Augmenting the Reality of Sequential Art

Sometimes I feel the world we live in is a tad boring. There are no insane billionaires haunting the dark corners of the criminal underbelly. There are no alien strongmen unleashing the fires of hells from their eyes while they punch gods of evil with enough force to crush a planet. I have seen nary even a man with highly advanced super armor rocketing across the sky. We use comic books to help reflect the excitement of our minds upon a fabricated copy of our world. However, I do not think that it will be long before we see the excitement and epic story telling akin to comics within our reality. A new future could be on the horizon to provide us a new reality of comics, an augmented reality.

Augmented reality, for those who are not aware, is the technological means to view the real world with virtual “augmentations.” This technology has been used to provide a change to video gaming, seen most prevalently with the Playstation Vita. With augmented reality, you can overlay images of the real world with the fantasy projected by technology. It is even assumed by some that the augmented reality may be one of the future developmental paths for video games.

But what does that mean for comics? Why does augmented reality matter in a medium that is primarily printed?

Much like how you would overlay a video game over the real world, one could assume you could do the same with comics. Imagine a device that could allow you to watch as the images of your comics interact with your world. Specific scenes that seem to effortlessly merge with our world. Where once we have super-heroes flying through the skies of their own city, busting through buildings and smashing cars, we could possibly see a new kind of comic that is as much created by our environment as the comic creates its universe.

Speech bubbles appearing in the sky as characters appear amidst crowds. Heroes and villains fighting across your hometown as if that was always their home, with a story being written around the area you are located. Something that can bring people closer to the medium than ever before by making them connected to the world they read.

It is similar in concept to Marvel’s philosophy of setting. By placing characters within a familiar real world environment (often New York City for Marvel) you feel more connected to the world of the heroes. It feels as if the stakes are higher because of the sense of familiarity simultaneously being at stake.

And while this idea may seem far-fetched and far in the future, I can tell you that this kind of augmented reality comic is actually much closer than you realize, after all there is an app for it.

Some readers may be familiar with Marvel’s attempt to utilize augmented reality with their free Marvel AR Smartphone app. Currently the app is designed specifically for the purpose of adding an inside look to Marvel comics, giving sketches and rough drawings for multiple panels in the comic. However, there is still proof that Marvel is attempting to experiment more with this app. In Avengers vs. X-men: Vs. #2 a battle between Magik of the X-men and Black Widow of the Avengers is detailed with sporadic Russian spoken between the two combatants. With the Marvel AR app, Marvel was able to incorporate a new level of understanding to the readers by translating the language to the readers and giving them an extra experience for their comics.

The fact that Marvel is experimenting with augmented reality is a sign that things could continue to evolve. The only real challenge of this idea of creating augmented reality comics would be writing not only a series that works with generalities of a city or town, but also being able to create code to work with the story. Gone would be the days of the traditional “writer/artist” team that we see in comics today. Instead we would see a team of “writer/artist/coder,” a team designed to not only create the comics artistically, but a person or persons who could bring them to life in any environment.

Now, this would not mean traditional comics would be phased out; far from it. In the advent of augmented reality comics we would see it develop more as a genre of comics. A new sequential art form separate from manga, comic strips, graphic novels, and comic books that are usually used as examples for our art form. To postulate on how augmented reality comics would be analyzed, however, is far beyond my capabilities at this moment.

Still, I can only imagine a small fraction of the possibilities of what augmented reality could provide use as readers. What kind of new experiences would we as readers enjoy? What kind of genres would appear from this new art form? Would superheroes continue to thrive or would they be pushed aside in favor of something we haven’t even considered yet? The fact that we do not know the true and full breadth of where Augmented reality could take sequential art is what has me most excited in the concept.

One day, I hope for the world to erupt in color and art, viewed through an electronic eye. One day I hope to read my comics as if they are part of my reality. One day I hope to see my world and know it is not so boring after all.

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Chance Thulin is a Missouri State University graduate of English marching on the forefronts of pop culture. He writes in hopes to spread the meanings and interpretations of comic books, graphic novels, and film to the masses. He is a dedicated fan of good fiction, and subscribes to both unconventional and profound writers such as Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison. For several years, Chance Thulin has trained his analytical eye towards the mountains of material published by the market powerhouses, Marvel and DC, soldiering through while appreciating diamonds in the rough as well as the more prominent names in the industry. And he really really really likes Superman.

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  1. There’s been a bit of a push for this in the last few months I’ve noticed. Your article gives some food for thought.

    From my own point of view, augmented reality poses a real quandary and opportunity for architects and space planners. When the setting can be changed to the user’s whim, the architect’s job becomes less about designing a place, and more about crafting the most flexible framework possible to facilitate the freedom of others. The designing of physical space would become more like building a videogame engine than a specific ‘world’. Modular and bare rather than idiosyncratic.

    Comics seem to fit into that framework closely already. I’ve always felt there’s something ‘comic-like’ about the way we experience much public space, as a progression of events or images. The classical art gallery, with a sequential arrangement of images, designed to be traversed in a regimented order, with each image juxtaposed against its neighbours, almost reads like a comic. Where it differs is that the ‘story’ you get from an art gallery, much like the story you experience in a public space (or museum, train platform advertisements, highway billboards, or rows of shopfront windows), is less about plot, even less about characters, and more about society, your place in it, and engaging with a human history. I can imagine augmented ‘comics’ so easily inhabiting that world, since at its bare-bones, the sequential experience of a physical space is something which has been deeply ingrained in how humans inhabit their environment since prehistory. But I sense that the distinction between ‘comic’ and ‘game’ and ‘architecture’ would become thoroughly entangled in the process… And a scarier thought: the very thing that makes ‘reading’ unique and so appealing is the privacy and intimacy of the relationship of reader and book, and thrusting that into a public space seems to lose something essential in the idea of a ‘comic’, even if we gain something else.

  2. Sam Keeper says:

    Hm, interesting. This almost suggests that the distinction between hypercomics and print comics could be collapsed by AR tech. I mean, if you can bring your smartphone (or your Google Glasses) over a printed page of Homestuck and the static image becomes an animated frame as with the original comic, then you could actually print comics that otherwise would be unprintable.

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