Pablo Defendini of Open Road Media showed off a project he'd put together over the weekend. It uses CSS and HTML to generate digital comics on the fly.
It's really quite cool.
He's doing things I haven't seen before in digital comics. The only digital comics I've seen all involved a static page image. Even the ones with directed reading (like comiXology) are based around static page images. Pablo's demo is not.
I want you to go look at it first. It doesn't work on all browsers (IE is completely broken), but you should be able to see a functional design in iOS, most Android tablets, and it seems to work correctly in Firefox. Go here:
Look at it in landscape and then look again in portrait mode. Keep an eye on the word balloons and where the individual frames are placed. Did you notice how they shift slightly? That is what I thought was so shiny.
BTW, if all you have is the PC browser that you're using right now you can still see the formatting tricks. You can also make the browser window really thin, to trigger the layout optimized for mobile phones. Then make it wider and refresh the screen.
The frames, word balloons, and text are each placed using CSS. The position of each element will change based on your resolution and screen width. That means no 2 screen sizes will have the exact same design.
I like this design because it's the first time that I've seen a digital comic that changes to fit the width of the screen and is still legible afterwards. Everything else involves zooming, and that means that the text is often too small to be read.
Actually, I would go so far as to say that this is the first true digital comic that I've ever seen. All the comics I've seen before don't qualify as digital comics; they're just a collection of page images. Take apart a CBZ file and you can view the "comic" in a photo viewer. That makes it as a digital comic about as much as a text file is as an ebook.
But there's also a downside. This concept probably has a higher CPU cost than the static page images, and it might also require more bandwidth. But maybe not; this demo massed 1.7MB, and a single page image wold almost certainly take up more space (becuase it has a higher resolution).
The other downside is that following through on this concept would likely require reversing the comics workflow. A lot of comics are currently made paper first, with the directed viewing of the digital comic added afterward. This concept requires digital comics to go first.
But reversing the comics workflow is also an upside because it frees the designer to do more creative works. Also, adding the print step would not require all that much extra work once you've developed the digital workflow. And (I like this one) this digital-first workflow would also make it easy to scale a comic to fit multiple print sizes. If you want to go from a floppy to an 8.5x11 bound copy, you could do it fairly easily by using a tool to specify the dimensions and then tweaking the layout. The exact or relative dimensions don't matter anymore.
The other upside of this digital comic design is that the text in the comic is actual text, not an image. That means that it's searchable as well as translatable. You could support 5, 10, or even more languages from a single file (just so long as you add the alternatives while you creating the digital comics).
I'd like to see someone release an Epub3 demo based on this. Any takers? Please let me know how it goes.
P.S. If this isn't as innovative as I thought, please let me know.