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March 01 2011

Buffy as Motion Comic: Paper Doll or New Art Form? A very interesting examination of how the story of Buffy Season 8 is told in this new medium.

This is about money. It allows the company to derive additional profit without having to address additional creativity. And I have to wonder, who is the comic for? This is key: "Movement of and between panels, in fact, constitutes the most significant form of motion within the comic." See, here is the problem; What happens here is that the people creating the comic decide for you how to view and read each panel. You no longer have the ability to read the comic how you wish to; even, you no longer have the ability to read the comic how you might have done had you the comic in hand. All the reading decisions are made for you; you do not engage in the same way you would if you had the comic- which, by the way, is static. The comic was written as a static device; it was not written as a motion comic. This is an adaptation, of a sorts, to move the original static comic into a "new" medium which allows an additional sale of the already existing comic. It simply vocalizes the text- and it then gives a voice to each character that may not be the voice you hear in your head. It is the same danger that could exist in that whenever we read Harry Potter now, we see Daniel Radcliffe, and not the Harry Potter we might have imagined when the book first came out, before the first movie. That Daniel Radcliffe has done an excellent job is good; there are other characters in other stories that do not do so well, and it ruins the reading of a text. I imagine Alyson Hannigan when I read Willow; there is cognitive dissonance when I hear a voice that is not hers say Willow's lines. All in all, I think the idea of motion comic is a bad one, and I see no real benefit to Buffy the series as a result of this existing.
I would hate as a fellow creator, to have my carefully thought out and composed paneling made purposeless. I love the language of panels and I also love trying to determine the best scheme for telling a particular story. Ugh. All that hard work and they take away one of the fundamental elements of comic storytelling. It's just so wrong.

That said, I would be up for seeing some original motion comics that are intended to be motion comics from the outset. The article mentioned a few there at the end. I'll have to check them out.

Interesting stuff. Thanks for the post, Simon.
That's quite an insightful article IMO, some very interesting points.

I would hate as a fellow creator, to have my carefully thought out and composed paneling made purposeless.

I kind of agree but I think the key is to see motion comics as just another form of adaptation - facing/turn pages, key panels, composition, flow, tempo, closure, all of these are tremendously important in comics and yet movie adaptations of comics often completely ignore them, at least as they appear in the original (similarly, chapters usually don't easily map onto movie adaptations of novels).

If you see motion comics in the same way it makes it less of a travesty and I think most of the problem with them is that they're close enough to comics to be comparable, not different enough to occupy another media space in viewers' (readers' ?) heads and that creators are still working out how they work, the "grammar" of them so to speak - we don't know what they have to offer yet in other words, they may only be falling between two stools because we haven't thought of sliding a bean bag in the middle.

That said, the Buffy one, from what little I saw of it, just wasn't really very good.
Yeah, it could be that there just hasn't been a really good adaptation yet. The motion comic medium hasn't really been approached with creative respect yet, IMO. (Maybe in those yet unseen by me originals?) The key to adapting any story for another medium after all is to figure out what the key ideas, emotions, and scenes are. A lifting cut/paste approach never works very well.

I think the problem with motion comics is that it's kind of an "oops." The publishers had a pre-existing story and someone had a bright idea how to monetize it and then they accidentally came up with something new. I truly think it will be an interesting medium some day. But the ones that I've seen so far don't treat the new medium with any respect in regards to it's own unique language and they also don't treat the original with respect. (Images originally drawn to be seen far away should not be co-opted, for example.) If you're gonna do away with the power and language of the panel, then you better damn sure replace it with something or you lose essential parts of the story.
Actually, it occurs to me that Terry Gilliam's work is pretty much created in the motion comic medium. His camera moves are pretty limited and far between. He just doesn't employ a frame. (Yes, I know there are exceptions.) He'd probably refer to himself as an animator, but I think he would serve as a successful model. : )
I think the problem is that once you start moving the mouths and giving any more life to the comic, it simply becomes limited and low-budget animation. I don't see it ever truly taking off as anything other than an easy way to absorb the information. I loved reading Season Eight but for a nice catch-up, I watched the motion comics and it took an episode or two to get used to but I found no faults. It might move a couple of things around, I didn't notice, but it put its emphasis on telling a good story that was swift and emotional enough that it made me enjoy Season Eight a whole lot more because of it. It's not meant to replace, or even subsitute the comics - its just something that exists that isn't completely horrible. I guess? I would recommend them to people as long as they have already read them.

I've been looking at some of the current Cartoon Network Studios shows and apart from them being either absolutely surreal and brilliant, they are character and action-driven. There's even a few adaptations thrown in so although I think animators like working on their original stuff, animation as a whole is becoming a lot easier and we might get some actual comic book cartoon adapatations in a few years (a la anime adapting manga, properly). Might just be dreaming though, even if I think a that Buffy animated series still holds absolutely gigantic appeal.
I dunno if i'm misunderstanding you Jaymii but there're several comic to animated film adaptations around right now, some of them very good indeed (many, even most, featuring Whedon alums doing voice work). Or do you mean ongoing adaptations, like an animated series of the mainline Batman comic for instance (rather than one-off films of complete stories like e.g. 'Superman: Doomsday', 'Under the Red Hood' or the upcoming 'Batman: Year One' <- just typing that gives me minor squees BTW ;).

Actually, it occurs to me that Terry Gilliam's work is pretty much created in the motion comic medium.

Yeah, ish I suppose though i'd refer to himself as an animator too ;).

(it's the same sort of collage animation as 'Southpark' among others)

I agree that motion comics are mainly about money BTW but I still think there might be something there creatively (i'd like to see people experiment with the implications of dynamic versions of static ideas, for instance with the "Pows!" that're still sometimes a feature of comics, I can imagine using motion to try to create an actual POW! experience, like a kind of visual onomatopoeia. Or with a horror comic, motion might enable you to generate a "jump scare", something static images don't really allow).

Right now with the dodgy spot animation and so on motion comics remind me of early films where there was no panning or zooming (let alone stuff like crane shots or fast dissolves), they were basically like photographs only moving.
Re: Comic to Animation Adaptations

As I see it the difference between Japanese manga and Western comics being turned into animation is that the Japanese adaptations in general, place great emphasis on having the visual design of the anime match that of the book. By this I mean that the characters are drawn the way the creator drew them, they move the way their characters move, and the characters and scenes are even framed as they were in the books. It ends up feeling like the manga you've read has come to life. Bleach is a good example of this, IMO. (It's also readily available in book and anime form for comparison.)

There are exceptions in Western adaptations of course. Persepolis was very well done I thought. I don't see the DC stuff fitting the bill because they look nothing like the DC comic lines I've seen. (Saje, I assume that's what you are referring to with the voice work. I could be wrong. ;-) ) Maybe I've missed one or two lines? (This doesn't mean the adaptions aren't perhaps pleasurable in themselves, just that they aren't done as well as their Japanese counterparts.)


...and now I have to add "checkout Cartoon Network" to my list. ;-)
If you want specific recs, I quite enjoyed a cartoon called 'Samurai Jack' from a few years back. The (sometimes surreal) style's quite anime-esque and in some ways it's kind of about the clash of Western and Japanese cultures. Not Chekov but it has a sort of sophisticated simpleness that I enjoyed.

Must admit i'm not an anime (or manga) fan so it's hard to compare but it's certainly true that not all western adaptations are close to the source material (usually the character designs are by different artists for instance though in some cases those artists will consciously try to stay close to the original).

For myself I don't miss that feeling of the comic being "brought to life" because it's an adaptation and I try (and often fail) to keep source material and adaptations in different head spaces, particularly if I really love the original - i'm looking forward to 'Year One' for instance because Timm et al rarely misstep with their DCAU films and it's a great story, not because i'm expecting to see the comic brought to life (though ironically from seeing Timm interviewed about it, it may well be the very closest to that of everything they've done so far).

To me comics are comics and animation is animation in other words, the twain can meet but they don't need to - as soon as you animate a comic you have a different beastie and I actually prefer that.
While I admire what comics creators have done - especially after I read "Understanding Comics" and "The Sandman Companion" - in making comics its own special art form, I'm not against motion comic versions of static comics, as long as the *voice acting* is solid. I bought the first "issue" of the Buffy motion comics and just didn't enjoy it at all, because I felt that the voice acting was bad. On the other hand, I also bought the first "issue" of the Watchmen comic, and even though all the voices were done by one man, it WORKED, because he was really good. (And I'd already seen the movie, and read the comics, so it's not like I didn't already have, say, Jackie E. Haley's voice in my head as Rorshach.)
I was more referring to manga and anime, but that has been clarified above. Manga is more of a singular vision and brought to life by a studio with a director on board and taking the material and telling the story. Sometimes changes are made, upsetting the original fanbase, but primarily the job of that type of director would be to tell the story in the best way possible. That doesn't mean shot-for-shot but just making it work. There's usually more of a wealth of material to adapt than a comic book with manga. (Though, obviously Batman and others have lots, from lots of diff. writers/artists.)

I haven't read it myself, but I can imagine Y: The Last Man turning into an interesting cartoon. A lot of animated series now, apart from the studio having the final say, are pretty heavily run by one or two individuals and when they close-shop - the show ends. I think an adaptation (i.e. a cartoon, not a motion-comic) of something like Y or even Buffy could run until all existing material runs out. If profitable while in production, the creativity seems to run free.

What I'm getting at is the motion comic is such a middle ground, it allows for interpretation but -- then it feel like someone is reading it wrong. The comic book lineage is too strong. If those changes were made for a full-scale television show, they would be less troublesome because it is a separate entity. For that reason, I suppose, I can't see them ever becoming something and this is just a middle ground until animation production to get even cheaper.
I dunno... I think there is something possible in the motion comics if a story is told deliberately as a motion comic. I think it's sort of like when novels are turned into comics. Brilliance is indeed possible, but only with care and respect for the comic medium. Which doesn't happen very often and therefore the novel to comic adaptations frequently turn out to be utter crap. The motion comic is in it's infancy. We don't really know yet what it can do or make us experience differently than a comic or a film.

I think someone will just have to care enough about the possibilities in the motion comic medium to push it and explore it in all it's potential. But it's gonna have to be someone other than me. I have my hands full enough with comics.
Sheer laziness !

Yep. What's the world coming to? Sheesh. People these days.

Wait. We're talking about me... Backsies!

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