Timeframing: The Art of Comics on Screens

Musical Visual Storytelling

Later in the book, McCloud suggests a path forward for screen-based comics in which the temporal map functions as a “still life,” a predefined structure that can explored dynamically by the user. Momentum scrolling builds on this idea by taking the user’s gestures and turning them into a new way for time to pass in the story; one that dynamically reshapes the content based on the rhythm and force of those gestures. 

These effects are popping up in all kinds of interfaces today: increasingly as we scroll, images are changing, blurring, resizing, etc. creating diegetic action from a non-diegetic source. In the same way that a turnable lets a DJ scratch with music, momentum scrolling lets the reader scratch with a story. And the musical connection doesn’t stop there.

If we think back to McCloud’s question—when we read comics on screens, why would we want partial motion when we could have full motion? I think the answer lies in the realm of music. Music is always moving in forward in “real” time, just like a screen, but at the same time we are also aware of multiple layers within a piece music where beats and phrases are being repeated at different rates. These levels are a lot like panels: they operate simultaneously side by side, they have rhythm and proportion, and they are abstract. And so, while many digital comics feel like they are trying to be movies, I would argue that when comics and screens collide, what we really get is a new kind of fundamentally musical visual storytelling that is quite different from cinema. Seen in this way, time isn’t something to be afraid of in digital comics, it’s something to embrace in all of its musical fullness.

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