Boiling Spacetime: How Time Works In The Graphic Novel

February 20th, 2013 | comics talk

I’m friends with a futurist named Jamais Cascio, and he had occasion early in 2010 to meet a very eminent scientist and author. As these people do, they got to talking about The Future, and a scenario was described wherein Type III civilisations would have the technology to “boil spacetime,” creating or accessing a new universe for itself or even returning to the beginning of the universe in order to have all of time over again to live in.

Me and all our friends were running around yelling BOILING SPACETIME for several months.

Grant Morrison once described for me – and this is back around 1989 – his experience of discovering, while in the grip of severe entheogenic refreshment, that a comic is an entire spacetime continuum, capable of replay, non-linear access and chronological isolation.

Comics boil spacetime.

This is metatextual gibberish intended to prime your brain for what is next.

Time in comics is completely elastic.

Dialogue can slow down the experiencing of a page. (Frank Miller once said, possibly in EISNER/MILLER, that when he wants to slow the reader down he just starts the characters talking.) But your control of time begins with panelling and space.

Japanese comics read very fast because they have very few panels a page and those panels generally contain little visual information. Occidental comics are often too dense for the Japanese to enjoy. (I was told the same thing by my handlers when I was writing outlines for Japanese animated series.) There’s a thing I love in manga, though: every now and then, you’ll find a panel knocked out to bleed at (say) top, left and right. Leaving the framework of gutter and margins. And it creates a complete stillness, a frozen moment that you live in for a little longer.

There’s a scene in Bryan Talbot’s LUTHER ARKWRIGHT where the protagonist slows down the time perception of a group of men in order to kill them more efficiently. He breaks each page down into a couple of dozen panels, showing movement in staccato increments. The sequence is entirely silent, but because there are so many panels, with actual information in each, you experience the sequence almost as slowly as do the targetted men in the story.

I’ve seen comics that have run two different timestreams on the same page. Recursive comics. Pages containing flashbacks to three different timeframes as well as moving forward in the present while making complete sense. Chris Ware did a famous short comic in RAW that featured several different historical periods in the same room in the same page while maintaining a linear story flow. Kevin Huizenga will turn a suburban stroll into a multi-linear history tour and then tie all the lines back together without losing you for a moment.

The point being: you’re not locked to one minute per page, like a screenplay. You can make time run so fast that the reader thinks that your comic has been injected into their eyeball, or so slow and heavy that the reader feels like you’ve boiled a doorstop novel into some condensed informational substrate.


December 6th, 2012 | comics talk

Which is a pulp-style Weird Crime comic by award-winning creator Francesco Francavilla.

Click through here for full size.  Click over here to learn more.

How To Sell A Digital Comic

October 4th, 2012 | comics talk

This is a grid of covers from i-D magazine.

I took this screenshot off the i-D magazine website.  It’s not a great way to display their covers.  And it’s obviously a little bit reduced here.  They cropped the damn covers into squares themselves, so the logo is truncated in almost all images.  That said, this is their own website, so they’re not trying to tell you what the magazine is or anything.  But have a look at that, and then have a look at this:

Front page of Comixology on the iPad.  The cover images are actually bigger than the ones in the i-D screenshot.  I shot this at random, having thought about it while flicking through the new releases.

Now, how do these covers work, reduced to smaller size and mixed together like this?

On the understanding that none of these images have been optimised for the Comixology shopping UI.  And, therefore, that if anything works here, it’s by dumb luck.

In tiny little box form, many of those i-D covers are more visually legible/parseable than the comics covers.

I can’t even make out some of the logos here.  Thank god for the handy text underneath each one.  Although I’d have to click through to discover what those CHAMPIONS OF TH are actually champions of.

EVIDENCE: nobody optimises their covers for Comixology. 

Why?  God only knows.  My presumption is that big important publishers can’t spare a person to do the cutting or create a workflow that creates a thumbnail image suitable for the Comixology app.  A zoom-in on part of the cover, or even clipping a bold image from the inside, and getting an optimised version of the logo on it…. apparently that’s too much work.  Most publishers simply don’t want digital sales enough.  It’s the usual assumption of “if you build it, they will come."  Which is why digital sales on monthly books are still (I am told) no more than a fifth of print sales.

LESSON: five minutes’ work will get you a thumbnail that works better in the Comixology store than 95% of the covers around you.

You’re welcome.

The Power Of Design

October 1st, 2012 | comics talk


Yes, very good, Grant and Darick.  Very good.

SPACEGIRL And Why Your Funny Webcomics Bore Me

October 1st, 2012 | comics talk

I’ve mentioned Travis Charest’s SPACEGIRL here a couple of times over the years.


I loved the idea of SPACEGIRL. Newspaper humour strips transferred to (and were exploded/deconstructed by) the web, but the old drama strips… not so much. SPACEGIRL was just the daftest thing in the world to do – revive the newspaper science fiction strip serial, and not even do it on a daily basis — and I loved it for that.

If I knew anyone who’d fit it and would do it for free, I’d do one here on the site like a shot. (Or at least as soon as I thought of one.) Give it its own category. It’d still be nigh on impossible to read back effectively. But, you know, what the fuck. You do it for the idea. It’s nice when ideas are pretty and so simple the cat can operate them. But it’s not always necessary.

I did actually talk to a friend, in 2010, about trying just this.  I think I wrote 15 panels to be going on with.  That friend’s life got crazy and difficult soon after, and it never happened.  (I never pushed, either, as they had quite enough going on without adding this to it!)


So I’ve been thinking about the newspaper adventure strip, that superquick blast of art spectacle and an idea. Which, as I said on Whitechapel, didn’t seem to convert to the web so well because it’s a form that finds it harder to capture eyeballs than the humour form.

And then I thought, on the other hand, if something like that was nested, as it was in a newspaper, inside a blog that already had a daily audience…

And then I thought, well, a proper and useful newspaper-width strip is actually a bit wide for a blog, which tend to containerise inside 600, 700 pixels or so. And maybe it’s the concept and intent of the thing that matter, not slavish replication of the physical object, because this is after all the web and we don’t have no laws or wear no stinkin badges and all that. Maybe your "strip" is the size of a card CD sleeve, or a horizontal half of a manga page, or (name your own).

SPACEGIRL, in some ways, is a pure descendant of the likes of FLASH GORDON. A single beat of plot or action in a beautiful science fiction illustration. And on a daily basis that’s really all you need to provide in a single instalment — something lovely, that frames a nice little idea. Makes pleasant electrical things happen in your brain for a moment. So you come back tomorrow to get that button pressed again. And, if the creator(s) is (are) lucky, you stick around long enough to see that this cascade of little sparkles are actually strung together with auctorial intent, and it assembles into something that’s bigger than the sum of its parts.

SPACEGIRL publishes at a width of 860px, which is why it looks a little squashed here.

As I may have mentioned – I know I mentioned it on Twitter – a couple of friends of mine are planning a newspaper-adventure-strip for the web, and I’m sick with jealousy.  Not least because, as noted above, I Had A Plan Damnit, years ago, and I don’t get to play.

Warren can be shouted at about being crazy or cryptic @warrenellis or

But, honestly, wouldn’t it be nice if a bunch of people started to bring strange ideas and new thinking to the dramatic form, in a low-impact serialised form like this?  What if, just for the hell of it, the next 18000 webcomics weren’t about funny animals or core nerd wanking?

On second thought, hey, that’s not going to happen.  And webcomics are a very important venue: as George Burns said about vaudeville, it’s the place the kids go to be lousy.  It’s a learning space, and a play space.  It’s important that it remains that way.  But no-one could change that if they wanted to, and but it shouldn’t be just that.

Wouldn’t this be a demented, lovely, quixotic thing?  If a bunch of people said fuck all you people who do nothing but newspaper comedy strips on the web, we’re going to do newspaper dramatic strips and do crazy stuff.

Obviously, that’s what my friends are going to do.  But I wish more of you would join them.  I’d dearly love a bunch of new panels to read every day, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.