The growing mandate to create culture-spanning content and a new generation for whom video games will replace "traditional" reading means the cheap, accessible comic is set to become a bigger player, offline and online.
The burgeoning online comics world produced a bona fide sensation recently with "Shooting War," a graphic serial with a most topical, if uneasy, storyline: the war in Iraq and the war on terror.
Then again, some of the genre's best-known and most acclaimed paper-based works have dealt with the stories that are hardest to tell. Art Spiegelman won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for "Maus," his graphic novel about the Holocaust; the popular 2003 graphic novel "Persepolis," by Marjane Satrapi, told the story of a young girl growing up in Iran after the Islamic revolution. And last month, the graphic novel assumed a new mainstream position with the publication of a graphic version of "The 9/11 Commission Report" created by comics veterans Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon.
Wider web audience
Naturally, the web has created a wider potential audience and greater access for artists with stories of every kind to tell. It's also stripped away the time and media stipulations associated with each genre. "I'm positive we're at the very beginning of a new golden age of storytelling," says Larry Smith, founder of online-story portal Smith (Smithmag.net), which hosted the "Shooting War" saga.
Fittingly, "Shooting War" started as a video idea, became an online comic and will now be turned into a book, to be published in 2007 by Warner Books.
The story is set in 2011. The Iraq war is in its eighth year, and President John McCain's approval rating is at an all-time low. Anti-corporate blogger Jimmy Burns goes on assignment in Iraq on behalf of "Global News" after the network picks up his video feed of a terrorist attack in Brooklyn. Scathing satire ensues. (Global itself is an extrapolated version of Fox News that cuts out the partisan middleman and devotes itself completely to fear; its tagline: "Your home for 24-hour terror coverage.") Amid the anger and horror are enough bitingly funny and insider-y touches for media-savvy readers of every stripe.
'A new marketplace'
The series was created by journalist Anthony Lappe, who created "Battleground," an Iraq documentary based on his experiences in the real war zone. His collaborator, Dan Goldman, is a co-founder of online-comics studio Act-i-vate. Given the inherent accessibility and relative cost effectiveness of comics, Goldman says, their "move onto the internet as an eventual commodity feels to me like the beginning of a new marketplace."
As they enter the mainstream in various formats, perhaps comics' legacy of presenting maximum message bang per buck and per frame will mean those who adopt the art form will feel compelled to actually say something.
"In my eyes, the battle is more signal vs. noise," Goldman says. "The world seems to run on cotton candy and layers of endless illusion/delusion. So creating palpable works that mean something truly serves the common good of upping the desire and ultimately the demand for real culture. After all, isn't creativity an evolutionary mechanism?"
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Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity magazine and AdCritic.com. E-mail your big ideas to her at firstname.lastname@example.org