sábado, agosto 22, 2009

Scott McCloud at A Coruña

Last week I attended Scott McCloud talk at Viñetas desde o Atlántico, a comic convention organized by A Coruña city council, and perhaps one of the most prestigous comic conventions in Spain.

Scott McCloud is a well-known comic artist, he became very popular at the beginning of the nineties thanks to his comic "Understanding comics: The invisible art", a comic-book about the language of comics. Till then nobody had ever tried something similar. Maybe the few writers who had attempted to explore the art of comics till then, did it from different approaches, using other sort of book formats, mostly essays, and in most cases they were not comic authors but just critics, or researchers interested in some aspects of comic books (it comes to my head "Manga!, Manga! the World of Japanese Comics" by Frederik L. Schodt). Apart from being a splendid source of information for learning about comics, "Understanding comics" is a magnificent comic-book, or graphic novel as you prefer, itself. So it comes at no surprise all the praise "Understanding comics" received after it was published. Somehow it established a common framework for fans and critics to talk about the technical aspects of comics.

After "Understanding comics", Scott McCloud published "Reinventing Comics: How Imagination and Technology Are Revolutionizing an Art Form", a comic-book about the aspects of the comic industry and how new technologies will give new shape to it. Maybe it was not as good as his previous work. When I read it a couple of years ago, I got the feeling that more of the facts explained seemed to me simply speculation, but reading it again these days I found it quite interesting, and it's really impressive to see how much accurate McCloud was in some of his forecasts.

Lastly, closing this trilogy of comics about comics, McCloud recently published "Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels". I didn't read it yet, so I don't have a proper opinion. It seems that this time Scott focus on what are the motivations that inspire people to do comics. I'm looking forward to reading it.

His speech A Coruña was an mixture of all the thoughts he has exposed so far in his previous works. He started giving some background about himself, where he was born, his family, how he get interested in comics, etc. As he was telling the story of his life he was weaving facts that apparently seemed disconnected, connecting the dots, and suddenly everything make sense and had a reason to be. For example, he told he was the youngest son of a family of four children. His father was a computer scientist working at Darpa (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). His oldest brother became an engineer, his oldest sister joined the army, and his other brother became a computer scientist. After that was he, the comic book artist, a career which had nothing to do with what his siblings and farther did. But as the years went by, he started to realize that what he found interesting about comics were the possibilities they bring as a medium for telling stories, the possibilities of comic as a language to communicate with others. What he liked were the formal and technical aspects of comics. It seemed this scientist approach he had regarding comics was not so far from his father and siblings. At the same time, some of his childhood friends, who later will become important comic and caricature artists, cared about other aspects of comic-books: beauty and craft, transparency of content, truth and honesty. At the same time, each aspect can be aligned with a different category of comics: classicist, animist and iconoclast, being McCloud himself what he considers a formalist, as he cares about the formal and technical aspects of comics. All these different motivations and aspects are perfectly valid.

It was an unbelievable speech, I loved his optimism and his approach of trying new things, exploring new paths, try and fail and don't be conditioned by the old. If you embrace the new possibilities technology can bring you to do and publish comics, try not to mimic paper comic books and the old aspects of the industry, but try new things while keeping the essence of the art of comics. And I think that's the way it should be, not only for comics, but for every aspect of life.

The Q&A session ended up being an argue about how the industry is going to evolve in the years to come, how it can survive in a world were Internet connection speeds increase everyday, contents are giving for free, and the web can be accessed from a wider range of devices, making it almost ubiquitous. Most of the crowd seemed worried about electronic books as well, although Scott McCloud regarded Kindle as a transitory device towards something better. I would have liked more if Q&A session had covered a wider range of questions and not had just only focus in the current situation of the industry. All in all, it was interesting.

Carlos Portela, comic-book artist, and Scott McCloud chat after Q&A

Lastly, I leave you here with a Scott McCloud talk similar to the one he gave at A Coruña (part of his Making comics tour).

sábado, agosto 01, 2009

Revenge of the hackers

Ayer fué un día especial por dos razones. El navegador Firefox alcanzó los mil millones de descargas, y no sé si casualidad o causalidad, David Winton, director del documental "Code Rush" (juego de palabras entre fiebre del oro y darse prisa por codificar un programa), ha publicado su film bajo licencia Creative Commons.

Marc Andreessen creó el navegador Netscape a partir de su navegador Mosaic, uno de los primeros navegadores en alcanzar grandes cuotas de popularidad. Con la explosión de internet y la web en la segunda mitad de los 90, Netscape pronto se convirtió en el navegador de facto, relegando a Internet Explorer de Microsoft a una inaceptable segunda posición en su propio sistema operativo, Windows.

Hacerse con el control del mercado de los navegadores suponía un movimiento muy importante para Microsoft. La web comenzaba a destapar su potencial como medio para comunicar y hacer negocios. Quien tuviera el control sobre la forma en que los usuarios interaccionan y visualizan la web, estaría en mejor posición para desplegar, innovar e influir sobre los desarrolladores de contenidos y en general todos aquellos particulares y empresas que tuvieran algún tipo de estrategia en torno a internet. Esta lucha llevo a la primera guerra de los navegadores entre Netscape y Microsoft, que acabó con la victoria de IE sobre Netscape y la investigación por parte de la administración estadounidense de las prácticas monopolísticas del gigante de Redmond.

Insipirados por el influyente libro de Erich Raymond, "The Cathedral and the Bazaar", los directivos de Netscape, sabiendo que las posibilidades de ganar aquella batalla eran mínimas, intentaron un movimiento desesperado: liberar el código fuente de su navegador.

Code Rush narra los días previos a la publicación de Mozilla, la versión libre de Netscape. Un trabajo sin descanso por eliminar todos los componentes third-party embebidos en el navegador, y que era necesario reemplazar por código libre. Hay una escena interesante en el documental en la Marc Andreessen llama a Steve Jobs para preguntarle si puede liberar un trozo de código que era propiedad de Apple.

El documental también recoge la pérdida de ilusión de muchos de los miembros de Netscape tras la posterior adquisición de la compañía por parte de AOL, y el escaso éxito por implicar a la comunidad de desarrolladores en los primeros meses tras la publicación del código. Nunca una compañía tan grande había realizado un movimiento parecido. En el documental Jamie Zawinski, evangelista open-source dentro de Netscape Corporation, reflexiona acertadamente sobre qué significó liberar Netscape, y poner en marcha el proyecto Mozilla:

"Even if eveything goes wrong, still is not as bad as you saying it is, because the nature of what Netscape did meant that the code belongs to the community now".

El navegador Mozilla, junto con la Mozilla Foundation, constituyeron las bases sobre las que nacería posteriormente Firefox. Justo ayer Firefox alcanzó los mil millones de descargas, y sigue incrementando su cuota de mercado en detrimento de la del obsoleto Internet Explorer.

Ahora que el cine está plagado de remakes, precuelas y secuelas, no estaría nada mal una segunda parte...

Por último mi más sincera enhorabuena a Andy Baio, por haber sido la pieza motor que ha impulsado la re-edición de este documental, y gracias también por su magnífica versión con anotaciones del mismo.