Friday, 30 October 2015

Deep Sequencing: Fathoming Octopus Depths

Or a look at the use of vertical height and time in Octopus Pie
by Meredith Gran

A thing I find interesting is how the limitations of a media shape the way stories are told. In the case of print comics there are obvious limits imposed by the physical nature of the product: comics are expensive to print, so that page sizes and issue lengths are dictated in part by the economics of making the thing. The physical nature of comic books also dictate that the books have sequential pages. This effects the flow of time such that it flows page to page through the comic and also adds all kinds of nifty clipping and cutting effects between pages. There are just endless ways the form of print comics effects the reading experience.

The same is true for webcomics, but in different frequently interesting ways.

In particular, I want to talk about Octopus Pie by Meredith Gran and some of the nifty things she is doing with vertical space in her comic to play with time.

Specifically, I'll be talking about this comic. While Octopus Pie has lots of fun examples of this effect, this comic is maybe the most extreme example and really emphasizes just how far this effect can be taken. You should definitely go read the thing before we get started. (I'm not going to post it here because it is giant, so please follow the link.)

Unlike print comics, which are constrained by page size, webcomics are constrained by browser resolution and the way computers navigate. Essentially webcomics have a fixed width that will fit comfortably in a browser window since scrolling sideways is weird. At the same time there is practically no vertical direction limits: scrolling up and down a page is very intuitive and easy which means that even a very tall comic feels natural and readable. Webcomics are also free of printing costs or the physical constraints of different printing formats, which means that there is no reason to be locked into a particular height of comic (except probably the time it takes to draw comics of varying lengths). What this means is that storytelling space in a webcomic can be as tall or short as a creator wants and can even vary between instalments to do some nifty comics.

Octopus Pie uses this vertical freedom to play with time. The webcomic uses space as a surrogate for time (like pretty much all comics). Due to horizontal constraints, this space-time-continuum exists mostly in the vertical direction where there are no practical limitations. In this comic Meredith Gran really stretches this space out to make a comic about routine and ennui and dealing with heart ache with time. The comic stretches, and stretches down the page with snippets of moments in a grand repetitive routine. It's really effective stuff from a purely use of space front. It is also really cool because of the tactile experience of navigating the page: such a tall webcomic requires readers to stroke trackpads or whatever making the navigating the page an actual effort, a kind of ersatz exercise that mirrors the jogging in the page. It's like the touch equivalent of using eye guiding to create emotional resonance. It's super cool comics.

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