Monday, June 04, 2007

The Hyperlink as a Mark of Transition


For any regular Internet user, the hyperlink has become ubiquitous, almost rendered invisible through the frequency of their use. Trails in hypertext are meticulously laid out through the seemingly endless streams of data, connected by links imagined as points of intersection in the web. Links are used for reference, for navigation but also extensively in creative production, to fashion hypertextual narratives and images. This paper examines the hyperlink's function as an indicator of transition and site of transformation. It is a brief exploration of the hyperlink as a signifier, as well as a mark both on and in the 'surface' of the digital text.

These strange non-objects that connect information are loaded with meanings and assumptions. This paper considers the hyperlink as a node, a zone, or a mark in a text that indicates a possible point of transition. While masked by regular use and innovative design, the hyperlink is not by its nature transparent – for it to function is has to be a self revealing construct. Hyperlinks are imagined to connect data seamlessly, yet that is exactly what they cannot do, as for them to be usable and useful, they need to highlight transition as well as enable it. The link inhabits the imaginary space between two points of data, it is positioned to be neither an object nor an action, and it signifies without being fully indexical or fully symbolic. In this presentation I hope to briefly explore some of the characteristics of this strange liminal creature that inhabits our screens.

Key words: Hypertext, Hyperlink, Liminal Space, Transition, Mark, Neal von Flue

Thursday, April 05, 2007

In this post I will be discussing Neal von Flue’s webcomic 'Halycon Redux' – Last Ditch. Neal von Flue is a freelance artist, and well known comic creator, researcher and critic. He has written extensively on experimental webcomics for the online magazine The Webcomic Examiner, and has created several comics exploring his interests in this field (all of which are published on He is possibly best known for the WCCA award winning collaboration with Alexander Danner 'Five Ways to Love a Cockroach'. 'Halcyon Redux' is an experimental online comic. The tile, like the comic itself, relies on layered meaning, conflating the mundane with the mythical. The comic is littered with road signs referring to ‘Halcyon Road’, and ‘Halcyon’ itself as an area or place. This is obviously not the only meaning of Halcyon: the Halcyon is a mythical bird, identified with the King Fisher, which has the ability to calm the sea and storms. Halcyon has come to mean tranquillity, and peace. The ‘Halcyon years’ refers to a prosperous time, a golden age. Halcyon Redux – Last ditch indicates a reliving or a reworking of such a golden age. Von Flue describes the project as “A redesign of my final Halcyon Years instalment, using the Infinite Canvas webcomic delivery system to create a non-linear interaction.” In a very condensed nutshell: the comic appears to be autobiographical, the author often refers to the work as ‘self indulgent’. The comic is highly self referential – it contains other older self contained works, both ones created digitally and ones pre-digital (in his career) and scanned in. It has a circular ‘flow’ - the eye leads viewer over page - from centre / bottom right as entrance point, then reverts to reading habits, comes in at the top left - but circles right. Vignette stories combined in larger narrative. Combination of printed text, handwritten text, drawings and photographs. Keywords describing the thematic concerns would be all the postmodern catchphrases – meta text, inter text, hyper text, and palimpsest. On opening the page the viewer is presented with a single panel view with simple ‘forward’ and ‘backward’ navigation buttons at the bottom. Underneath the comic’s title is the simple instruction “Mouse over the comic for hotspots”. Once the control has been activated, the reader can hover over the panel, causing ‘hotspots’ to appear. Thematically, this designates areas in the image as areas of significance; temporarily marking the image, and establishing hierarchical relationships between visual elements. This marking is however very subtle, and echoes the patterns and panels already visible at first glance, it also fades relatively quickly leading to a ghosting of possible transitional points – remembered but not seen – adding to the effect of the palimpsest. Technically these ‘hotspots’ designate starting points from which the reader is directed through the comic. Clicking on one will start the reader on a sequence – comparable to the traditional strip – but unlike in a traditional comic where the possibility of reading and rereading is central the readers direction is dictated by the flash sequence of zooms and scrolls that are triggered. The pace of the comic is also affected as the fast scrolling momentarily reveals and conceals elements of the work that fall outside the created ‘panel’. (Construction of ideas of ‘panel’ in this comic are quite complicated so I’m not going in to that at the moment.) While the navigation is largely automatic, it can also be over ridden to enable a manual click and drag navigation. All forms of navigation in the comic require active reader participation. The Navigation buttons, allows reader to go forward and back, when the screen moves too fast and something is intentionally sped past the reader, the back and forth process of trying to see it becomes important - frustration is used repeatedly as a strategy to encourage reader engagement with the work. This adds to the strong, but disjointed rhythm created in the comic by the repetition of imagery. In addition to the hotspot starting points, the comic is riddled with Easter eggs these include hyperlinks to other ‘separate’ comics that are part of the same work, external web-pages, and even trigger pop-ups. While the comic appears to be free-form, the reader is able to engage with the panels in any order, yet there is still a strong sense of structure in the work. – Will Eisner’s structure - guiding a reader through the comic by manipulating the movement of the eye over the page. This guiding is both subtle through visual cues etc, and overt, through actual movement of the page view. As von Flue mentioned, the comic was created using the ‘Infinite canvas application’. Named for the influential theory of the ‘infinite canvas’ posited by Scott McCloud in his book Re-Inventing Comics, the InfiniteCanvas application was developed by Markus Müller (as a computer science student) as practical training and final thesis project at the University of Technology Vienna. InfiniteCanvas is an attempt to implement an environment for an infinite canvas. The application was designed with Apple’s iApps in mind. It was envisioned as an easy to use and intuitive application to outline and design an infinite canvas. The application consists of two components, an editor implemented in Objective-C Cocoa (an Apple-Framework) and an online viewer written in Development started in February 2003 and a first public version was release 1 1/4 years later in early July 2004. The first versions featured a Java based viewer. This viewer was replaced by a Flash based viewer in IC version 1.3.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

(the following segment has been taken from a lecture i gave on digital landscapes with Pippa Stalker.)

‘“Pup” Ponders the Heat Death of the Universe…’

In the “Pup” comic, ‘“Pup” Ponders the Heat Death of the Universe…’ artist Drew Weing uses the extended canvas available to him through the webcomic medium to more accurately express the tone and themes of the work. The comic is laid out as a long horizontal spread, viewable only through slowly scrolling and changing the view visible through the window of the monitor. In the first panels the character, Pup, is shown in a conventional format. The panels are clearly defined, bordered by black gutters, and in an easily accessible strip like layout, with each panel almost filling the screen at its central most position. As the reader scrolls, the next panel is revealed in stages, while the current panel slowly recedes. This causes a situation where the ‘current’ moment visible on the monitor, is the gutter, the pause signifying action between the depicted stills, while the ‘past’ moment and the ‘future’ moment are both still partially obscured.

The first panels of this comic serve as the conventional establishing shots. Pup is presented sitting on a doorstep in a country setting. The second panel is entirely ‘empty’, except for Pup, sitting on nothingness, in the exact position and pose as the first panel. This loss of the establishing landscape cues the reader to a shift in Pup’s frame of reference. The character is isolated, with the reader’s, and also his own attention focused solely on him. The connection to the third panel, in which the landscape re-appears, is made through the repetition of Pup’s pose from a different angle.

With each passing panel the image ‘zooms out’, showing – by implication – a suburb at the same location, then a city, the country, the planet and the solar system. The zoom out takes place not only through space, but also through time, with each passing scene depicting a future moment. This is established through the third panel, in which Pup looks down at the house he was at, and sees it about to be demolished, with all the trees shown in the first panel already chopped down. It is therefore fair for the reader to assume that the panels indicate a development through time, at the same location, but viewed from an ever increasing distance.

Concurrently, the format of the frames also begin to change expanding to echo the growing scale of the landscape, a luxury very seldom available to print artists. As the scope increases the conventional panels appear to fall away, with the gutters receding out of the monitor window. The focus of the narrative remains on the character, but the increasingly expanding landscape encourages the reader to change the view, searching for the familiar gutters, shifting the gaze over a greater area. This movement of the view in the monitor constitutes a non-trivial action by the reader. ‘“Pup” ponders the heat death of the universe…’ is an ergodic text, requiring active participation from the reader to successfully traverse, and understand the narrative.