How interactive comic books are changing audience engagement
What comes to your mind when you think about comic books? Is it the materiality of the paper, the smell of the pages or the ‘characteristic’ distribution of panels on a page? What if I told you that all of this is slowly evolving into a new form, while remaining true to the overarching rule of sequentiality and engaging storytelling? Some might call it a travesty, but for others it is a great way to save an old art form from the risk of irrelevancy.
While comic book innovations are still a novelty, they are slowly seeping into the mainstream. One form is an interactive web comic, which often depends on suggestions from the readership: either through a forum or a poll on the website. The readers become co-creators, establishing a close, direct relationship with the author, who in turn regularly updates them about the drawing process.It creates a new business model, where the author can be directly funded by his fanbase through sites like avoiding the middleman of the publishing world altogether.
This is not where the innovation ends. Interactive comics are almost always digital and make full use of their hypermedial environment. What that means is that they often play around with a mixture of sound, video and clickable elements; providing a new depth to the story. By breaking the conventional rules of comic storytelling, they successfully intrigue people to ‘read’ them, potentially engaging new audiences. A prime example is , which tends to be compared to Ullisses because of how much effort it requires of its readers.
Despite that, or perhaps because of that, Homestuck has built an enormous fanbase of people who pride themselves on persevering through thousands of panels. Those fans are not ordinary consumers. They often engage with the characters outside of the boundaries of the comic: writing their own storylines and attending conventions while dressed as the characters. In other words, arguably the interactivity of the comic made it easier for the fans to feel connected to it on an emotional level.
One brand that ‘gets it’ is Doctor Who, which engages its young audiences through various digital channels, such as Tumblr. It successfully identified the digital spaces in which its fan base already resided and utilised those platforms to connect with young people directly, channelling their energy. This way, many of the events and initiatives surrounding the show (e.g. digital live commentaries) were co-created by the existing audiences. It also created a hashtag, making the newer additions to the fandom feel welcome by directly replying to their posts.
It seems that our lives are becoming not only increasingly visual but also interactive. While comic books are adapting to fit changing expectations towards art, brands might consider adapting their marketing practices in a similar way. Gone are the days when people used to be passive consumers – it is time to acknowledge their need for direct connection and agency in communication. Does it mean that the static image is dying? No necessarily, it’s simply evolving towards its new, more approachable form.
- Article by Dominika Noworolska