The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 63 | Surviving the Decline of Print: Video Games as a showcase for Comics and Sequential Art

Leaving Proof 63 | Surviving the Decline of Print: Video Games as a showcase for Comics and Sequential Art
Published on Sunday, January 8, 2012 by

The print periodical is dying, or so the Newspaper Death Watch tells us. I wrote about the continued decline of the print industry and its implications on the enterprise of comics some six months ago and nothing in the intervening period since has managed to change my thoughts on the topic. Periodical print ad revenues are in a steep and steady decline, with all indications pointing to that trend continuing as we head further into the new year.

Raaarrrr!!!It doesn’t seem like the type of landscape where the already contracting comics industry can survive, much less thrive in, even as it makes belated (and in some cases, horribly misguided) attempts to transition to New Media formats. And while there are many valid and not-so-valid opinions and suppositions on why the market for comics continues to shrink, there seems to be some sort of consensus among many industry fans and observers that part of the problem plaguing the survival of comics is competition from the New Media, such as video games.

Then again, what does it mean for comics to actually survive?

We’ve been reading print comics for so long that we are wont to forget that comics and sequential art exist as an art form—a language even—beyond the medium of print (whether physical or digital). Millions of people, male and female, young and old, have been reading comics every day these past several years, although they may not have been reading comic books, per se. What am I talking about?

“Graphic novel-style” panel art video game cutscenes.

As an example, the critically-acclaimed and commercially successful 2001 multi-platform video game Max Payne used what the video game industry calls “graphic novel-style” or “comic book-inspired” panel art video game cutscenes to bookend gameplay chapters. These cutscenes are non-animated or minimally animated narrative sequences that fill in the game’s plot and move the story along. Below is a compilation of some of the cutscenes from the second game in the tongue-in-cheek noir series, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne

Far from being a fad or a gimmick or simply a way to cut down on production costs or resource overhead (full motion video and real-time render cutscenes generally take more time, effort, and GPU muscle to produce), the graphic novel-style panel art cutscene has become a design staple in modern video games, featured in small downloadable titles like Avalanche Studios’ Renegade Ops and “triple-A” sales blockbusters like Sucker Punch Productions’ inFAMOUS. Sucker Punch even released a surprisingly versatile “2D cutscene tool” as a bundled-in add-on for an inFAMOUS 2 expansion late last year, allowing players to create their own panel art cutscenes using in-game assets, perhaps helping inspire the next generation of comics and sequential art innovators

Is the print periodical dying? Indubitably. But comics and sequential art can and do exist beyond print or even the nebulous “digital comics,” and we should recognize graphic novel-style panel art video game cutscenes for what they are: sequential art elements integrated as primary narrative devices in the video game medium, and proof positive that the art form and language of comics can survive—and even thrive after—the decline of print.

E-mail zuludelta (please put “Leaving Proof” in your e-mail’s subject line)
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