Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hackable Comics

This week at the Mozilla offices, we have been participating in a game design sprint to explore using the Hackasaurus tools as controllers for game play as well as building some games with integrated learning experiences. My colleague, Atul Varma, has already created a prototype for what I think could become kind of a mad libs + a choose your own adventure. It is a fantastic vehicle for us to teach learners how to use the tools as well as guide them through some very basic lessons in hacking html. Ever since I saw his Parable of the Hackasaurus, I have been inspired to create a hackable html5 comic.

But, maybe I should take this back a notch and talk about me and my relationship with comics. I love stories and in particular I love stories that are told in visual form. I read and collect children's books. I liked comics that I saw in newspapers, but it wasn't until I was really about 16 that I found them meaningful to me. As a grown up, I am an avid reader of graphic novels and I love anime and thus, can often be found attending comic con or geeking out at comic book stores. Whenever I was asked as a teenager what I wanted to be when I grew up- I said a children's book illustrator. Eventually my aspirations extended into comics. However, as I matured as an artist, I really started to become involved in designing interactive spaces and I just couldn't figure out how that factored into my comic/childrens book dream. I always keep around a sketch book, where I doodle little comics and drawings about my life- but I have never felt that it was a place for me to really share with others. I think that I made this distinction because to me, comics are personal spaces that you explore on your own and appreciate in the quietness of your own world.

doodle from my Israel sketchbook

However, my thinking about this started to change as I saw the possibilities of HTML5 and comics. Disney's Tron: Legacy interactive comic is absolutely beautiful and for me, it was a moment where my two worlds collided. Working on the computer, is a personal thing for the most part. You have your screen, and keyboard, and the path in the world wide web that you choose to explore is yours alone. The intimacy of reading the comic in the bookstore corner was somehow retained in the html5 experience. In the past when I have tried to get into reading comics online,the scrolling, the screen display, everything just seemed like it was just copying and pasting the comic from print to online and it wasn't translating. However, with these new HTML5 comics, like Tron and Never Mind the Bullets, the medium of the comic have been taken to a new level. While these initial experiments with html5 are really dabbling with interactivity, I think it is worth noting some of the interactions that make the experience unique to the medium.

With a web- based comic, you have the ability to expand on what it means to represent a non- linear narrative. This can be done in a truly clever way, by zooming into and linking to elements and really exploiting the nature of the web. I can think of endless possibilities in terms of breaking frames and giving the reader/user the opportunity to engage with the crafted comic world in a new way. Finally, something that is uniquely exciting about HTML5 (as opposed to Flash) is that content being developed can be remixable and hackable, allowing you to essentially insert yourself into the story and in effect, connect with the content in a more meaningful way. This possibility highlights the potential for the reader to become not just a user- but a player, conspirator, a dreamer and a maker.

I am working on creating a hackable comic prototype this week. So far I have just drafted a few frames of the narrative and in collaboration with my colleague Anna Debenham, have sketched out a few scenarios that give you the power to exploit the unique affordances of this interactive medium.

This week we tested the idea on a bunch of tween game designers who were helping the Hackasaurus team come up with game like ideas for the project. The feedback that we received about the comic was fantastic and I am really motivated to move forward.

If you are interested in learning more about Hackasaurus, or are interested in our work around gaming, and play- please visit the Hackasaurus website