Immersive, tactile, audible and augmented: digital comics are a new space for experimentation, for creators and readers alike. These innovative works will be showcased starting in February in the Machine a Bulles (Bubble Machines) exhibition, presented as part of the "Comics 2020: France loves the 9th art” year. Conversation with Colombine Depaire, exhibition curator.
Can you tell us about how you discovered comics?
As a child, I always had my nose in my father's comic books and children’s magazines. I read Tintin, Asterix, The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, Tom-Tom et Nana... Studying publishing introduced me to the sector from a professional perspective. And it was while promoting comics as part of my work at the French Publisher’s Agency in New York that I discovered an abundance of emerging authors, as well as my calling to work in cultural promotion. I organised the French Comics Framed festival in 2016. That led me to launch my agency Picture This!, which specialises in events for graphic literatures.
What is France’s role in the innovative and digital comics scene?
France has always been a pioneer when it comes to comics. In particular, its authors long ago embraced comic blogs, which are very popular on social media. But “digital comics” refers more broadly to any comic which uses a multimedia approach to experiment with new forms. They add sound and animation, and the authors offer new ways of reading, allowing readers to choose their pace. Of course, France is not the only country working in this field: in the United States, “webcomics” have been around for a long time, and in Asia they have “webtoons” which use vertical scrolling – a very popular format in Korea and Japan.
Does creating using a digital medium change the illustrations?
I'm not sure that digital technologies change the illustrations themselves. They mainly influence the relationships between the creators and the readers, which are now very direct. Screens are a springboard for cartoonists who are exploring multimedia approaches while reinventing the conventions of the art form. Today, the new generation of authors have been trained in the use of both traditional and digital tools, so that contemporary comics are influenced by hybrid formats.
How important are these digital forms within the comic book ecosystem, artistically, editorially and economically?
There is a real energy to the experimental approach and many very original creations. These arise primarily from the authors’ research, their desire to express themselves and to use the properties of digital technologies to tell stories. But, for the time being, there isn’t much of an economic model. Few publishers are investing in it, other than through digital marketing. This creates digital experiences which can sometimes be interesting, but which nevertheless aren’t the "heart" of the work. For example, Delcourt Editions are producing some games based on their catalogue. Some publishers are betting on original creations, such as Dupuis with their Webtoon Factory, but most are instead encouraging on-screen reading of digitised comics. Izneo, which offers both a website and mobile apps, is convenient, but the comics they post online nevertheless remain more pleasant to read on paper. Truly digital creation receives more support from the media and public institutions, which promote innovative works designed specifically for screens. The publishers often produce printed adaptations of the most popular digital creations instead.
The Machines à Bulles (Bubble Machines) exhibition presents 24 of these digital comics. How were they selected?
The idea is to offer a fairly broad panorama of French works in this field, bringing together works primarily intended for teenagers or young adults and which have some innovative element in their form, through using a particular type of scrolling, being interactive, etc.
The exhibition is divided into two parts: the first brings together works in dialogue with other artistic disciplines, such as Instatraviata which combines Instagram and opera, or Blacksad, a video game adaptation of a series of crime comics about animals; the second part focuses on historical narratives, from tales of the Gauls to speculative fiction, including You, Robot which depicts the coexistence of humans and robots.
Do you have any particular favourites?
Of course, I love Un pas fragile, which is an interactive short story about a frog who wants to become a ballerina; Walled in Berlin, a docufiction about the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall published on Instagram; Le Grand Méchant Renard, an app where you're the hero; and Le Secret des cailloux qui brillent, which follows the quest of a heroine with her magic stone.
Do digital comics have a bright future?
The lack of an economic model is a problem, and digital comics are likely to remain marginal if they don’t receive more support. At the same time, however, we are witnessing an explosion of crossovers between comic strips and animation (video games, cinema, web series, etc), not to mention the rise of narratives being published on social media which are designed specifically for that medium. This issue of distribution is a big one, and it is the subject of a lot of research: there are teams currently working on a free and open digital format: Divina - the equivalent of epub for books. The first work in this format, Bravery, was launched at Angouleme in January.
Looking at the creative side, increasingly simple and flexible digital tools which make it possible to work, for example, on animation or transition effects will certainly help. Authors will no longer have to worry about technical development issues and will be able to focus more on storytelling.
The Machine a Bulles (Bubble Machines) exhibition, curated by Colombine Depaire is available for the French cultural network abroad as part of the "Comics 2020: France loves the 9th art” year. Find out more about the exhibition circulation
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