Friday, August 19, 2011

Other Screens

)So far we have considered superheroes primarily on film and television screens, but these are not the only screens on which these characters appear. There are a number of web series online that draw upon the superhero genre, and the internet has provided a distribution medium which has enabled numerous fan films to reach a viewership beyond that found at conventions or by video tape swaps. (The practice of making fan films may be the topic of a future post; in the meantime, Henry Jenkins' Textual Poachers offers the classic academic exploration of fan cultures and fan production, while Clive Young's Homemade Hollywood provides a more general historical approach to fan production.)

Of course, this is not the only way in which superheroes appear on our computer screens. Superhero computer gaming goes back at least as far as 1979's Superman for the Atari 2600 and has ranged through platform games, first- and third-person shooters, as well as multi-player online games such as DC Universe Online (2011). These games allow players to control the actions of their favourite heroes, or their own characters, with a focus on the visual action of superhero conflict. With game studies a growing field, this area of screen superhero adventures is ripe for exploration.

Similarly, the viewing of comics on the computer or similar screen is an understudied area. Whether these are fan-produced scans and translations ('scanlations') of comics from other countries, or digital reproductions of archival or new material, or new material produced explicitly for electronic presentation, the use of the computer or mobile 'phone screen or similar for viewing comics material is a fairly new and growing market. As with any new development, the industry and the consumer face both benefits and drawbacks from this approach. Access to material no longer depends on what is stocked at the comics store, which can be of particular benefit in relation to more unusual or older material, but the direct distribution to the consumer threatens the continued existence of those comics stores. (A useful overview of some of these issues can be found in Hochstein, Joseph, "After the Boom: Why the Comics Industry May Need to Adapt to its Recent Growth" (2009). Master of Science in Publishing. Paper 12.

Industry aside, there are also questions about how consuming these comics through different media affects that consumption. Does accessing a back issue on the glowing screen of a tablet computer have any difference to reading the paper-based issue, with its tactility, its smell, the sound of turning pages? Does the possibility of instant delivery change how comics are consumed? Does the semi-animation of motion comics enhance the story or limit its interpretation by incorporating actor voice performances and disrupting the composition of the image by animating parts of it? Whatever the answers, this is clearly fertile ground for further exploration.