I took Mark Waid up on his offer.  He claimed that he has seen the future of digital comics, and he was offering a free sneak peek.  Luther, a short story written by Waid with art by Jeremy Rock, was a glimpse of Waid’s vision of that future.  I have to say that the future looks a whole lot like today.

Luther is a short story about life after the zombie apocalypse.  Luther is a mentally handicapped young man who is part of a crew who rids the area around a small town of zombie corpses.  He has a habit of rummaging through the pockets of the corpses and taking their wallets.  No one seems to mind since money isn’t worth anything any more. But, as the narrator notes, everyone has to be on the lookout…some of those corpses still have a little life left in them!

Waid’s story is engaging and immediately pulls in the reader.  It feels like it could be an “Untold Tale of The Walking Dead” since it focuses more on the daily life and ins and outs of living in a post-zombie world (as opposed to the shock and gross-out factor employed in Crossed).  In a limited number of panels, Waid is able to introduce characters, hint at a backstory, and give us a reason to care.  There is a reason Waid is one of the best in the business!

The art by Jeremy Rock is solid.  He has a great grasp on expressions and anatomy, shifting effortlessly between the macabre and the mundane.  A quick google search nets a ridiculously small publishing bio: a bit of promo work and on issue of the Avatar series, Threshold.  How has he gone unnoticed???

Good writing.  Good art.  Is that the future of comics at which Waid is hinting?  I wish that were the case.  But I think Waid is looking at something different, but nonetheless fundamental.  Each of the “pages” of Luther are single panels.  The story is formatted specifically for the on-line/e-reader experience.  He eschews the standard page break and makes each panel stand on its own.  Like many “inventions”, it is not so much an “exciting breakthrough” as it is a common sense solution to a problem.

When Waid said that this was the future, I was expecting something along the lines of therecent Marvel Re-Evolution announcement.  I thought that there would be some sort of added functionality such as creator commentary (which I would like to see) or some animation (which I would not like to see).  Waid surprised me by looking at how an increasing number of  people are accessing comics and tried to figure out how to change comics to meet the desires of the people.

Currently the vast majority of digital comics are not formatted for computers.  They are laid out exactly like traditional comics and then scrolled through on the screen.   the standard floppy book seems to be both the starting point and the end goal for most digital comics.  It looks like Waid aims to change that by starting at the panel level and possibly avoiding print publication entirely.

While this approach seems to work well in Luther, I am left with a couple of concerns.  First off is the loss of page formatting.  While this storytelling method means that each panel must stand on its own and more detail must be paid to the layout of the panel.  With the focus on panels as pages, there is the loss of an elegantly laid out page.  Great page layout means that there are two reveals.  There is the panel by panel reveal, and then there is the effect that is created by taking the piece as a whole.  Something like the below page by JH Williams III would probably not work so well as individual panels:

In Luther, Waid and rock try to create the page build by having each panel revealed by scrolling to the next “page”.  The effect was not as powerful, and I found myself kind of annoyed by it.  I know that Waid was trying to keep from having any surprises spoiled by a wandering eye, but I would have rather had the entire page laid out before me so I could take it in.

Unless of course the panels were set in an auto-reveal (powerpoint style) that eventually built the whole picture.  I’m not talking about motion comics (good God no!!!!).  I just mean that it would slowly build the image to a whole.  That would be a great effect that would add to the storytelling, solve the “big reveal” issue, and keep from having to “turn the page” to get a little bit more dialogue or picture.

Waid hints that on April 2nd he will have more to say on the subject and reveal more of his big plans for digital comics.  Luther was a good enough comic, and Waid is enough of a visionary that I will be back to see what else he has to say.  Until then, check out Luther and see what you think!  Is this the future of digital comics?

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