Pixels and Paper: Comics in the 21st Century

A panel of independent comic artists and a publisher talked about the changes technology has made to their art and publishing at the University of Maryland on Friday. Photo by Troy Price for The Writers’ Bloc.

Troy Price
Reporter

Life often imitates art. So it should come as no surprise that things got a little wacky when half a dozen of the foremost independent online comic writers got together Friday afternoon for the University of Maryland’s Pixels and Paper: Comic Art in the Digital Age panel discussion.

Clearly experts in their field, the panelists spoke positively about evolving technology and the role it plays in generating and sharing their work.

“The computer makes work look better,” said Rob Ullman, the creator of Atom-Bomb Bikini. He couldn’t have looked less like the voluptuous characters that dominate his website, but he has a sort of pragmatism and a fatherly charm they don’t possess.

Becky Dreistadt’s glasses were so thick and banana yellow, one could’ve sworn they were snatched from the face of a 1950s schoolteacher. Her slight frame and penchant for powerful colors would have fit perfectly alongside the characters of Tiny Kitten Teeth, a comic strip created by her and her partner Frank Gibson.

Questionable Content‘s creator Jeph Jacques certainly looked the part of the post-grundge slacker, complete with a baseball cap resting so low that his booming voice seemed to materialize out of nowhere.

Sally Carson, the insightful creator of Fixpert, and Holly Post of TopatoCo were less like characters in comic strips and could have joined the audience without raising suspicion.

Each panelist, except for Post, is a largely independent comic artist. Post’s company operates as a publisher/shipping hybrid for independent web comic artists, according to the company’s website.

Newer technology offers more stability and a better overall product, as computers “can do things that you could never do with paper,” Jacques said.

Each panelists’ website offers all of their comics online, both the most recent and archived ones. This use of technology and the proliferation of their work online has made getting their work printed a non-issue, they said.

While the panelists raved about the virtues of digital creating, they also lamented the process’s faults.

“There’s definitely a satisfaction that I get looking at a physical sketch, in my sketchbook, that I don’t get in finished digital photography, because it’s just pixels, it’s a file on a hard drive,” said Jacques, who had his sketchbook in front of him. “It’s still not the same as holding an original piece of art. There’s something to be said for having a physical copy of something.”

Post, a publisher, pointed out the lack of standardization among the size of web  comics. If Jacques’ comic was printed out, it would take up the entire two-person desk the comics sat at.

Technology also dictates how the web comic writers see and interact with their audience.

“The online interactions don’t feel real to me,” Gibson said. “You look at the web stats now and again, and it’s just a number. If I get an email, that’s different. A Twitter message, not so much. A note on Tumblr, worth nothing to me…When you finally meet someone in person, then it registers.”

Jacques explained it best. ” If you think about the audience, you’re doomed,” he said.

Ironically enough, each of the panelists will be doing nothing but interacting with their audience this weekend since they are all appearing in the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Md. on Saturday and Sunday.

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