14 January 2013

A Bent for Thrillbent

Yesterday I commented on the content of Insufferable, the online superhero story from Mark Waid, Peter Krause, and team. I was even more interested in Insufferable’s format. Waid and Krause chose to break from the demands of print publication and format their work for the iPad and other computers.

The most obvious difference, also reflected in DC Comics’s digital-first offerings, is that the “page” is aligned horizontally rather than vertically. The lettering is slightly larger than for a print comic book. Even more important is the change in what a “page turn” means. It can be a whole new set of images, as in regular comics. But it can also be the same image with a significant change:

  • more of that image than was in the frame before (as if a camera was pulling back to reveal more).
  • a new panel appearing.
  • a character’s shifting facial reaction or other change within the panel.
  • a word balloon, the “page turn” communicating a pause in the conversation.
  • captions (tweets in the case of Insufferable) filling up the screen.
  • a version of the movies’ “rack focus,” in which the foreground goes out of focus and the background becomes crisp, or vice versa.
Waid conceived of Insufferable as a way to show the potential of that new approach, and it clearly has storytelling potential.

I preferred to download the episodes of Insufferable in PDF form from Thrillbent and then read them on my iPad with the Stanza program. That reader provides a way to switch from one page to the next instantly without the “sliding” function that iPad programmers love to show off. That matters for the new types of “page turns” I list above.

Having the episodes also let me check back, not just on the story but also the underlying technique. Late in the adventure I began to feel that each installment contained less “story” than at the start. Yet each episode remained about 20 screens. That suggests either that Krause and Waid were playing more with the new page turn techniques as they got used to them, or that I was getting impatient.

ComiXology recently started selling issues of Insufferable, each containing a month of the original weekly installments. I don’t know if they differ at all from the experience of reading the Thrillbent PDFs. (ComiXology has a system for guiding the eye from one balloon or panel to the next, useful in the transition from print to digital but not seemingly needed for a comic conceived for a screen to begin with.) Those files include the sort of extras that comics fans have come to expect in collections: early sketches, creator commentary, etc.

The first storyline of Insufferable ends with the heroes once in partnership and some mysteries yet to be solved. However, one of those mysteries seems to be when the next storyline might pick up. In mid-2012, Waid also announced several more stories from other established creators and Top Cow’s “Pilot Season” program of test series would appear on Thrillbent this year. He tweeted that Insufferable would be back after a “short break.”

But as of this evening, Waid’s personal website is down. The last blog entries that appeared there and at Thrillbent in October. Thrillbent has been besieged by hackers before. I’m hoping its small staff is gearing up for a big leap ahead because the format has so much storytelling potential.

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