you got a Kindle for Christmas and downloaded Ulysses for free and thought, This isn't so bad. Then you bought an iPad and a New York Times subscription and thought,
Gee, this is pretty convenient. You might even think the the reading experience is just as good or even better. But what about the mixed medium that relies on pictures as much (if not more
so) than words to tell a story? We are talking of course about comic books and graphic novels where, according to artist Frank Santoro, "the background is as much a character as anything
else." Santoro, who is best known for his Storeyville comic and the graphic novel Cold Heat, interviewed fellow graphic novelist Dash Shaw at McNally Jackson Bookstore in New
York City in April, on the occaison the release of Shaw's Bodyworld. Before Pantheon picked it up and printed it on 384 pages, Shaw published the novel as a weekly serial -- online,
complete with intricately linked maps and all the scrolling the Web entails.
Inevitably, the conversation turned to to the benefits and downsides of online publishing.
Santoro, who is a classically trained painter and has been drawing comics for 15 years, believes that the traditional book format is essential for progressing the story in this particular medium. In his work, Santoro says he uses the page break as a "hinge" that prevents the reader from scanning to the punchline too soon and gives the artist time -- and literally, space -- to develop the plot. Santoro is so attached to the page break that for an exhibit in Switzerland he created a painting in the corner of the gallery -- the corner acting as the page break.
But Shaw, who knows from experience that the process of creating a graphic novel is anything but glamorous (he spent years on his first book, Bottomless Bellybutton, rarely seeing the light of day and showing it to no one), is embracing the freedom and openness of the Internet just like so many other young artists. He says that he feels "inhibited by the rules of turning a page," and prefers constructing the story panel by panel, an allowance the never-ending scroll of a Web page offers.
Shaw published Bodyworld as "chapters" on his blog, each chapter reading as a continuous column, which, says Shaw, "allows you to follow characters and humor without interruption." On the introduction page, Shaw instructs his readers to keep another tab open on their browser as they read in order to more easily reference the novel's Epcot Center-like world, an experience that Shaw and Pantheon tried to recreate in book form with multiple fold-out sections. "It's like reading a laptop," quipped Santoro.
Whether comics are better suited to a touchscreen or paper and ink, may still be up for debate (though, both are currently in vogue) but something both of the pale, mild-mannered artists can agree on is that sharing their work - in any form -- with more people is not a bad thing. And in spite of Santoro's reservations, Cold Heat is now online (and, yes, it reads like a book).