Friday, May 8, 2009

The Webcomic Viewing Platform Debate

The web arguments that disappoint me are the ones where many people argue a simple point, oblivious to the fact that there is a larger issue that takes precedence.

There's such a thread on Scott McCloud's blog today. He's trying to make a point about the optimum shape of the Kindle for viewing comics, but is partly neutralized by someone who points out that a variation already exists that addresses the problem (it turns sideways). 

All 50+ commenters seem to forget that a webcomic has a choice:

  • It can be a flat comic on a web page
  • It can be a dynamic, even multi-dimensional creation that includes tools unique to the web that make it dynamic and interactive
Webcomics taking the second approach are the most vulnerable to destruction by corporate-engineering policy making. In other words, those who use the internet, and not merely basic creative tools, are more likely to be cut off at the knees.*

I would like to read comics on a Kindle, and am confident competition and engineering advances will make it possible. But I will not strip mine artistic creations off the web and read them on a Kindle for convenience, trashing the rest of the creator's work to suit my whim.

I am aware that people who couldn't care less are going to try to read comics on phones and other devices for which they are not created, and I figure it's their loss. There are people creating phone comics who need a market. I don't create phone comics. I have nothing against telephones, it's just not what I do.

Gadget people are similar to feed people, who want to strip mine comics, and send me letters demanding comic-inclusive feeds. I have no problem with update feeds, or thumbnails, but the trip to the site is built into the experience, and I would rather have no reader at all than a reader who doesn't comprehend the work because they are determined to view only the part they think they want. If you declare yourself as low-quality traffic, don't be surprised if that's how you're viewed.

Anyone rushing to view my sites might be confused, since they are not currently very complex. So, I'll mention again that the upcoming versions of my sites will be different. Those versions, will, I hope, work on a future Kindle, but I am indifferent to their appearance on phones, because of sizing. Scott has done some interesting, dynamic comics that may or may not work on various gadgets; I'm not sure. That's why I am surprised by the focus on a moving target, the rapidly evolving Kindle-style reader, when the real issue is whether the rush to accessorize with gadgets is causing a sell-out of a gloriously independent medium to the whims of corporate stores and standards. To fight the screen size battle at this stage especially is to pick a battle that will probably be won regardless, but possibly at the loss of the war: will these gadgets detract from the viewing experience anyway?

What I'd like to hear about is not screen shapes, but technology for blocking gadgets from sites in order to force people to view them as they were meant to be viewed, or not view them at all. That would do the most to drive the creation of reading devices sensitive to the needs of alternate internet formats. Or perhaps I could offer a gadget-specific comic in place of ones not designed for gadgets.

Screen size is a detail that will be resolved. You wouldn't tolerate devices that only sent part of your email, or blocked out other information. Why tolerate devices that promise the internet but deliver an inferior version? 

*Someone recently asked if I was advocating technology like Flash, which alienates a lot of people. Answer: Not until they get their act together. Things are coming along nicely with javascript, but anything that repels people is not in my playbook. I often abort loading a site if I see Flash myself. In fairness, it's poor programming a lot of the time, and poor understanding of how to make different things play nicely. The how-to is out there, but it has not been widely learned.