October 15, 2012

Elsewhere: Google Doodle Motion Comics

Today's Google Doodle, those fun re-worked logos that Google uses on its search page, commemorates the 107th birthday of Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland. The strip remains one of the finest examples of the comics medium, notable for its incredible draftsmanship and its wonderfully fantastic world-building. Briefly, it's the story of Nemo, who goes on adventures in his dreams with a wacky cast of characters accompanying him (including the very regrettable racial caricature, The Imp), only to wake up at the end of each strip.

The Google Doodle is an excellent tribute to the strip, and it does a great job of getting across what's so enjoyable and enthralling about the strip: the fantasy, the imagery, the adventure, and the reliably goofy punchline at the end.  It's also an example of a phenomenon called "motion comics" (unless there's a more specific definition I'm not aware of), which is a relatively new form of narrative in which comics are presented on a screen -- so, web comics, basically -- with at least some animation incorporated into some or all of the panels.  The motion can be constant and repetitive, although I believe it is more common to have the motion unfold panel-by-panel (and also click-by-click), much like the anticipated movement of the reader's eye across the page with the direction of the narrative.

It's definitely an interesting development in the comics medium, especially considering that comics are already a transitional medium.  Motion comics bring up questions of the relationship between the cartoonist and the reader, including the tension of "controlling" the pace of the narrative.  It also fits into the ongoing question of how comics do and do not relate to film, since it's essentially an average of the two mediums.

With admittedly little experience or extended thought, I'm not a fan of motion comics.  For now, they seem like a gimmick (these Dark Horse "motion comics" are just regular old animation made with the comic book art), though it's true that gimmicks have a way of surprising curmudgeons like me with their longevity.  Considering them as a librarian, I doubt they'll be incorporated into anyone's collection budget anytime soon, if only because I don't believe they're for sale as such.  I bet they'll show up first as part of magazines' web/tablet editions and then maybe on their own as a subscription like any other e-periodical.  But, considering we're only recently getting to see still e-comics as a product that people are willing to buy, I have a feeling it'll take a while to consider the motion kind, maybe even long enough to see their demise altogether.

By the way, check out this great essay on Little Nemo at Salon.com by Douglas Wolk.

Google image copyright Google.com.

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