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.

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