Timeframing: The Art of Comics on Screens

Timeframing’s Affinity for Rule-Driven Content

The practice of timeframing leverages the aesthetics of bounded time and its juxtaposition to construct sophisticated mechanisms out of time and space. In traditional print comics, certain kinds of layouts have always gestured towards this phenomenon, creating the sense of parts combining to form a kind of visual machine. The Oubapo group, founded in 1992 and directly inspired by their forbears in constrained writing, the Oulipo, have published several volumes of formally constrained comics like these. And the works of Chris Ware, including 2012’s Building Stories, often include elaborate graphic contraptions that almost resemble board games in their rule-bound design. In the digital space, the logic implied by these layouts can be made actual, as in Murat, a 2014 piece by the Motiv Collective from the Czech Republic. Each layout of this work is a unique device which the user must interact with to proceed through the story.

Timeframing can frequently convey a sense that panels are themselves agents in a dynamic composition, responding to their surroundings and to the actions of the user. Perhaps one of our first popular encounters with this phenomenon came in the form of responsive web design, a technique which emerged around 2010, in which a web page contains logic determining how it should render its contents depending on the size its containing window. Digital comics allow us to extend this approach to the panel — a panel that, unlike its print counterpart, can now know what it contains, and how to present its contents in an optimal format for its aperture. Of course, the work of a “smart" panel like this need not be limited to layout, but can function on the level of story as well. We see this in Jason Roberts’ 2017 game Gorogoa, in which multilayered panels can be pulled apart by the player and used to recompose the past with the present, solving conundrums of image and story while unlocking new spaces to explore.

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