Pop-up Comics And Technological Revolutions

Today’s column is my attempt to take a few disparate ideas I’ve had floating around and stitch them cohesively into a column. Let’s hope it works! First off, the inspiration: I bought a pop-up Sprit comic. Yes, I was surprised as you. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Bruce Foster decided to take an issue of Will Eisner’s comic and turn it into a pop-up book. Personally? I think it’s brilliant. For years we in the comic’s community have lamented the pointlessness of motion comics, and, to me, this pop-up offering seems to fill the supposed gap that motion comics claimed to fit in. The problem motion comics seem to have is that they come across like cheap animation. A shallow criticism to be sure, but I think the sentiment warrants deeper introspection. The inherent problem with motion comics is that to experience a comic is to read it. Reading is an active pastime, however sedentary it may look, whereas motion comics are ultimately passive. Even the perfect adaptation of comic to motion comic is just that: adaptation. And the change from active to passive absorption of story is fundamental.

Comic’s fans are far from pure in their consumption of media, says the man who writes this after just having finished an episode of Justified. If anything, we are a discerning bunch, preciously aware of how our temporal entertainment budgets are spent. Thus, we take great affront at having our time wasted, and unfortunately the current state of motion comics leaves us wanting. If we want to read a comic, we want to engage in an active activity; if we want to veg out and watch a cartoon, we’re aiming for something passive. Neither activity is better than the other, but to want a comic and be handed a passive 10-minute cartoon? Well, regardless of the intention of the creators, that just doesn’t sit well.

Which brings me back to the pop-up Spirit comic I purchased on a lark. A pop-up comic seems to share the fundamental quality of a motion comic: dynamism. However, and it’s a big however, the dynamic nature of a pop-up comic is still controlled by the reader, not by the timestamp at the bottom of the screen. This puts a pop-up comic in the realm of the active, not passive, experience. Regardless of how well-plotted a comic may be, you, the reader, still control the pacing of any given page. And even though characters may move around on a single page in a pop-up comic you, that same reader, still have control over when exactly they move.

Now before I am misconstrued in the comments I want to be absolutely clear: I am not against adaptation. Adaptation clearly has its place; the distinction I am making is when adaptation maintains a story as active versus changing it to passive. The change is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just what happens. I’m not even above the adaptation being better than the original, and I think the ability to adapt is as much a function of technology as it is the prowess of the story-tellers involved.

It may seem that I have jumped tracks and, in essence, I have. I mentioned above that this column was the result of lingering thoughts, and here is where I try to bridge a few of them. The thought attempting to be bridged is how technology affects our story-telling. Obviously, technology is a necessary component of any story. Even spoken word requires the rudimentary tech of shared language, but needless to say we’ve come a long way since then. The biggest lament of late appears to be the resurgence of 3-D. No one online seems to have one good thing to say about seeing movies with literal depth, and I’m at a bit of a loss as to why.

"These colors are bullshit." - Nobody Ever

Granted, if the added dimension presents a distraction then be gone with it, but if it is simply a novelty then what’s the problem? I’m always drawn to The Wizard of Oz when thinking about this supposed problem. The film, an adaptation in and of itself, is widely known as one of the first films to utilize color. I like to imagine that if Twitter was around in 1939 people would have been as vehement about the “unnecessary” addition of color as they were about the unnecessary addition of depth to Avatar. It’s a funny scenario but truthfully too simplistic.

For The Wizard of Oz, color was a crucial story component. Yellow-brick roads, horses of different colors, and emerald cities all would have fallen monochromatically flat without the addition of Technicolor. Whereas many would argue that the addition of a third dimension does not actually enhance the story of a movie like Avatar. I think both these statements are true but also might miss the point.

Just because color was integral to the story at the get go of color film doesn’t mean that 3-D can’t be. The Wizard of Oz is a brilliant piece of cinema, and I think it is short-sighted to argue that 3-D is incapable of producing the same sort of product, i.e. wherein 3-D is essential to the story. The entire history of stories is seeded with the idea that as new technology becomes available story-tellers find ways to use said technology in their art (and of course art inspires new tech, but that’s another column). Painters need the invention of paint, podcasters the invention of microphones, so forth and so on. Before we damn one piece of technology as worthless we should give innovative story-tellers the chance to show us what it can do. Even if motion comics haven’t figured it out yet, there’s always the guy who side-steps it to do pop-up books. I would bet cash that within a few years we will see a story told that would not have been possible without 3-D or some other innovation deemed worthless at its inception. I welcome it, and hope you do too.


Ryan Haupt sees in both color and three dimensions, so he can be considered unbiased in the ensuing debate. Hear him in stereo by listening to the podcast Science… sort of.


  1. Remember the pitch Tom Hanks made in BIG for the ‘e-reader” that was loaded with Choose Your Own Adventure-style comics? I want that. How is that not a thing already!

  2. My wife found that pop-up book at Goodwill a month ago and bought it for me. It is now on the coffee table in my man-cave where I display it with pride.

  3. I think the last paragraph nails it: color has become a tool that storytellers utilize in order to enhance the narrative and make it more clear. 3D is currently about making big explosions look bigger or in making the spectacle that much grander. These aren’t necessarily bad things for films like Avatar or Ghost Protocol where 3D just “makes some shots cooler”. But I have yet to see a filmmaker make a movie that HAD to be in 3D.

    This is also evident in the newest digital offerings from Marvel. This type of story could not be told via printed comics or standard digital. It uses the best parts of static and motion comics and makes something totally new. Best kind of adaption and I see this as having a better future than 3D films.

    • Arrrggghhh (@Arrrggghhh) says:

      Totally agree with you on 3-D. Spent $36 for the wife and I to see Hugo in 3-D.
      The film was fantastic . . . the only problem I had was the 3-D. I hate when the 3-D effect is broken by the framing, composition or when a object (like a pole) is too near the camera – breaking the effect; It takes me out of the movie.

    • Arrrggghhh (@Arrrggghhh) says:

      . . . Oh, and the $10-16 extra cost a couple to see a 3-D movie, just not worth it. We no longer go to 3-D versions of films.

    • You’re referring to Marvel’s Infinite Comics, right? I agree. The panel progressions are dynamic in a way that I think is difficult with standard print or standard digital while not being passive for the reader like motion comics. Another comic I think does this right is Insufferable on Thrillbent. They’re fun to read. What I like about Insufferable is how the page layout is Landscape. Makes it easy to read on a monitor.

    • Just to quickly way in on the 3D debate. The problem with 3D as apposed to the advent of say color or sound, is that 3D has many direct drawbacks that harm the film as much as they improve it.
      The glasses have something like 30% light loss (at best) which means the image is substantially darker than it’s 2D counterpart.
      Also the cameras are larger and harder to manage (the reason Joss Whedon choose not to shoot The Avengers in 3D) and to top it all off somethings are physically impossible to do with 3D cameras, like optical zooms. Thinks about it, you have two cameras next to each other, one for each eye, if they both zoom in, they’re both going to zoom in to different points and the 3D effect won’t work.
      Finally one of my favorite current directors Rian Johnson did a blog post on 3D recently, which I’d recommend you read if you have the time but just to quote a short paragraph:
      “I subscribe to Chris Nolan’s recent assertion that calling stereoscopic photography “3D” is a “misnomer.” Yes we have two eyes, but our brain is not a camera, and it does not keep us constantly aware of the vertigo-inducing separation of depth between foreground and background, but uses that information to make us aware of that depth.”
      Also it’s worth remember 3D is not a new invention it’s been around before color (and possibly before sound, I’m not sure) every 10-20 years the cycle starts again, a big, spectacular, 3D film comes out, lots of other films follow suite, eventually people get bored, forget about 3D and after a while the cycle starts again.
      Okay, apologies for the LONG post but I’m hoping to go into the film industry one day so this is something I’m passionate about, I’m also just off to see Prometheus in 3D so maybe I’m a hypocrite.

  4. 3d, black and white, color, silent, no music…these are all just storytelling devices. I think what you’re arguing, and i completely agree, is that techniques and tools are best, when they work conceptually for the story…not just because its available to use on everything.

    No one buys everything on the shelves at the supermarket. You buy what you need.

  5. “These colours are bullshit” – nobody ever.

    HAHAHAAHA, Good Stuff.

    Also, Piranha 3D is great. 🙂

  6. I like how every new technology to Ryan is the equivalent of the invention of bronze or adding color to movies…

  7. Am I the only one here who appreciates motion comics?!

  8. When the Wizard of Oz came out did people have to pay 50% more to go see it in color?

  9. Do they look awesome and then get all bent out of shape after the third reading?

    • It’s enough of a novelty that I probably won’t read it three times. But if I loan it to someone I’ll let you know.