This interview with
webcomic writer and artist Dorothy
Gambrell was conducted by Director Sebastien
Dumesnil via email during the making of Adventures
Into Digital Comics. This interview is a part of
the first set of interviews, which means that Dorothy
Gambrell received a part of the shotlist, and was
asked to answer the questions as if they were actually
shooting the interview together. Dorothy
Gambrell was offered the possibility to interact
this way with the members of the cast.
By sending the same
questions to all interviewees, Dumesnil wanted to get
the most necessary element of narrative filmmaking:
conflict. Despite the repetitive aspect of the questions,
we hope you will be surprised by the large panel of
answers and opinions offered by the interviewees.
Can you tell us
about your background?
I read newspaper comics
assiduously in elementary school, somewhere along the
way switched my allegiances to Matt Groening, and then
to the Fantagraphics catalog. Went to a non-specific
liberal arts college, didn't pay attention to anything.
Then I popped my head out of the ground with Cat
and Girl and, much to my surprise, saw a shadow.
What do you find
in comics that you wouldn't find in another type of
Comics are made for
reproduction, so they're very elastic in where they
appear, what they can be. Like any medium with actual
readers outside of the cognoscenti, they're generally
considered pop trash. I wouldn't want to work in any
medium that wasn't considered trash. I think bubblegum's
got a lot more to say about the modern condition that
John Cale ever will.
1993 was the last
profitable year for the American industry. The market
has been shrinking ever since. What do you think are
the causes of the industry's collapse in the 90's?
If your target market
never takes the comics out of the plastic wrappers the
quality of their insides gets overlooked. And if the
quality of their insides is neglected for too long,
even collectors begin to realize how worthless they
To make more money
and be able to reach different places such as bookstores,
the publishers have created the trade paperback. As
an example, many people have read Sandman when
it was available on paperback, but not before. Do you
feel that the comic book format had its days, and could
be replaced by the paperback?
Paperbacks feed into
the perceptions of comics becoming a mature medium"graphic
novels" for people who wouldn't deign read a comic book.
There's no reason why the growth of one sort of packaging
ought to overwhelm the other, but it's up to the market
Also around the same
time came the internet. Did you guess at that time that
the internet could become a distribution system for
Well, no. Lynx didn't
seem to offer much but text based ham radio (Oh gosh!
I'm at an internet site based in Sweden.) The comics
thing, and graphics in general, didn't look possible
until large numbers of people started getting home internet
Diversity seems to
be a key problem for the industry. Do you think that
current comic books are oriented mainly toward a male
audience in its 20's?
I can't really saybeing
a female in my 20s, I don't read comic books, as none
have ever interested me. Those few people I know that
read comics are males in their late teens/early 20stake
from that what you will. I do think it would be a lot
more fun if the industry oriented itself towards males
in the 1920s, and published books about speakeasies
and petting in the park. I would read that.
In the biggest comic
conventions we can find paper and digital artists. Some
paper artists seem to be ferociously anti-digital. Do
you feel that there are now two clans of comic book
Oh gosh, it's silly
argument. Paper and digital are just two different mediums
of creation (and for a lot of people comfortable with
both, they're just different means of distribution).
Why is infighting always biggest among marginalized
Some digital comics
use animation; others sound, etc. For you, what is a
digital comic? What would be the aesthetic definition?
It's digital if the
creation or presentation of the cartoon is dependent
on computers. It's a comic if the reader determines
the pace at which it is read.
Do you think that
digital comics offer much more diversity than the paper
It depends on your definition
of paper market. If you're speaking of big publishers,
of the "comics industry," then yes, digital comics offer
infinitely more variety. But if you open up that definition
to small presses and the fine publishing house of Kinko's,
then it's the same. Distributing on the internet levels
the playing field between publishers and makes it easier
for those formerly of Kinko's to appear just as legitimate
as big publishers, and to attract similar amounts of
readers. I think this makes the diversity among print
Only big publishers
would have the financial asset to afford the legal support
needed in the piracy issue. How do you think that the
big companies will make their way into the digital world?
Do you think that independents will have to wait for
those companies to make money in a safe way?
The big companies will
wait for independents to create models of payment and
content delivery that operate safely and efficiently.
Then they'll push their properties the same way and
attempt to muscle everyone else out of business.
Do you think that
readers are into comics for collecting and need to touch
a comic book to enjoy it, or would a computer screen
be enough for them? What about you?
I am not a collector,
and I don't much like the concept. Collecting is about
having exclusive things, about being special by owning
things that other people can't have. A strength of comics
on the internet is that they are available to anyone
who comes across them, and can be "owned" on hard drives
by an unlimited number of people. However, I can see
CD-ROMs of cartoons and bonus features being marketed
very successfully to collectors.
There are many issues
that could prevent digital comics from growing, such
as piracy. Also, and even novelists ran into that wall,
it seems to be hard to get paid, even with systems such
as PayPal. Subscription, advertisement, micro-payments:
what do you think is the best option to be paid on the
web for digital creations?
The person who figures
that one out will be smarter and richer than I ever
There are different
ways to compose a comic book story on the internet.
Some artists like to consider the screen as a page,
others still use a typical comic book format. We can
also use the screen as a panel/link leading to another
panel and so on. Finally, other artists use the internet
as an unlimited space to compose a story. Do you think
that digital comics offer more possibilities as far
as composition is concerned?
Paper comics could be
composed on giant sheets of paper... digital offers
a larger canvas, paper would offer the experience of
hiding parts of the entire by folding... they're different
mediums. Digital offers unexplored ways of composition,
but no more so that paper does.
Do you think that
scrolling is the main limitation of digital comics?
Oh no. Scrolling can
be used as a way to involve people, as page turning
can be, or to exploit which areas of the canvas remain
hidden to the reader. That the creator doesn't know
when people will be scrollingthat their canvas
differs according to the user-is a larger problem. Bandwidth
limitations are also more of a concern.
One can find digital
comics on the web, but also short films produced especially
for the internet. Do you watch such films sometimes?
What do you think of them?
I don't watch the films,
as I've got a regular pokey old modem at home.
We talked earlier
about the unlimited space and animated digital comics.
Do you think that we could apply some of those compositional
ideas to live moving pictures, instead of just drawn
The problem arises when
the pace set by the piece (the moving pictures) and
the pace set by the user (scrolling) come into conflictwouldn't
people quite possibly miss out on where key dialogue
was coming from if they chose to linger on the different
part of a huge canvas?
Bad artistic, and
moreover marketing, decisions have been the main reasons
of the industry's downfall. The digital technology seems
like a good solution to create art without any form
of concession. Do you think that the internet is an
open door for new creative voices?
Oh, yes. It's a remarkable
place in terms of distribution.
Now that comic books
have become a niche market (whether they are on paper
or digital), pretty much like painting, do you think
that we're going to see a peak of creativity and quality
as a reaction to the current situation?
A peak of creativity
in response to a niche market, which restricts the audience
and the future pool of creators? God no. If all works
astoundingly well, the internet will allow cartoons
to get back out of this niche market they've crawled
into to die. Then we'll see a peak of creativity and