And now for lots of words.
As mentioned many times throughout the course of this paper, the future of the book is uncertain at the best of times. It is highly likely that there will always exist something that fulfils the role of a book, although our perception of what a book is evolves along with technology and the requirements of our everyday lives. It’s likely that e-books will, in some ways, replace the regular book: an e-reader makes it easy to access and store a great number of titles so that the user can carry around a whole library in something the size of one average book.
There are arguments for and against e-books and the like. I, like many people, enjoy the tactility and sensory qualities of the traditional codex book. It is because of these attributes that I think the physical book that we know now will never truly disappear, although perhaps it will be more of a display item, like a coffee table book, rather than just for reading alone. That said, I can also see the benefits of digital books as they can bring to us levels of convenience and interactivity not generally achieved by analogue ones. This is where I first began to think about my project, as I wanted to explore the relationship between digital and analogue texts, and how one can be transformed into the other.
At first I began looking at how a book becomes an e-book, and at how books written online (‘webfiction’) can be published as a physical book. I discovered that there isn’t much difference between how the content is arranged; there are certain things one can do with an e-reader to alter the text slightly, like make it bigger or change the font face, but the only major difference between the two types of book seems to be how many pages there are, or if there are pages at all. The webfiction category does contain some interesting genres, such as very short stories written in a sentence or so, inspired by micro-blogging websites like Twitter. This is an idea I picked up again later as inspiration for my book.
After that, I started looking into comics instead of text-only books. There appear to be two different types of digital comics: the kind that are taken directly from the pages of a graphic novel or comic book, and put online, and webcomics, designed specifically for the internet. Webcomics are quite unlike printed comics in that they are made to be read from a screen, and therefore have very different restrictions. A traditional page from a book does not fit into the horizontal format of a monitor, so a webcomic has to accommodate for that. It’s annoying to have to keep scrolling down to read a whole page, and it takes longer to load a new page on a computer than it does to turn a page in a book. While there are many comics online that do stick to the dimensions of a ‘page’, the more effective ones are the comics that acknowledge the specifications of a screen and respond accordingly.
These webcomics are either in a comic ‘strip’ that fits into the screen and requires no scrolling at all, or they take advantage of the ability to scroll: creating long or wide comics that require the reader to scroll along them instead of click through the pages. This it utilising the same principles as Scott McCloud’s concept of the infinite canvas, referring to the fact that the area of the screen is not the same as the dimensions of the monitor, in that scrolling can, in theory, go on forever in all directions. The screen then becomes more like a window into one area of the comic rather than the whole of the page.
I thought this idea was an interesting one, although like McCloud I can also see how large comics with endless scrolling might not be reader-friendly. It was then that I realised that while some printed comics were being turned into digital comics, there weren’t many digital ones being rendered as physical objects. There is of course a reason for this: often comics created specifically for the internet will have additional content that cannot be mimicked in real-life, such as animations. This is the challenge I set for myself: to create a comic that would originally have been on the internet but presenting it in a physical book. This meant finding ways to recreate the elements found only in a digital context in an analogue medium. I chose actions such as playing an animation, opening a link or pop-up window, click-and-drag, drop-down menus and both vertical and horizontal scrolling.
For the content I chose a single sentence I found on a micro-fiction website onesentence.com and illustrated it in the style of a comic. I then used techniques I learned from tutorials on the internet as well as a lot of experimentation with paper engineering to imitate the aforementioned effects, referencing pop-up books as a source of inspiration. For example, I made a kind of flip-book with a pull-tab so that when the reader pulls upwards, a series of images are flick past quickly in the same way that an animation works. In this way I was able to put together the kind of comic that one would expect to find online, but made solely out of analogue material. I even hand-drew the images with ink instead of printing them off and created the text with stamps so as to emphasise the physical nature of the book.
I hoped to capture the best of both the digital and physical worlds. Here, the tactile nature of the traditional codex is combined with interactive elements directly inspired by online content. It may not be the future of books, or even the future of comic books, but I think it’s interesting to compare and even combine the natures of the books of the past and present and the books that may come in the future.