I’m stuck on format. Maybe not stuck. Undecided might be a better word. I’m, once again, working on a new comic. This time I was inspired by a few new comics I read that were made for the iPad. I’ve read regular print first comics for the iPad before but they never did much for me. I prefer to read a print comic in print. The iPad is a bit too small for me to read print comics on but the made for iPad ones I saw read really well. It’s not likely I’ll be doing any comics for print so this got me thinking more about doing them for portable digital devices. That in turn got me thinking more about format as it relates to comic books.

The vast majority of print comics are vertically formatted like any other book. They’re taller than they are wide. At least until you open them and then the pages are side by side. But each individual page is still vertically formatted. I notice that a lot of digitally formatted comic books are horizontal. It could have something to do with computer screens being horizontal but with all the new e-readers and such you can format a digital comic either way since the device can be rotated in the reader’s hands. Hence a choice has to be made. Horizontal or vertical? That’s the choice I’m still undecided on.

I think the problem is that I’ve worked in the print industry since graduating from college way back in the late 1980s. It’s what I’m used to and my preferred way to read comic books. I think in “Print first” terms except that I haven’t printed any of my own comics in a decade. One of the things I’ve been thinking about is how to format for both print and digital. That’s not so easy since it affects the layout of a page. It even affects what a “Page” actually is. Is a page on the iPad the same as a page in print if it’s vertical? What about if it’s horizontal? I already don’t like when a single vertical print page is seen as a single iPad page since it’s too small. So should I split the pages up if I go vertical? All of this uncertainty makes laying out a story a bit confusing.

Most web comics creators don’t make any money with their comics but some do. One of the ways those that make money pull it off is to sell print editions of their web comic. I am nowhere near doing that but it’s still in the back of my mind. That’s why I haven’t been able to stop thinking about print altogether but I think I’m going to have to for now. As a matter of fact that was my conclusion when I decided to make a test comic for the iPad which I am in the middle of. It’s slow going though.

One of the first problems I’m having in writing and sketching out the story is, “What is a page?”. I’m used to a page being literal. It’s a piece of paper of certain dimensions. With an iPad the concept of a page is a little more elusive. Sure I can think of it as the exact physical size of the screen but it’s not quite that. With a physical comic there is only so much space on a page and you have to take advantage of all of it. With an iPad you can add or take away space from a page at any time. A reader can touch the screen and just the first panel, taking up a third of the screen, appears. Touch again and the second panel shows up. Touch again and the third panel shows up and the screen is filled. Touch again and word balloons disappear and others appear. The same page can be half a dozen different pages. That can really add to a story but it’s complicated. So far I’m finding it tough to think all the way through.

That’s why for my test story I stripped things down. So far I’m going with one whole screen page at a time. Simple. The only problem is that I haven’t been able to get a lot done on it. It’s boring. Well, the boring part is still that I don’t like drawing the same thing over and over. By “Same thing” I mean the same characters. I don’t know exactly when it happened that I lost my patience for drawing characters again and again but it did happen and it’s a bad thing when you want to draw a comic. I created these three robot characters who are fairly easy to draw but I still got annoyed with having to draw them after the third page. Crap. I put the whole thing on the back burner and have been picking away at it bit by bit.

Meanwhile I came up with two other stories to tell in comic form and have worked on those a little. Neither is further along than my three robots story but they are all adding up to a jumble of confusion in my head. I’ve got a log jam at the format section. My mind still thinks in old paper storytelling terms while trying to adapt to the new digital format. I’m still not even comfortable with the format of how I’m drawing these on paper. It’s a “Page” thing again.

With a print comic you draw a bunch of panels on a piece of paper and that’s your page. That actual page becomes a page in a printed comic book. Since I’m doing this first story of mine as single page panels what size do I make the physical pages I’m drawing on? Do I draw one panel per page since that how it’s going to end up? What size should that page be? These are questions that I don’t have to ask myself with print comics since I already know the answers. With digital it’s all new.

I ended up drawing two iPad “Pages” on one piece of 9×12 inch paper. So now I have two pages per page. I’m not sure that’s working out. I’m drawing the panels with one on top and the other on the bottom. The problem is that they are never actually going to be seen that way. The reader will be moving through them as if they were side by side. I did they layout as individual pages but now that I’m drawing them two to a page it’s confusing my sense of storytelling. Or it could be that I’m not used to any of this yet. Either way I’ll continue to pick away at it and maybe one day I can figure this all out.