The Small Press Expo (SPX) is an annual gathering for creators and fans of independent comics and everything to do with them. It’s a two day affair that (mercifully) takes place near Washington DC and is often both a showcase and barometer for what’s happening in the indie comic world. It’s also full of many talented individuals creating some of the finest comics you can find. Given the relationship between comics and animation, you would think it would be a great place to discover great ideas to animate. You wouldn’t be wrong.
This post was a bit more straightforward last year in that I simply listed what comics I though deserved to be animated. It’s still a great list and one that I stand by, but it is nearly too broad in its focus. This year my goal was to seek out comics that were a bit more nuanced in their content and tone and to determine if slightly more offbeat comics could also be suitable for animation and to explain why I believe this to be so.
The short answer is that many were, but a few stood out.
By Alex Culang and Raynato Castro (a.k.a. Buttersafe), Moon Junior is a charming tale of an astronaut who visits the moon and gets to meet the moon’s daughter. Despite being a poignant tale and a single comic that doesn’t appear very long, this would nonetheless make an excellent short film of, say, under three minutes in length as it explores many themes, namely exploration, friendship, time and humour.
Drawn by Daniel Spottswood, these mini-comics are semi-autobiographical but rise above simply being a diary. Our hero is teased out as a character that’s very much akin to Charlie Brown on account of his bad luck and daily struggles. Fear not though, within there is plenty of comedy and explorations of what aspects of daily life define a character.
Nix! would make great micro-animation. There is enough substance to the characters to engage the audience’s curiosity and despite being essentially GIFs with sound they would be able to attain a production schedule that could attract an audience on which to build on.
Buttersafe and Mercworks
Buttersafe comics by Raynato Castro and Alex Culang are one-off gags that border on the absurd. While not all of them would translate from the comic medium into animation, it is the style of humour that lends them to a potential animated adventure. The setup and punchlines are excellent and the relatively simple art style would fit right in on the internet.
Mercworks by Dave Mercier is a comic that is also based on one-off gags but with recurring characters. Exploring some of the more psychological areas of humour (both slapstick and dry) Mercier’s doppelganger is shown battling society, relationships and giant spiders in his bed.
Mercworks could serve as a study in character similar to Nix! but with less of a grounding in non-animated reality and would be great as a micro-series with the potential to build into something more substantial.
Scenes from a Multiverse
If you don’t check out Jonathon Rosenberg’s comic, you’re missing out. Substantially varied and extremely funny, it explores the concept of multiple universes by visiting a new one each comic. Despite being single gag comics, the ability to exploit the concept of what a universe is and what it can contain is bettered only by Futurama. Beautifully drawn, SFAM is almost begging to be animated and to take the hilarity to another level.
This would be a surefire, once-a-week hit.
The closest I came this year to picking up a book similar to The Cute Girl Network, Glitter Kiss is a teen-ronace/fantasy of sorts where the main character gains magic powers though, of all things, lip gloss that is activated whenever she kisses someone who isn’t sincere.
While I can guess what you’re thinking, there’s more to it than that. Glitter Kiss, is also an exploration of what it means to be a female and some of the struggles they have to deal with on a daily basis and how men could stand to understand more. That isn’t to say that this trait is over-emphasised throughout, rather Adrianne Ambrose and Monica Gallagher to a good job of using it to grow characters as well as set up funny situations.
Glitter Kiss is the kind of comic that would do well as a short series in four or five parts.
Why list these comics here? Why discuss their potential for being animated at all? Well, the answer is simple; the internet and the explosion of animation production that it has produced has created some good animation but has also resulted in a rash of poor-quality animation, often aiming for the lowest common denominator.
In order to raise the bar for animation on the internet, the quality must improve. I don’t mean the actual animation quality either, I’m talking about the overall quality; the animation, characters, story, etc. All these must be on a different level than what’s out there today and fortunately it isn’t simply a matter of money. Some of the best shows and feature films were done on a budget that forced them to be innovative and clever with the result that they pushed boundaries and raised the bar for everyone.
To this end, my theory is that comics represent an excellent way of sussing out ideas that not only have merit, but can demonstrate sufficient legs to develop as animated series’. That isn’t to say something like SPX is the be-all and end-all of indie comics; far from it, but it does provide an excellent opportunity to browse thousands of comics and to get a feel for the direction that they are taking.
Another advantage to the comics listed above is that they are established, in other words, they already have an audience that is an enormous help when it comes to getting an animated series off the ground and can help reciprocate additional viewers who discovered the animated series back to the comics. Don’t believe me, Cyanide and Happiness has already proved that’s what happens.