Enhancing Web Comics Reading Pleasure
By Hervé St-Louis
June 9, 2008 - 22:15
As you enter the comic book store, you smell the old rank smell of newsprint accumulated after years by the establishment’s owner. Leaving the neighbourhood store, you pack your comic books in a plastic bag, although a paper one would be more environmental-friendly. Arriving home, you remove the comic book from the plastic bag and at once the smell of ink attacks your sense of smell. You know you’re about to read a comic book and you are already relaxing and seeking a quiet place. Sadly enough it’s hard to replicate such experience with a Web comic book, or is it?
One aspect of the Web comics that is easily forgotten by creators and producers is that the online experience of the reader is as important as the making a Web comic easy to read. Reading a comic book should always be a pleasant experience. Whereas the reader can control the environment where he will read a printed comic book, he needs a little help online.
Surveying some of the many Web sites hosting Web comics, I realized that their clean Web 2.0 interfaces were not helping me connect with the comic books they desperately want me to read. Let’s take a look at Zuda Comics produced by DC Comics. Zuda Comics is a Web portal sporting a white and grey interface that is as modern as anything Web 2.0. In fact Zuda Comics even offers some crowdsourcing tools allowing visitors to vote for their favourite comic strips. Zuda Comics uses the intelligence gathered by crowds of readers to determine what comic book will win its monthly competitions.
The comic books featured on Zuda Comics are all integrated within an Adobe Flash player that allows viewers easy navigation and page changes. Yet, I’m still not sold on the Zuda Comics experience because although it has basic crowdsourcing tools, clean navigation and a lot of material to view, it has no ambiance.
Zuda Comics’ designers and those of many other Web comic portals and Web sites have not figured out that ambiance and environment are also part of a comic book reader’s experience. When I’m in the mindset of reading a Web comic strip, I’m not in the mindset of having a Facebook session with friends. Zuda Comics reminds me more of Facebook and all those Web 2.0 communities than a comic book portal encouraging me to read a comic strip.
Why, you ask do I care so much about ambiance and environments on what is essentially an electronic form of entertainment? I will answer by another question. Why do you care about the menus of the DVD films that you purchase?
When we purchase a DVD collection, one of the first things we experience is the DVD introduction and menus. Often our appreciation of the DVD package will be poor, if the menus are not entertaining. The fact that the movie, along with the extras are the most desirable parts of the DVD, is not relevant. If the menus and the packaging are poor and not interesting, we will feel that the experience and the entertainment values offered by the DVD are poor. It doesn’t matter if the film within is our favourite.
When I purchased the Bourne Identity trilogy, containing the Bourne Supremacy and the Bourne Ultimatum, all three movies were packaged in a silver coated box. Inside fake passport and a spy kit contained all discs. The extensive packaging of the Bourne Identity DVD set is but the entry into an environment designed to entertain viewers. Although not necessary, just like video game trailers or iPod rubber skins, it packages and I would argue, it sugar-coats something that is designed only to entertain.
On the opposite, when I go to Zuda Comics and many other Web comics sites, they separate the Web site experience from the actual comic book. If Web comics’ portals and others which offer a variety of different comic strips by many creators are to succeed, they will have to sugar-coat their environments with customized skins that will reinforce the mood of and themes of the comic book. If they don’t, they will simply look like any other generic Web 2.0 Web site vying for my attention. I and many other Web comics’ readers don’t have enough attention span for that.
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