Last week saw the announcement of a new webcomics venture broadly titled Electricomics. It was something of a surprise announcement that I don’t believe much of anyone outside of its small crew aniticpated. And while new webcomic ventures come online all the time, this one caused a bit of a stir for two reasons. First, they promised to go much farther beyond what webcomics are currently. It says in their initial press release, “we are hoping to address the possibilities of comic strips in this exciting new medium, in a way that they have never been addressed before” and, “we intend to craft stories expressly devised to test the storytelling limits of this unprecedented technology.” Secondly, one of the lead architects behind this venture is Alan Moore, who famously shook the comics industry up with Watchmen and has gone on to produce a strong body of work since.
I’m struck by a few things surrounding this announcement. While it seemed everyone clamored onto the bandwagon with this project almost immediately, it was only a few months ago that Moore was being resoundly vilified by the same industry for defamatory comments made in the “Last Alan Moore Interview” about superhero comics and their fans generally and individual comics journalists specifically. While I’m sure that it’s really a case of different sets of individuals within the comics community speaking the minds very vociferously, it speaks to Moore’s status not as the “best and most influential writer in the history of comics” as the Electricomics site proclaims, but rather his status as one of the most polarizing figures in comics.
Next, there’s this quote from Moore in a related Guardian article: “I’ve got absolutely no idea [what needs to be changed about current digital comics] because I don’t have any online capacity, no devices or tablets and to tell the truth I’m not really involved with the comics scene in any way.” While one could argue that not knowing what limits are out there will allow Moore to be intellectually unrestrained by them, his most powerful works are those in which he’s quite congnizent of the mental barriers that others have placed on the medium, which he then actively circumvented. In this case, it seems to me, his self-confessed ignorance will be more limiting than freeing.
Third, they don’t have anything yet. There are scripts written for the stories, and artists lined up to draw them, but all of the whiz-bang software Electricomics claims it will be using hasn’t been created yet. They have a grant to use basically as seed money, and a crew of application designers and programmers on hand to make something, but they don’t know what it is yet, or what form it will actually take. The grant implies they’re on the hook to deliver something, so this isn’t likely to become vaporware, but they have, by Moore’s own admission, nothing. “We don’t yet have a release date, or a product to sell… Hopefully in about a year’s time we will have a fantastic app ready to download and create comics with, and a 32 page comic to read on it.”
I don’t doubt that Moore and company are sincere in what they’re saying here. But I’m skeptical that whatever they come up with in a year’s time will be all that revolutionary. There are already smart comics people who have worked on this already and come up with some very elegant, progressive solutions. Thrillbent and Comic Book Think Tank immediately jump to mind. It’s certainly possible that Moore can one-up them, and I think everyone would welcome any progress he could initiate. But the bar is set pretty high already, and the Electricomics folks have raised expectations beyond even that. So I have to say that I’m dubious of where this might go.