digital vs hand drawn comic strips

the trouble with web comics is they tend to opt for standard geometrical panel shapes + can lose a lot of the grammar developed over the history of the comic strip pertaining to the arrangement of the panels on the page – this is perhaps largely because the artist doesn’t know for sure what size or shape of screen the strip is ultimately going to be read on so it can’t be easy to decide on a layout

as a result web comic artists seem to have less mastery over timing or changes of pace than print ones.  although, as with printed media, the idea of turning a page to reveal a surprise is still the same, navigating the reader around within a page is different

also, on the subject of digital artwork, rendering a 3D scene automatically includes everything in the background whether it has any significance or not – the same problem photography has that painting doesn’t – which can result in characters blending into the background when they would normally stand out from it

generally speaking 3D modelling limits the artist to a strict mathematical perspective, + the composition of the elements in the rendered frame defaults to whatever positions they were put in in the 3D environment

hand drawn art can customise all these things: it defaults, if you like, to the artist’s imagination instead of the computer’s

1    see last month

the previous article on this site – click here to open that –  mentioned a free online comic strip about the daleks + includes numerous egs of unimaginatively shaped panels from that which were arranged unimaginatively in their original contexts as well.  a couple of examples follow of scenes rendered where extraneous detail could be said to get in the way of the message

in this case perhaps the fact that yttral is retiring to a safe distance would be clearer without all the detail between him + xenol (seen here in his new casing).  the artist only needs to depict the distance – maybe it would come across funnier if that was more extreme + more obvious, in a similar way to the second of the hand drawn panels below

lois-lane-118-strange-adventures-173-large(c) DC 1972 + 1965

these are not very good examples – there must be a better one of the classic lois + clark ground to air conversation out there somewhere but hopefully it illustrates the point about the representation of distance between characters being clearer with no extraneous detail in the image.  the one of ilda taking out two villains with four golf balls would do that more effectively if she wasn’t on a split level floating golf course

returning to digital artwork – the pastiche of the james bond title sequence seen through a dalek eye stalk below is a great idea but surely unarguably miles over detailed

a different (disastrously inept – apologies to the artist) version follows using colour and b+w in an attempt to make the dalek stand out from both the background + the overlay


2    where’s ron turner when you need him

speaking of daleks, they have famously also been drawn by ron turner, whose strip about them could hardly be more different to a standard web comic.  his solution to the problem of drawing a story with a cast of daleks – a series of similar cones – was to get as much dynamism + expression(ism) into the layouts, panel borders, light, colour, etc as he was physically able to pack in.  if the characters don’t bend, the lighting, the camera angles + the panel borders have to

page layouts

his most frequently used one (or at least the format that most clearly says ‘ron turner’ if the stats don’t bear that out) seems to be four rows of panels (usually numbering nine altogether) with a circular one in the middle of the third row down
ron-turner-page-layoutpanel borders

these are usually either parallel to the left + right edges of the comic or the top + bottom edges, seldom both, + are frequently flowing curves as in the example below

ron-turner-curved-border-editthis + ensuing images (c) city magazines 1966

note the thunderbolt bottom edge on panel 2: another technique used regularly by ron turner to get the page to spark into action.  an example of the circular panels mentioned above follows along with a different thunderbolt

ron-turner-circle-and-thunderbolthe also ramps up the impact of the action on the readers’ retinas by using overlapping images.  these suggest an urgency + virtual simultaneity that you don’t get when the action is shown happening in a discrete sequence of closed boxes.  his characters frequently reach out of the panel borders
ron-turner-overlapping-panel-borders-detailnote minimal border on panel 2 above

ron-turner-alternate-bordersat this point it ought to be said that in common with a lot of artists ron turner tends to alternate panels with borders with those without, usually in the middle of the page (see above).  if the only significance of the border is to subdivide events he tends to omit unnecessary ones

the most extreme egs of these last two points are where space ships + missiles stick right out of the comic at the reader (see below – 3d artists take note).  + while we’re on this subject, his vehicle designs are one of the most attractive things about his artwork – a glorious machine being used for a few weeks only until the story needs a new one (+ that turns out to be another design classic)
ron-turner-machinery finally an example of a full page (text boxes omitted) is shown below

note few parallel edges anywhere + also the camera angles:

ron turner was the sergio leone of the comic strip, cutting from eg very high long shots to close ups of faces, + in this case making a scene with two daleks talking + moving slightly closer to each other as dynamic as possible by extreme changes of angle

the dalek in the distance operating the telescope in panel 6 is shown in a medium close up from the reverse angle in panel 9.  we’re looking almost straight down their eyeline, but still just to the left of it so the change is not quite 180 degrees.  as the emperor has moved nearer to the telescope the angle needs to be high anyway to get them both in, but remember the tv series would probably have had them standing next to each other in front of a monitor, so even though the change of angle has a practical reason for it, by opting for a giant telescope in a room the size + shape of the one he’s put it in the artist must also have been bearing in mind his options for wildy different camera positions to show all that


going back through the egs above: note there are sharp shadows everywhere, lit often from below (whether there is a light source there or not), which is a fairly standard way of lighting villains (a sophisticated version of holding a torch under their faces to make them look spooky) + it gets applied frequently to the daleks themselves

3    alternative second empire framing sequence

in the light of the preceding examination of a printed dalek strip a few (even more disastrously inept – apologies to absolutely everyone) altered panel sequences from the digital one follow
second-century-21this (unnecessary) exercise (or mutant hybrid fail which may have caused ron turner to spin in his grave) was intended to demonstrate how much improvement is possible for online comics if they learn from an old master’s framing techniques

4    second empire

note the point of this article is to examine the difference between hand drawn + 3D digitally rendered art – it is not trying to suggest that one of the strips discussed is less successful the other (they’re difficult to compare because they have surprisingly little in common)

second empire is well worth a read + is not merely a run of the mill cut + paste exercise in lifting characters + designs from elsewhere for a derivative watered down version of someone else’s tv show, or (in short) fan fiction

the artist:

a) expresses his (or her) own sense of humour (the spies are all cleaners, there’s a lot of detail about paint) which is not present in the source material

+ b) understands a genre (war comics) well + writes in it to a high standard, including tactical exposition which makes sense; weaving issues of comradeship, courage, duty, etc into the story; depicting the highs + lows of victory + defeat

these are the threads which carry the reader’s attention + engage their feelings (the scene where one of the characters finally gets to drive the transport but his section leader isn’t listening is genuinely moving).  second empire is a funny SF strip on the surface but its heart (the force that drives the plot + motivates the characters) is in another genre

there are only as many as three additional minor negative points that could be made about this strip

(i)    the exterior lighting is nearly always great but the interiors can look slightly unnatural, like there is ambient light where there wouldn’t be any, or something is very brightly lit with no obvious light source anywhere in the room

the unnaturalistic use of light + shadow is part of ron turner’s aesthetic + thus works well when he does it – when it’s noticeable in second empire it comes across like an error with the software

(ii)    agent 700 uses a radio similar to the one that appears in the logo used for this website.  anonymous digital modellers who come up with similar radio designs + publish them online probably ought to show some solidarity + stick together, but mine is clearly superior

(iii)    avoid the animated versions of second empire

the voice acting is terrible – it sounds like the animators doing it – which is daft when you think of all the actual actors there are about who could have been asked to record themselves + email the .wav to the director

if you accidentally happen to see the start of one of these you’ll notice immediately the difference between something that works perfectly well as a comic + a movie adaptation where it doesn’t

(has that happened before anywhere?)

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