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Scott McCloud: Bridging the Gap Between Art and Technology

Most people probably don't think there's much about comics to understand -- they're just little boxes with funny pictures in them, right? Well, Scott McCloud will tell you otherwise. In his books Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics, the eloquent writer and comics artist explains the principles that underlie sequential storytelling and its history, and imagines its future. As a keynote guest at SXSW Interactive 2001, he discussed his pioneering efforts to explode the form and expand the audience through online comics.

Austin Chronicle: Thirty, 40, 50 years ago, comics were much more popular than they are today and widely available to everyone -- in drugstores, grocery stores, newsstands. In the past 20 years, comics have been relegated mostly to specialty stores for a hard-core audience, and the audience has shrunk drastically. How can online comics counter that trend?

Scott McCloud: Any two points on the Net are the same distance. It doesn't matter whether you're in Korea or America, whether you're talking about golf or cooking or anything else. If someone is interested in what you have to say and they know how to find you, they will. Instantly. That's very different from the physical world, where if you have a product or story to tell which speaks to a particular interest, you may have a very difficult time making it available to anyone at all. And just knowing that you want it is never enough in the physical world. I could tell you now that there is a great album called Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control -- it's the soundtrack to a documentary, and it was my favorite album of 1999. Well, if you buy my recommendation, you could spend the next two weeks looking for the bloody thing, because it may not be available within a hundred miles of here. Now, imagine that same recommendation underlined and in blue, and you have a sense of the power of the Web. To hear about it is to be able to acquire it instantly.

AC: It also occurs to me that the online culture is all about links, about helping you find other things of interest in this same area in a way that print never really was. If you're buying Archie comics, you may see house ads for other Archie comics, but you won't see anything that will help you find another teenage humor comic from someone other than Archie.

SM: Absolutely not. Whereas if your favorite comic about a teenager is online and is being provided by the artist himself, he might very well tell you about other comics like it that you would enjoy. In fact, it's a fact that all us Web cartoonists have a "links" section on our sites, and we recommend some of our favorite works. You can find out very quickly what's going on out there and who's good that you have not heard about, and that's a tremendous resource.

AC: So should people go to your Web site and check out those links?

SM: By all means. On my Web site, I have my top 10 favorite Web comics. You'll find number one is by an Austin native. My favorite comics Web site of the last couple of years is Magic Inkwell by "Cat" Garza. [www.magicinkwell.com]

AC: You manage to bridge that gap between art and technology. How many of you are there that are able to do this? How many people are helping lead this revolution?

SM: We're still a merry band of misfits. There aren't that many of us. But I walked out of my airplane at the Austin airport and was immediately greeted by a Bay Area cartoonist who had come down here and who had already spoken to our friend Cat, so I feel as if the community is beginning to grow. I think it probably doubles every year. But still, we've gone from two to four to eight to 16. We have a ways to go. But that community will definitely grow in the future.

AC: Do you have a sense of how many online artists it will take to cause that cultural shift?

SM: Well, at a certain point, Web comics will be impossible to ignore, within the comics community. There are plenty of people making comics who just wish it would all go away, and for them I have nothing but bad news. We're not going anywhere, guys. I think we're still waiting for our first Beethoven, our first Einstein. We're still waiting for an artist whose work cannot be ignored, that just blows past all barriers and demands recognition. I don't think any of us -- and I certainly include myself in that -- have quite reached that level yet, but I hope we will soon. I hope either we'll mature to that point or someone new will leap forward, full-blown from the head of Zeus, that out of nowhere somebody will come and blow us all away.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

sxsw interactive, scott mccloud, understanding comics, reinventing comics

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