Just as the movies once looked like stage plays projected on a screen, digital comics often look like print comics transported to a somewhat smaller screen. Although writers like Scott McCloud and Mark Waid have called for creators to push the medium beyond the constraints of print comics, there hasn’t been too much motion in that direction.
Now a new iPad app, Scrollon, will allow creators and readers to abandon the panels and pages that have long defined comics. Readers who use the app experience comics as one continuous scroll, which they move along by tapping or swiping from right to left. According to the website, filmmaker Doug Lefler, who created both the app and all the comics currently on it, was inspired by a print platform, an ancient Chinese scroll painting.
It’s an unusual format that certainly exploits some of the freedom that digital media provide, but in the end, the comic I read, Stories from the Ashfire Moon, was still basically written in panels—it’s just that the borders had dissolved and the background didn’t stop at the edges. By “panels,” I mean that the story was broken into discrete units, and each one was fairly self-contained, so you knew when to stop scrolling and read. The tap function makes it even more obvious, because each tap brings up the next page, and Lefler says on the site that “the stories are constructed from individual drawings, seamlessly joined within the Scrollon® program.”
The scrolling motion makes the story move along with a nice flow, but the fact is that smooth as it is, you know when you are seeing the edge of each page—not because there is a line, but because the action isn’t complete until the whole page is on the screen. This isn’t really a complaint, though, just an observation. It’s not surprising that Lefler, a filmmaker, would think in terms of storyboards, which break the comic into separate chunks. While the medium works fine as is, it would be interesting to see it stretched a bit more so that the story units overlap or integrate in such a way as to make the borders, even the invisible ones, really dissolve.
Lefler is welcoming other creators to create comics for the Scrollon platform, which may bring in some artists with different approaches. It’s certainly an intriguing beginning.