since Richard Felton Outcault's
The Yellow Kid appeared way back
in 1896, comics have been a popular
form of entertainment. A compromise
between print and television, they appear
in all shapes and forms, from three-panels
such as Garfield and Peanuts
to graphic novels, which are more akin
to movies in print.
- The quickfire entertainment aspect
of comics means they are often ideal
for the Web. For JohnJohn.co.uk's creative
director Christine Boulanger comics
are an international language, and can
replace hundreds of words that people
don't have time to read. "When
properly used they are a great way of
communicating to many people in a short
space of time."
- Predictably, many online comics were
initially little more than scans of
syndicated strips. Many had their own
websites that would offer supporting
features to increase traffic. Due to
the early demographic of Web users,
niche-oriented strips, such as Scott
Adams' Dilbert, did particularly well,
later even making animated appearances
ARE A GREAT WAY TO MAKE PEOPLE DROOL
AND COME BACK FOR
MORE ON COMMERCIAL SITES"
The Web also enables individual creatives
an outlet. One of the biggest success
stories is JP "llliad" Frazer's
User Friendly, which chronicles the
adventures of a small internet service
provider. Initially intended to be a
one-month run of cartoons, it rapidly
gained an online following and after
many pleading emails Frazer was convinced
to continue creating new cartoons. They
have now been produced daily for over
- This method of achieving online support
for comics also paid dividends for Lightmaker's
Herman comic, which originally started
out as the company's corporate mascot,
appearing in a few screensavers. "The
development of hermanshomepage.com was
basically a response to our clients'
and children's fascination with the
character," says sales and marketing
manager Robert Noble.
- Littleloud's chief producer David
Jacklin suggests this sort of direct
response, along with the low cost involved
in producing Web comics, means the medium
can be exploited all the more. "Because
comics enable anyone to publish work,
there is loads of great stuff that would
never have seen the light of day on
television or in print," he says.
"The pace of production also tends
to be faster online - meaning it's a
medium for amazing ideas."
- Scott McLoud is one such comics creator
who takes this idea to the extreme.
For one hour each morning, he improvises
a panel or two until a story is complete.
The Morning Improved section ofwww.scottmccloud.com
documents his progress with bizarre
comics such as The Parallelogram's Revenge
and Man-Eating Shoes.
ARE A GREAT WAY OF COMMUNICATING TO
MANY PEOPLE IN A SHORT SPACE OF TIME"
Christine Boulanger, JohnJohn.co.uk
"The Internet brings back the punk
rock DIY days of small press comics,"
says Dan Whitehead from Cool Beans,
the producers of the strip Cool Beans
World. "Uploading new chapters
to our site costs us the same if ten
or 10,000 people read them. Traditional
comics are often strangled by the cost
of production and distribution, but
with the Internet you can reach a global
audience, and it costs less to make
than a small, local run of a printed
- It's no surprise then that more and
more artists and writers are turning
to the Internet to publish their work,
but of course, there are more advantages
to the Web than easy distribution.
- By using Flash and the inherent capabilities
within multimedia, comics can be brought
to life. "Usually there is a wide
gulf between comics, animation and movies,"
says Cool Beans writer Pat Mills. "Cyber
comics and animation closes the gap
by adding movement and sound."
- JohnJohn.co.uk director Benoit Viellefon
believes the Web can also remove the
most irritating problems of printed
comics. "Instead of having many
frames on the page, you can have just
one, and build your comic rather like
a cartoon. This prevents the reader
from accidentally glancing at the end
of a story before reading it all, which
is massively useful when it comes to
- He suggests that an entirely new dynamic
is being created, as comics creators
get to grips with animation and sound.
"We're seeing the emergence of
an Internet type of 'film' that's half-way
between storytelling, comics, cartoons
- Kerb director Jim McNiven agrees.
For him it's as much to do with economics
as style. "Comics have to be exciting
and full of motion without the luxury
of animation and so are drawn in a dynamic
- When you transfer this ethos to online
animations, you can save time by using
similar shortcuts. The likes of speed
lines and crash zooms give people the
feeling of action with very little work.
If you're using a vector package such
as Flash, these are easy to execute,
just requiring a bit of scaling."
- Depending on your methods, online
comics can also be a cost-effective
means of producing material. As David
Jacklin says, "Littleloud creates
animation for both online use and conventional
advertising campaigns. We've recently
started work on various projects, which
are primarily positioned for TV, but
due to the technology we use for development,
they will also be available online."
THE INTERNET EVOLVES INTO, COMICS
WILL BE THERE"
Dan Whitehead, Cool Beans
Cool Beans' production process also
means it can move seamlessly between
different media. Having started life
as Web-based comics, several of its
properties are now being prepared for
release as graphic novels, and others
as full-length CGI movies.
- Lightmaker's Robert Noble thinks that
this is only possible thanks to the
unique nature of online comics, "Our
recent work with PC Pepper can be delivered
cross platform on Web, TV, PDA, mobile
phone and also in the more traditional
- Despite all these positive aspects,
online comics sometimes remain a hard
pitch, particularly in the UK. "The
British mostly consider comics to be
childish, unlike in mainland Europe,
Japan and the USA," says Benoit
Viellefon. "This means most of
the innovative online comics will probably
come from outside the UK." He hopes
that the popularity of online comics
will destroy the prejudice that they
are merely for children and nothing
- Bart Croonenborghs, multimedia designer
at The Independents, agrees, suggesting
that comics are "a great way to
make people drool and come back for
more on commercial sites. Even banners
might be cool if they were online comics."
One thing's for certain - the potential
of online comics cannot be ignored.
With technology evolving at such a jaw-dropping
speed, the scope for this medium continues
to grow rapidly. "Online comics
will continue to have a huge amount
of promise," says Benn Achilleas,
Future Visions' director, "They
can be a passive or interactive story,
a game, and a learning resource all
rolled into one."
- In fact, a true level of interactivity
is almost certainly the next step. This
will undoubtedly bridge the gap between
games and traditional comics. "We're
working on systems that will allow us
to produce branched storylines, where
the reader can choose their own path
through the comic," says Dan Whitehead.
"This will enable you to see events
from a different perspective each time."
- David Jacklin agrees. "There's
a big scope for interactive comics,
both for the Web and IDTV," he
says. "Users should expect to be
able to engage with the work, participating
in storylines and outcomes, and be able
to access extra scenes, information,
facts or humour, depending on the production."
- "The possibilities are endless,"
says Dan Whitehead. "Whatever the
Internet evolves into, comics will be
there. More powerful PDAs will make
online comics on the move a reality,
whereas the probable merging of DVD
players, games consoles and digi-boxes
could see you reading your favourite
comics on your television. You'll be
able to join in the action scenes with
yourjoypad and listen to the writer
explain the creative process behind
it all, Comics are one of the most adaptable
forms of storytelling around. It's going
to be exciting."
- Pat Mills is also excited about the
future for comics on the Web: "The
Internet is finally taking comics out
of the doldrums, making it a cutting-edge
popular culture art form again."
As Bart Croonenborghs says, maybe it's
time to start recognising this work:
"Comics are a digital art form
- spread the word."
interviewed in Create Online magazine
issue, June 2002
- Founded in 1996 by Nick Percival
(an ex-2000AD artist) and Matt
Percival, Cool Beans Productions
enables traditional comics producers
to build on their expertise and
embrace the added opportunities
that multimedia can offer.
One of the company's main projects
is CoolBeansWorld, a dark and
gritty online comics site containing
exclusive material for subscribers.
Top writers and artists are involved,
including Simon Bisley, Mike McMahon
and 2000 AD'S creator Pat Mills.
- "We produce everything
from comedy animations and strips
to hard-edged adult horror and
sci-fi stories," says marketing
manager Dan Whitehead. "Along
with exclusive material, we also
have some that was originally
available elsewhere in printed
form, but was for some reason
overlooked at the time."
- Current projects include Scarlet
Traces, a sequel of sorts to HG
Wells' War of the Worlds, where
the Victorians have assimilated
the Martian technology into their
everyday lives, assuring the continued
dominance of the British Empire.
- Like much of the work on the
site it often moves away from
its traditional roots. "Just
scanning pages of comics and uploadingthem
doesn't make full use of the medium,"
says Whitehead. "We use animation
and sound effects to give the
reader a richer and more rewarding
experience than if they were sat
on the loo with a paper comic!"
"All of our artists come
from a traditional illustrative
background," says Kerb's
creative director Jim McNiven.
"Plus, they also tend to
share a love of comics and graphic
novels, along with having a strong
feel for character generation."
- It comes as no surprise then
that many of the company's staff
have produced their own comics.
While many of these have been
personal efforts created as a
labour of love to learn the trade,
the skills involved have undoubtedly
come in handy for Kerb itself.
- "Being able to show really
strong character illustrations
when pitching has helped us to
sell ideas where otherwise we
may have been let down by our
lack of story-writing experience,"
explains McNiven. "For instance,
our guys who have comic book illustration
skills tend to draw awesome looking
storyboards. This convinced Bravo
to commission us to produce Hellz
Kitchen, despite Kerb having only
previously done a few limited
pieces of animation on the Reading
- Other commissions have also
benefited from these skills, including
a highly illustrative animated
video for Dave Stewart, and a
Kerb-produced comic that is currently
being adapted for television.
"The dynamic style of comics
lends itself to animation and
print," says McNiven. "So
it enables you produce work that
can be easily adapted for many
different forms of media."
- Comics are a major influence
in JohnJohn.co.uk's innovative
style, as director Benoit Viellefon
explains: "When I first saw
Flash, I thought it was the perfect
tool for me. I began building
highly animated sites, but bandwidth
restrictions meant I had to be
careful, so I mixed animation
with a comic book-style approach."
- He created the company's simple
yet memorable style with creative
director Christine Boulanger.
"Most so-called innovative
design on the Web was in-your-face
science-fiction," says Boulanger,
"We were concerned about
the global lack of humour and
freshness, so created two smiling
characters performing silly choreography
on our home page."
- The BBC noticed its novel stance
and asked them to create a Christmas
calendar with an animated GIF
for each day. "Instead, we
suggested a series of Flash animations,"
says Viellefon. "These were
half way between a comic strip
and cartoon, in order to be more
dynamic. The site's traffic doubled
while they were online."
Since then, the company has also
worked on Flash films for broadcast
with Nickelodeon, under the direction
of Bomb productions. "We
created storyboards, characters
and animations, and wrote the
music," says Viellefon.
- A knowledge of comics has been
an advantage. "We remain
innovative within the English
market, partly due to the total
lack of knowledge of comics in
this country," says Boulanger.