Twitter Comics?

Okay, so a friend my mine from college (author and educator Brian P. Hudson) has started up a new creative endeavor that he describes as a “Twitter Comic” called The Trials of Tara Titan (which you can go check out here). The idea seems to be that he’s taking a medium of communication, in this case the micro-blogging format of Twitter, and specifically crafting fiction one can consume through it. If you’re curious, Hudson lays out his early thoughts on this here:

This is, of course, not a unique idea, as other writers and creative types have been experimenting with Twitter storytelling lately (author Charlie Huston, for instance). However, Hudson’s conceit is to adopt the serialized nature of monthly comic books by crafting stories in distinct “feeds” (or we could adopt TV parlance and say episodes, I suppose). But since this is a micro-blogging format, there’s no art per se, just bursts of Twitter postings (I refuse to call them “tweets” unless absolutely necessary). Later, I believe it’s his intent to collect the specific feeds onto a website and have some accompanying illustrations, but not in a comic book format, rather like an illustrated story. Hudson’s been firing off the first feed, entitled “Violence in the Streets,” for the last few days now, so I figured it might be a good time to critique just what it is he’s trying to accomplish.

I am going to approach this in two ways, as both a comment on the whole concept of “Twitter Comics” and as a critique of his narrative so far.

Well, Twitter Comics. Hmm, I have to say I’m not entirely sold on the concept. I’ve had a little back and forth with Hudson about this already, and I generally understand and even accept the conceit he’s using. Comics are short, serialized bursts of fiction that you can go pick up every Wednesday from your local geek-tastic Direct Market retailer. Most Twitter storytelling efforts are geared toward producing either novels or flash-fiction. So, I get it. Art is not really the point here; it’s the way the story is crafted and delivered. My problem with how Hudson is executing this is that it doesn’t feel like a comic book. Not really. I don’t see anything materially different from what Charlie Huston is doing. If one drops into the middle of the feed, that’s what one is left with — a stream of fiction bursts laying out a narrative. How is it different?

To me, there a few simple ways to solve this. If you’re going to call it a Twitter Comic, then you need to adopt as much of the structure, form, and content of comics as possible without the obvious trappings of words mixed with sequential art. Thus, a writer should adopt a fairly strict structure to the feeds themselves. Your typical comic is 22 pages of content with some left over for ads, letter columns, and what not. Feeds should be 22 pages of story, clearly marked out as distinct pages. The content on those pages should roughly (very roughly) approximate what one could fit on a typical comic page (this does not mean 1 tweet per panel, but it certainly does mean you can’t ramble on forever). Pages should drop no more frequently than one a day, and it should take no more than a month to serialize the pages.

The benefits to this seem obvious to me. You mimic almost a web comic form, while retaining serialization (Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield’s FreakAngels is a good example of an excellent, serialized webcomic with art that drops little chunks every week, but then I’m perhaps a bit blinded by my fandom when it comes to Ellis). The strict structure also forces a writer to pace their narrative just like a comic. This keeps the result, I think, from becoming an unwieldy, overstuffed mess. Without this, a feed can just ramble on until it’s done. With this, readers can actually see (well, read) where the story is going, and knowing that the feed ends in “3 pages” becomes part of the writer’s toolbox in building suspense, mystery, or whatever. Without this, feeds would just end, and only the force and pull of the narrative itself would bring readers along, somewhat lessening the impact of what the writer is trying to do.

So, on to the content of Hudson’s first feed. Having known Hudson for something like 14-15 years now, let me just say that I know a whole hell of a lot about the Labrys concept, having heard about it off and on that entire time. In that sense, it’s a rather big deal that he’s finally dropping the idea publicly now and in this form. I can certainly relate to the angst that must be coming from that act (ask me about the massive Shadowmancer epic that exists only in my head, if you dare). But how does it work so far as a piece of fiction and not as mad ramblings over coffee at Little Chef? I’m largely intrigued. My problems are in the presentation (as noted above), and not in the narrative itself. It’s a first issue, designed to introduce a whole lot of shit, hoping the reader will be enticed enough to come back and keep reading. It’s standard superhero fare, an appropriate genre to use when jumbling media like this (comics and Twitter). The 140 character limitation of Twitter forces Hudson to be judicious with his word choice, thus inhibiting the rambling quality, and that’s a good thing. It certainly flows quickly because of it. Characters are largely ciphers right now, even Tara, who is the POV character, but I imagine that will abate somewhat going forward.

Ultimately, I give it a cautious Pass on the Pass/Fail grading scale, cautious in the sense that the presentation format and narrative structure needs more thought and Pass in the sense that I think this could actually amount to something. If something like this sounds like your “thang” then go subscribe to his feed and get reading.

Now off to write a scholarly book review before watching the series finale of Battlestar Galactica tonight. Namaste, bitches!


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