Sunday, April 12, 2009

Webcomic Styles: Flat Vs. Zone

Here are two concepts. I'll leave it to chance whether they prove useful and spread.

They are Flat Webcomics and Zone Webcomics.

Neither is superior, but comics often go well with one and not the other.

Flat Webcomics are built around the concept of the web page, particularly in how it resembles a page from a book.

Among their features:
  • Basic to design
  • Primarily two-dimensional
  • Almost no texture
  • Good for simple, clean layouts and comics with 2D styles
  • Often good for short form comics
  • Tend to accommodate"foreign" elements, like ads and widgets, more easily
  • The comic is a central feature surrounded by lesser features
Flat webcomics owe a lot of their traditions to comic books and newspapers.
Zone Webcomics (I might call them Space Webcomics if it didn't sound like science fiction) exploit the 3D possibilities of the web, as well as dynamic images, from animation to video to 3D effects.
Among their typical features:
  • Comprehensive, site-wide design planning
  • Greater use of web technology
  • Texture and a"makes you want to touch it"sensation
  • Visual depth
  • Interactive objects that go beyond standard links
  • Often, the feel of a portal to another destination
  • Even if the comic doesn't bleed from a defined space on the set, its attributes do, from color to icons to spot art to buttons and other dashboard objects designed to enhance the feel of the comic, and compliment it
Zone webcomics at first seem to derive elements from television, but they are very much an internet phenomenon.
Some comics blend elements of both zone and flat, with mixed results.
Knowing the difference between these approaches can help you determine which you favor when developing a site for a comic. I've seen comics that are arbitrarily fancy (zone type) and overblown compared to the comic that's offered, and I have seen highly dynamic, full page, long form comics that are made underwhelming by placement within a plain template.
Ideally, the correct match enhances your comic and reader experience. A three panel, newspaper style black and white is not going to benefit much from heavy atmosphere, but applying the subtleties of the flat page to color palette, grid, font selection and proportions can make a simple page seem sublime.


It would be nice to provide examples of outstanding successes in both forms, but I am saving them for future discussions. Instead, I'll have have to ask these comics to be good sports as I say harsh things about their design:

Looking for Group doesn't have their comic on the landing page, so is of mixed value as an example, but it's certainly descended into being one of the worst webpage designs I have seen. An endless parade of savage juxtapositions, clashing design elements and mixed time periods brings the destruction of the zone through reckless grafting.
Goblins is stuck in limbo. Not sure what it's trying to be, it makes a smaller mess than LFG, but designer confusion is obvious. The Donation button amidst the goblin paraphernalia says it all. Could be outstanding if it was cleaned up.

Obviously, straddling Page and Zone is a tough challenge, and while elements of one can work in the other, random mingling invites trouble.