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What digital technology does to comics

  • 1 This reflection was developed within the framework of the Sinergia project "Reconfiguring Comics in (...)

Special issue edited by Gaëlle Kovaliv and Olivier Stucky1

Argument

As a form of expression whose essential property is to deploy a temporal sequence in a graphic space, comics are sensitive to the publication media for which they are designed. As the media landscape evolves, the diversification of media supports leads comics to constantly reinvent themselves and redeploy into new forms (Robert 2018). Since the end of the 1990s, the progression of a digital offer of comics, the formal options taken by these productions as well as the professional and economic networks they engage (cf. Baudry 2018), revive the reflection on the identity of the medium. Moreover, the studies of comics, mostly inscribed in the field of the humanities, are themselves being disrupted by the increasingly marked influence of practices stemming from the digital humanities. As a cultural object, comics, in their forms of production as well as reception, are thus affected by the digital episteme of our 21st century.

This theme is an extension of the conference "Transfer, Reconfiguration and Digital Transition in Graphic Narratives" which was held in Lausanne in October 2021. It raises the question of the constantly renegotiated cultural identity of a medium that never ceases to evolve and proposes to specifically question the contributions and influences of digital technologies, while studying how they have profoundly modified the modes of production, distribution and consumption of graphic narratives. In particular, it is a question of examining the way in which digital tools allow us to rethink the relationship with albums, whether it be from the point of view of reading, distribution or the safeguarding of works (axis 1). It is also possible to study contemporary forms of natively digital comics, with a particular interest in the way they interact (or not) with this new type of material support (axis 2). Finally, a last perspective is devoted to the way in which digital tools allow us to re-interrogate the media identity of comics by considering works that deviate from the forms that were considered prototypical until then (axis 3).

These complementary and non-exhaustive axes concern, a priori, works that are part of different temporalities (proto-comics, golden age of the album, contemporary digital productions) but these temporal boundaries, loose and voluntarily blurred, are called to be exceeded. In the same way, researchers interested in the theme also have the possibility of proposing articles that concern the general theme of the effects of digital technologies on the medium of the comic strip, without fitting resolutely into one of these three axes.

Axis 1: Insights and contributions of digital technologies on printed comics

Comics are considered here in the confrontation with digital technology. In other words, the aim of this axis is to study what digital tools bring to the printed comic book, from the point of view of its distribution, its conservation and its reading, whether it is considered as a recreational or scholarly activity. Photo-digitization tools thus allow the constitution of vast collections that can be exploited in various ways. In a commercial approach, digital tools can be used in the perspective of a diffusion associated with new modalities of reading (re)thought for the screen. One will think, for example, of the platforms of diffusion of digitized albums (Izneo, BDBuzz, ComiXology, etc.) whose economic model, the historical positioning or the logic of their reading software offer various tracks of reflection concerning the status that printed comics occupies in the paradigm of the digitization of cultural objects. The exploitation of such corpuses can be put at the service of a great diversity of research activities, thus participating in modifying the knowledge of printed comics. As an example, we will mention the crossing of these digitized corpora with other computer tools in order to renew our understanding of the optical and cognitive mechanisms involved in the reading of printed plates (eye-tracking) or to allow the interpretation of editorial phenomena through statistical data processing (remote viewing). Finally, from a patrimonial point of view, photo-digitization can allow to preserve and make accessible a digitized memory of the printed comic strip, thus allowing the safeguarding and the patrimonialization of comic strips published on printed supports, which raises new stakes in the constitution of the History as well as the understanding of the medium. The possible avenues of interdisciplinary research, which mix digital devices and comics, are varied and should be multiplied in the years to come.

Axis 2: Digital publication media and evolution of narrative forms

The third axis considers how the emergence of digital formats has transformed the nature of graphic narratives. This axis may include the analysis of experimental comics produced exclusively for screen reading, resulting in the appearance of new features previously external to the definition of the medium (interactivity, animation, soundtrack, augmented reality effects, etc.) or the disappearance of other features previously considered essential (tabular articulation between panels, spatio-topia of the board, etc.). Analyses could also focus on more standardized formats, such as blogs, "TurboMedia" and Instagram stories, possibly including formats specific to different cultural areas (digital comics, webtoons, etc.). We may also ask to what extent the interdependence between these digital formats (which make it possible to make a work known) and the subsequent publication of works in analog format (which make it possible to make the production profitable and to legitimize it culturally) leads to a formatting of comics. Analyses may focus as much on the new narrative forms linked to the characteristics of digital media as on the way in which these graphic narratives redefine the profession of comic book authors and publishers, the aesthetic experience of readers, and the evolving identity of the medium.

Axis 3: Archaeology of comics forms on the margins of the printed book

The digital publication of comics and the forms which result from it invite to re-interrogate the theoretical and historical foundations on which the identity of the medium rests. This media identity is indeed based on the long-accepted idea that comics maintain a quasi-natural relationship with print. From then on, the contemporary digital manifestations of the medium seem to contradict some of the criteria of definition most deeply anchored in the scholarly discourse, from the spatial disassociation of the boxes to the addition of materials of expression going beyond the fixed image and the written text (sound, animated images, etc.). Rather than questioning the belonging of such objects to the territory of the comics, this "archaeological" axis aims rather at reconstructing a genealogy allowing to explain the resurgence of forms judged a priori foreign to the language of the comic strip, and to question the devices of mediation situated outside the domain of the printed book: magic lantern, slides, magazines, etc.

Submission

This call for papers is open to all researchers, regardless of their status and origin. We invite them to respond by submitting two papers:

  • A short bio-bibliographical note.

  • An anonymous abstract of maximum 3000 characters, including spaces. This abstract will present the theoretical position and the corpus selected, as well as the main conclusions expected.

The proposals will be evaluated anonymously by the editorial board of the journal: its acceptance will be considered as encouragement and suggestions for an article of between 25,000 and 50,000 characters, including spaces. It should be sent before May 1, 2022 to the following e-mail addresses: gaelle.kovaliv@unil.ch / olivier.stucky@unil.ch

Full papers are due October 1, 2022.

Abstracts and full papers may be written in English or French.

References

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Notes

1 This reflection was developed within the framework of the Sinergia project "Reconfiguring Comics in our Digital Era", funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF: CRSII5_180359).

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