The past decade or so has seen the rise of something dubbed “transmedia” in our entertainment. The basic idea is that instead of presenting an audience with a story or stories via one medium, there are components of it spread over several media. And while, in theory, you don’t need to engage with all of them to get a complete story, the more you do engage with, the more depth you have with the broader, overall story. It’s world-building, but across several different platforms.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is good example. There are a series of movies, which all operate more-or-less independently of one another. But then there are also some television shows that tie into that same universe. There have been shorts, and now full series, made exclusively for online consumption. If you bought some of the commercial videos, some of the extras created include real-life files that appear to come directly from SHIELD headquarters. You don’t need to have seen Iron Man to enjoy Agent Carter or Daredevil, but they all dovetail off each other to provide a more richly illustrated view of their world.

What’s interesting is that we’re starting to see that in webcomics. Not just a webcomic that’s used to promote some other more commercial entity, but as legitimate creative exercises. Brian Clevinger’s and Scott Wegener’s Atomic Robo might spring to mind first, since they started it as a pamphlet comic and started working on extensions of the stories in webcomic form earlier this year, but the more powerful example I’d like to highlight is Jen Lee’s Thunderpaw.

Lee describes Thunderpaw as a “dog buddy adventure comic” but that, I  think, undersells the work. The story is indeed about Bruno and Ollie, and the big draw for me is the depth with which she imbues the characters, despite a relatively little amount of dialogue. But she also adds small animations throughout the comic. Nothing that’s necessary for the narrative, but just something to further emphasize what’s already in the story.

More significantly, Lee makes excellent use of the webcomic medium by using different page constructions. While many follow a standard format, she utilizes the infitinte canvas to create long, scrolling portions to mimic a deep hole in the ground, or the extended length of a suspension bridge. These are effects that can really only be done in webcomics.

But to tie back intot the transmedia idea, Nobrow recenly published Vacancy by Lee. It’s set in the same world, but we follow different characters. Naturally, it doesn’t have animations and the page format is very static. But Lee is able to still take advantage of the print format in ways that don’t work as well online. The weight of the paper, the way color is used, the page layouts… it’s not just a webcomic that’s been printed, but a comic that’s been designed for print.

Now while many webcomics have transitioned to print, it’s rare to see them done well enough to take advantage of both mediums. But fewer still where the print piece is in fact entirely new and different to the web. Although the notion of transmedia has been around enough at this point that I suspect many if not most creative folks are familiar with the concept, it will be interesting to watch as more webcomikers attempt it and, more importantly, do it well.