening those pages and reading them is pretty much the same as it was in Guttenburgis time. Youire comparing that technology to a technology thatis evolving practically by the moment. And things like portability or the clarity of the image are changing at a blinding pace.

When I spoke down at IBM I got to see the Renken display which theyive had in the works for a couple of years thatis just now hitting the market, thatis about 200 DPI. Thatis roughly 3 times the resolution of a 72 DPI traditional monitor. You would think that that would make it clearer. But when you see it you realize it makes it just unbelievably clearer. Itis an enormous difference. You can view a map of the New Jersey turnpike and see every single label in sharp hi-res, small enough to fit 10 of them on your fingernail. Itis clear as day. I think most people in hardware can tell you, "Yes, you will have this." You wonit have it next week, unless youire rich, you wonit have it in two years unless youire moderately rich, but four or five years, yes weill all have these things. Itis just the way computing goes.

David Dodd: When I first read about your book coming out I was a little disheartened to hear that you were spending a lot of pages on on-line comics, since comics are in essence writing and drawing, and a lot of the computer world seems most interested in the promise of bringing together as many media as possible. But when I read it I was really impressed that you knew about this other model of information display that was much more powerful for comics than hypertext.

Scott McCloud: And that didnit rely on animating and adding voice actors to everything.

David Dodd: Well, that would take things away. But you talk about this broader range of two-dimensional displays, matrices of panels. It sounds like what youire seeing as the future for on-line comics is new levels of design on that level.

Scott McCloud: Yeah, you have an unlimited space to work in now. And in fact in three dimensions if you want them. I see comics as a temporal map, and to me thereis plenty of exciting design challenges once you blow yourself out of the page. Once you break out of that page, that little 6x9 rectangle, and you have the x, y and z axis from here to eternity, you can create some enormously impressive spatial constructs. If you look at just an average graphic novel, letis say a 200 page long collection, maybe one of the smaller Cerebus books, 200 pages, 6 inches wide per page, would be about 1200 inches. Thatis a really interesting thing. If you imagine that as a mural, thatis a very interesting construction. Now if you uncouple the panels from their page, and lay them out in a string, you have more like about 3600 inches, if each tier is going one after the other, thatis a hundred yards. Weire coming out with those every day. Well, not every day, but every week brings us another body of comics work of that length. So people are continually creating things which from a spatial point of view are huge, wonderful, huge spatial constructions, that have been chopped up. Itis as if you make the worldis longest sandwich and chop it up, put it into little boxes...

But underneath all this is the question of "Donit we want to hold it in our hands?" Is there something important about holding it in our hands? Ultimately, I donit think there is. We can be moved to tears by a great piece of music, we canit hold that in our hands. We can have an enormous emotional relationship with a motion picture, we donit hold that in our hands. We can buy a video, we can have it in our home . .

The full interview is very interesting and we recommend it as a good read.