Technological Advances?

As is often the case with posts by David Bordwell, his film analysis makes me think of comics:

In the late 1920s, for instance, sound recording made the camera heavier than the tripods of the silent era could bear. Supply firms engineered “camera carriages” that could wheel the beast from setup to setup. But this development occurred soon after filmmakers had noticed the expressive advantages of the “unleashed camera” in German films and some American ones. So the camera carriage became a dolly, redesigned to permit moving the camera while filming. It’s not that there weren’t moving-camera shots before, of course, but with the camera permanently on a mobile base, tracking and reframing shots could play a bigger role in a scene’s visual texture. Similarly, studio demands for ways of representing actors’ faces in close-ups forced Technicolor engineers back to their drawing boards again and again. Once the problem of rendering faces pleasant in color was solved, filmmakers could then redesign their sets and adjust their make-up to suit the vibrant three-strip process. And the interaction of work, tools, and style triggered larger cycles of activity. The need to pool information about stylistic demands and technological possibilities helped foster the growth of professional associations and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. (from “What makes Hollywood run?”)

Technology driving stylistic changes and the advancement of the medium seems rather clear with film. We see it going on right now with the increasing amount of 3D films that are making appearances (I assume, I have no knowledge of the subject, due to some sort of computer technological advances). Has technology changed comics? If so, how?

The first thing that came to mind, when I read the above, were Frank Santoro’s various postings at Comics Comics on color processes (just read all the posts tagged “color”, it’s worth the time). While it has always been possible to create painted, full color comics, it is only in more recent times that the printing technology has made it both possible and cost-effective to create full length full color comics. It is perhaps not as cost-effective as it could be, since we still see loads of black and white comics, not all, I imagine, created colorless for purely stylistic reasons (I know my most recent and next comics are/will be black and white because I am thinking about cheap printing possibilities). As printing technology improves (and became cheaper) comics have moved from the four color process of old to full color drawn work and painted/collaged/photographic work (I’m thinking of Cages for instance, which would be unimaginable with the old printing methods).

Similarly, computer technology has changed the colors of comics, so that now I get the feeling most superhero comics are colored completely digital. Even reprints get recolored digitally giving us those atrocious computerized gradients on works that should be/were in four colors (for instance those Carl Barks Ducktales books that Gemstone put out where every color seemed to be a gradient).

As mentioned most of these color changes are tied up with printing technology. Printing technology has had other effects on comics. We (probably) wouldn’t have minicomics without the photocopier. Surely, the means to create cheap copies of comics has help birth a certain advancement in the style and content of comics, allowing for creators to make and share work that is outside of what is getting professionally published. Print-on-demand is also starting to make its changes on comics, though primarily, so far as I can see, from an economic/distribution perspective.

We can’t discount the effects computers in general have had on comics, though, besides color (already mentioned) and production/distribution, has it really made a difference on the style or content of comics? Sure, computers have opened up the possibility of webcomics as another avenue of publication/distribution, but, beyond color, have they made that much of a difference? I think most creators still work on paper, using the computer primarily to ease the work of editing, lettering, and coloring. Computerized lettering is probably one case where the technology has, to some extent, hurt the art. It’s too easy to use computer fonts to put text into a comic and ignore the expressive potential of hand-drawn lettering (I’m guilty of this in my past work, though lately, I’ve been using computer fonts as a guide for measuring the space I need for text and then hand lettering with the font as a guide).

But, in the end, most comics are still drawn on paper with ink, pen, brush, and pencil, technology that hasn’t really changed since modern comics were in existence. Many (most?) comic artists are basically using the same tools Topffer used in the 19th century. I’m not making a value judgement about this, just an observation. Is this reliance on the same old tools tied in with the ubiquitous nostalgia of comics (sub)cultural practice? Are, perhaps, most comic artists too much recreating the comics they love rather than trying to outdo their influences, rather than make something new?