Friday, 6 November 2015

Deep Sequencing: Motion!? Comics!?

Or a quick look at the use of gifs in Three Panel Soul,
by Matthew Boyd and Ian McConville;

Three Panel Soul is the child/continuation of a comic I have been reading for years. When I first started reading webcomics, before I was even really reading print comics, I read Machall. Machall was a comic about a bunch of geeks living together in a dorm building. It was perfectly timed, because I was enjoying it at the moment in my life when I... would have been living in a dorm if it wasn't way too expensive and if student debt didn't terrify me. (But I was at university at least.) Anyway, Three Panel Soul is the comic by the people behind Machall and follows their adventures as grown men with families and careers, as well as telling tangential comics about Jo, the charming world of warcraft sorceress who works in HR, and Death, the Grim Reaper who enjoys tabletop gaming. It's familiar and nostalgic and fun and well made. I quite like it.

You can read it here.

Machall is also another web based comic that is starting to play with animated gifs in its sequential art storytelling. And, unlike a lot of comics that make questionable choices with their gifs, 3 Three Soul nails it.

The thing about animation in online comics for me is that when gifs are used to just jerkily animate the characters in the comic it is super tacky. It becomes this needless, distracting movement that takes away from the story or joke being conveyed. And, I mean, if a gif is being used to simply animate a character, it's probably a sign that the comic isn't doing a great job conveying motion or character. Where gifs become pretty cool (or at least more palatable) is when they don't take away from the surrounding artwork and provide some storytelling element that static comics cannot.

Which is why I really like this Three Panel Soul selection. Ceiling fans are wonderfully atmospheric things that sell a certain schlubby, backroom mystique. The thing about ceiling fans is that they don't really work in comics: their essential nature is a highly symmetrical, rapid movement that I don't think translates to static drawings. By using an animated gif Team Three Panel manages to capture the essence of the ceiling fan in a way that instantly sells the feeling of a down-at-heels nerd space. It's great.

(I'd also like to point out that the fan being below the dialogue bubbles helps ground it into the artwork and make it part of the composition. It's an important choice that helps make the panel feel cohesive. Another great thing here is the fan has a naturally looped motion, it makes sense to see the same motion over and over and over. More idiosyncratic gifs, where a character does an action, look really stupid after like, the fifth repetition you see. The use of the fan here shows great comics chops but also just, like, good taste.)

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