Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Comics on my Phone?! Rob Berry Explains

Hi again. Here is the final half of the interview with Rob Berry, started yesterday. 

Rob's a painter whose long time interest in comics has exploded, with fertile results in many areas. He's letting his tech side explore the best ways to bring webcomics to phone and other handhelds. He also co-founded AmalgamatedArtists , and has developed a unique slide show to help spread the excitement about the potential of comics via phone. That's available for your viewing on our sister site, PsychedelicTrehouse. Check it out.

His paintings have no shortage of comics images, which are interspersed today, along with some art from his mammoth adaptation of James Joyce's Ulysses, which stands to be one of the most dazzling comics projects ever if he succeeds.

I've asked Rob to try and keep an eye on the comments section, in case anyone has question or comments for him. See his accompanying slide show about comics on handheld devices. 

Q: What are hand held devices going to do for web comics? 
A: Well, webcomics is something we should still consider to be predominately an entertainment medium. As such it gets really easy to talk about the advantages of hand-held and portable devices in that field.

Portability means ease of consumption certainly, so being able to take comics, or any other form of entertainment, along with you means you can use it more often. I think a lot of the value of comics over other forms of portable entertainment, like movies or video games for example, for these hand-held viewers is that they're a "fast, visual read" that isn't so immersive. We "watch" a movie, or any form of animation, in some sense of real-time experience, so any interruption from it, any hitting of the pause button, breaks that experience. But we "read" a comic very quickly and the sense of time in that reading experience is a lot more plastic though the visual quality is more immersive than text. While it's not the only reason for this, I think its one of the reasons manga thrives so well in a crowded commuter society like urban Japan; there's always time in the day to shut out the outside world with a little bit of reading.

But portability brings another great factor into play for any kind of entertainment media or product; placement and word-of-mouth advertising. We need to see the cool kids on the bus reading comics on their iPods. We need to take the reading experience of new comics out of the singular office cubicle or home computer and put it out on the street or subway or campus or beach or bar; anywhere that people see people read and interact with one another either casually or directly. We need to have people ask one another, "Hey, what's that you're reading?"

If we don't do this then, like the print comic or newspaper strip industries before us, we're making the mistake of playing to the same set of eyeballs and appetites and the media will never grow beyond that into a language.
There are enormous advantages for webcomics in this kind of marketing. If you"re sitting in a bar reading Craig Thompson's BLANKETS as a book when somebody asks, "Hey, what's that you're reading," then you can either loan it to them (not likely you'll want to) or give them directions to the nearest comic shop (not likely they'll want to go). But if you're reading Jeff Smith's BONE on your iPhone you can give people the web-address and they've got multiple ways to pick up the product; print volumes, on-line downloads, etc. Even better, if they have a hand-held device like an iPhone themselves, and very soon very many of our regular consumers will, they can get the same product you're reading within minutes and, without all the costs of print and distribution, get it at a price that makes it affordable for "trial" reading. 

Now these current devices like the iPhone have a viewing screen that's really small, so comics like BONE adapt to it better than comics like BLANKETS, of course. As artists we need to look at the form of the viewer in order to make good products for it. But seriously, don't you think this kind of direct market placement, when used effectively, isn't going to bring bigger viewing screens like the Kindle into play for other entertainment media? I think Apple would be very happy to sell you movies as downloads rather than CDs.

From Ulysses: Seen
Q: I sometimes differentiate us to people as you are the guy who makes connections with existing businesses for mutual benefit, and I am a guy who launches small businesses that are meant to stand alone. Is that fair?
A: Well, my background as a painter tends to make me bit more isolated than that. But comics is a really slow and labor-intensive way to make art, and one I came into late, so I think working with other like-minded people is the best option for doing all of the things I'd like to do. Chris Ware said that the average production-to-consumption rate for comics is something like 1000-to-1-hours. In my case, probably greater. I think that's something important to remember when looking at projects in this field. There's really only so much headway you can make on your own when the product you're looking to make is so quickly consumed.
I love the pioneering spirit that web-comics has, but it's changing at such a rate of speed right now that I'd never be able to keep up with the new ideas on my own. And there are some real exciting new ideas that come out of my interactions with others. I think it's a really good time right now for people from different disciplines to look at the possibilities of this field and decide how to open it up.

Poor Little Rich Boy, by Rob Berry

Q: I like to close interviews by asking about some favorite comics, and possibly a recommendation for a title if you have one. 
A: I've been following the suggestions made in your interviews for awhile now and found a lot of really great comics that way. it bothers me that I'm still scratching the surface of that material and don't have some undiscovered gem to share. The ULYSSES project has me looking at a lot of early strip work and broadsheets at the moment and there's volumes of praise about that stuff, of course.

I'll probably get in trouble for this one, but I just got the opportunity to read BAYOU over at Zuda from start to finish when it finished up a month or so back. This is a really good comic. ORPHAN ANNIE in the Jim Crow South and, while that may sound kind of obvious to some people, Jeremy's approach to developing the story is anything but obvious. Seriously, give this one a full read. There's a really unique structure going on there if you ask me.

From Ulysses: Seen