New Technologies Deliver Comic Books in New Ways

Rohit C.

Modern-day technology is increasingly disrupting traditional systems and processes like never before. The human mind is enjoying its best time by pushing the boundaries of creativity to deliver astounding innovations as emerging tech evolves further. The way we are wired to digital tech in this age of the internet would have been viewed as part of some sci-fi story a few decades ago. The ancient art of storytelling has been transforming over several years, driven by societal changes. The torchbearer of the sequential art of storytelling, comic books have undergone massive changes in the way they are produced and distributed, from their early years to the present time. As technology developed further and became progressively more affordable and powerful, comic book creation moved from analog to digital.


The traditional method of comic book creation involved a writer and team of line artists, penciler, inker, letterer, and finally, the colorist. Every word was a physical act with writing long-form by hand or on a typewriter. Editing also meant manual work using the white-out, cutting, and repasting process to edit the stories. While the work of writers and editors is largely the same, that is editing the work, checking deadlines, or writing, of course now they have digital tools to improve their productivity. It is the role of penciler, inker, colorist, and letterers that have hugely changed with the evolution of computers and technology, greatly improving the speed, output, and artistry. Modern styluses have replaced pencils and inks and modern technology has affected comics in all possible ways. Whether someone is writing and creating a comic or a company is looking to distribute them, technology has changed the ways these things used to work. The first commercially published all-digital comic was Shatter, released in 1985 and drawn in full on a Macintosh, except for the coloring. The art had pixelated images that appeared blurry and blocky, with its rigid words. Shatter was way ahead of its time in innovation and became a best seller.


Digital Age Writing, Drawing, and Coloring

The art of storytelling via comics has undergone a sea of change. In earlier days, writers were a bit more thoughtful, as it took a lot of effort to redraft stories. Now, even before the idea is cooked, something is already written on the table. The digital age writer is modernity personified, for they love a popular go-to-app for writers, Scrivener, where the idea gains the shape of a story and to make their brain work on autopilot, the writer is happily listening to a playlist on Spotify and watching random images on a slideshow. It is not unusual to get story ideas from anywhere now. In fact, the quirkier the source, the faster the brain throws great ideas. 


The modern tools that have become essential for today’s digital artists reflect the ease with which they have been adopted the world over. Dropbox allows just a click to transfer files from one device to another. Though the writers just need a laptop or desktop and a great word processing app, it is the artists who use multiple digital creation tools to optimize their time and also to deliver quality work. Earlier, the inker was the best person to uplift the penciler’s work, as it was the inker who would give proper weight to each line as well the final creative touch to the story after the penciler laid out the page and drew the initial images. Now in the digital world, it is the colorist or more suitably the illustrator who has the most artistic importance in the entire production chain. The workflow is also quite different as now the illustrator works on a low-res file, laying out panels, gestures, and framing. Flexibility is the king. Earlier, if the page was not okay, everything was redone. Now one can copy panels, avoiding starting from scratch. The process of putting words in comics is known as lettering and is an artistic skill that has been an integral part of comics since their birth. With the rise of digital lettering, great improvements are made in how captions and word balloons are rendered. The ability to change dialogue easily in the digital world, plus the uniformity and neatness of the work, meant the end of the earlier analog process of lettering. 


Clip Studio Paint is a digital painting program ideal for painting and rendering any type of illustration. The painting brush is highly customizable and easy to use. One can sketch, ink, color, create captions and word balloons, and also do line works with ease. Clip Studio Paint is strongly skewed towards the digital creation of comics and mangas. Some comic artists also follow a hybrid workflow where they begin with rough sketches using traditional pen and paper. Then they scan the work to import the art into Adobe Illustrator. The virtual artist then uses tools like pens and brushes to give more detail and ink it as well. Adobe Illustrator has an advantage over Photoshop; it uses vector art instead of pixel. Vector art lets you scale your lines so work looks great at any dimension. It allows printing at different sizes without losing the resolution. 

Apart from the new tech software, the hardware also plays an important role in modern-day art creation. With the Apple iPad Pro, 13-inch Wacom Cintiq, and a larger 22-inch Wacom Cintiq for use in the studio, the smaller device acts as the artist’s go-to device. Each device is a masterpiece of the latest digital tech, Wacom Cintiq allows one to draw as accurately as possible directly on the screen with increased size and resolution. The old-time erasers and inks are now mostly left for kids to play with! Besides, the neatness of the work, the time needed to create a page has been greatly reduced due to modern tech marvels. The times have changed and so has the art of making money with a faster turnaround.


In the age of the internet, comic books have witnessed not only innovative distribution channels but also high creativity in producing them. Webcomics, also known as online or internet comics, are published on the internet or a mobile app. Anyone with internet can publish their webcomic. They allow for a large degree of artistic freedom for their creators as well as using non-traditional styles. Webcomics are commonly made in a comic strip or printed comic book format. Many websites allow free access to these comics on the internet. For those who want to try their hand at creating comics, the web allows us to do that as well. 


Motion comics

As the internet reaches a wider audience delivering faster speeds, the earlier static image is fast shifting to moving image or video culture. More people are now watching videos on the internet, which is expected to grow exponentially in near the future. Comic books, a popular medium of entertainment, have been continuously evolving with creators looking at innovative ways to engage newer audiences. Motion comics have come a long way since their conceptual stage in the mid-1960s. The animation style in motion comics combines both the elements of print comics and animation. They do not contain text or speech bubbles. Instead, motion comics use actual voice acting and effects within expanded individual panels to illustrate a full scene. The immense popularity of new digital gadgets like iPads and tablets have led artists to further innovate sequential art of storytelling with the likes of motion comics featuring interactive styles that allow readers to control the pace of animated panels at the speed to which they are comfortable reading, giving an enjoyable and lasting experience.


Comics in the AR World

Another digital tech innovation that has captured the minds of creators as well as the digital audience are virtual and augmented reality. AR is gaining ground quickly with its ability to work with even a smartphone, enhancing both the real and virtual world. The VR one requires a headset device. AR is capable of overlaying digital content (images, sounds, text) in a real-world environment. The launch of the Pokémon Go game in 2016 made AR an instant hit and got the artist to explore AR-based comics. Modern Polaxis, a story of a time traveler, showcases AR capabilities as the future of storytelling. Fast forward to the future and we may have our favorite superheroes moving around close to us! 


Old Wine in a New Bottle

The comics as a medium of entertainment have held steadfastly against consistent onslaughts from technology. While no doubt comics have morphed with the changing times, the inner core is still the original content which is what makes it popular among the newer audiences. Just as digital art is appealing to a large section of creators and readers for scaling new heights in creativity, the perfection in digitally made comics is also eroding human sensibility to some extent. Will it be lost forever or can it be restored in some form in digital comics? The answer lies in the future.