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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Understanding (Online Services that Let You Build) Comics

Yesterday at comics guru Scott McCloud's website he posted a link to this video at, and asked creators their opinion.  A pretty interesting debate ensued in the comments thread, from haters, lovers, and the indifferent alike.  Bitstrips developer BA (you'll notice in the link to his profile that he is user 3!) jumped in to defend Pixton and Bitstrips as simply another tool with which to enjoy comics.  I threw in a few opinions as well as Bitstrips super-user and all-around nice guy BoomMike.

One commenter left this response to BA and mentions lo-fi web sensation XKCD:

BA: “accessible to everyone, rather than an elite few with the rare combination of talent and patience”
Yes, the elite world of webcomics, where there are absolutely no barriers of entry. Give me a break. Have you ever heard of XKCD? It has stick figures and gets like 40 million hits a month. That’s because he is a funny writer and knows his audience. I’m sure you know that, but the whole “access” angle is part of the sales pitch for your website.
If Pixton 2.0 allows people to scan in their own drawings and work with those, that might be something worth noting. This is just lame.

Here is my response:
Jesse, isn’t XKCD exactly the point? That it doesn’t necessarily matter what tools you use if the ideas, writing, and execution are solid, and you communicate effectively?
Bitstrips and Pixton are as capable of conveying a message in comics form as XKCD. It’s the user of the tools and the message created with them, not the tools themselves. If there were 10,000 stick figure strips out there (and there may be) would that diminish XKCD? I could also mention Get Your War On and Dinosaur Comics as strips with a simplified artistic approach that communicate really well.
As BA mentioned there is a high signal to noise ration on these sites, but that is largely because they serve as a clearing house offering both a creative platform and storage/hosting for the strips. Maybe not everyone wants to get a blog or develop their own site and deal with hosting/coding/etc. These sites/services do lower that particular barrier to entry.
There are are probably more bad webcomics out there than good ones created using ‘traditional’ methods, but that is no reason to question the tools used to make them.
I’ve read some really good stuff at Bitstrips (among a lot of bad stuff), and there are some extremely creative and clever creators there. I’ve watched people start simply, and become more sophisticated in their approach to their strips in both the writing and the art. I hope I’ve made some enjoyable stuff there myself., and as I mentioned I’ve learned a lot about comics from making them that I wouldn’t have learned simply by reading them.
I’ve also seen a large sector of the user base push the tools in directions I’m not sure they were initially intended and I’ve witnessed the developers respond to the needs and desires of those users. Bitstrips continues to improve, and I hope there will come a day when I can use my own custom art as part of the experience.
I work to make my characters and scenes as distinct as possible to put my own stamp on them (a constant challenge for me). And believe it or not, there are certain creators who have a ’style’ and I can often pick them out of the crowd, even with the homogenized ‘house style’ that Bitstrips currently offers. BoomMike, who commented above is one of them. These sites are really in their infancy at this point, but they will increasingly become customizable and eventually you will be able to personalize the art to the point of making it uniquely your own.

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