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.