Tag Archives: comic books

Storyboarding emergencies

A team of Spanish researchers have found a way to make emergency communication more effective with a storyboarding technique (e.g. comic books are set up like storyboards with panels of visualized information and, sometimes, text).

They published their paper in April 2011 and I’m not sure why they’ve reissued the news releases at this time but I’m glad they did.

From the March 12, 2012 news item on physorg.com,

Spanish researchers at the Universidad Carlos III of Madrid have developed a computer application that allows georeferenced images that have been uploaded to social networks on the Internet to be recovered, located on maps and organized like a comic to create a visual perspective of a specific story, such as a crisis situation or an emergency.

I prefer this description of the research (from the Research paper: eStorys: A visual storyboard system supporting back-channel communication for emergencies [behind a paywall] Authors: Malizia, A. Bellucci, A. Díaz, P. Aedo, I. Levialdi, S. Source: Journal of Visual Languages and Computing. Volume: 22. Issue: 2. Pages: 150-169. Published: APR 2011. ISSN: 1045-926X [I have removed footnotes])

In times of emergency, members of the public tend to improvise and perform various activities, such as provide first-aid to wounded people, victims transportation to hospitals or even take photos to document the event … Along with these activities, taking place physically on the disaster area, a huge number of social interaction among citizens occur. In a disaster situation people need information. They seek it for themselves and, at the same time, try to provide helpful information, such as the emergency status or damages evaluation, to other citizens, including their relatives or friends. This phenomenon is often ignored by the members of governmental agencies, which are almost entirely focused on their official role in the process of dealing with the disaster. Therefore, in such a context, people communications are considered back-channels (or peer-to-peer) activities, in contrast with the information provided by the official channels … Although back-channel communications can be viewed, in the emergency management domain, as potential vehicles to spread misinformation and rumours compromising the public safety, their presence is growing with each new disaster.

During emergencies, online social media are increasingly gaining prominence for the members of the public to find and provide information independently, or in parallel, with official channels. Social services, such as collaborative tagging systems, social networking sites or even blogs and wikis, support peer-to-peer communications. Such systems allow users to both produce and consume information about the disaster. In this way citizens can organize among themselves and share information exploiting existing technologies. This fact clearly shows how the presence of information and communications technology is changing the disaster response arena, making back-channel communications and people involvement more tangible …

Interestingly (to me), this system has been evaluated by experts in the province of British Columbia (in Canada [where I live]) and in Washington State (US). From the (undated) press release titled, A georeferenced digital “comic” to improve emergency management on the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid website,

This platform has also been evaluated through interviews with emergency management professionals in British Columbia (Canada) and the state of Washington (EEUU). “The results suggest that governmental agencies prefer to approach the social networks through more restricted communities, practice communities or special interest communities, so that the credibility of the information can guaranteed,” comments Paloma Díaz. “The lack of reliability of the information found on the social networks continues to be one of the greatest impediments to their being incorporated into the process of emergency management,” she concludes.

Nevertheless, the tool that the researchers have created can be used by anyone who wishes to compose the story of a specific crisis or emergency situation, such as a journalist, or by anyone who wishes to share their experience with others.

Also from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid website, here’s a representation of what you might see in an estory,

Credit: Universidad Carlos III de Madrid website

They have produced a video but you will need Spanish language skills to fully understand the researcher,

If you listen carefully, you will hear Paloma Diaz say Vancouver and British Columbia. For those who prefer to (and can) read materials in the language of origin, the Spanish language press release is here.

Superman remade for contemporary audiences amid massive comics relaunch

I am constantly fascinated by how the publishing industry is changing so this caught my attention. DC Comics, or DC Entertainment as they are now called, are relaunching every comic book title (52 in all) they own, starting August 31, 2011. The relaunch, all the comics restart at no. 1,  features both print and digital versions. Among other titles, DC Entertainment owns Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and Justice League.

Heidi MacDonald in her September 2, 2011 article for Salon.com interviews Jim Lee, DC’s co-publisher and an artist on Justice League,

The reason for the relaunch has been stated as keeping current readers and getting back lapsed readers. I know it’s only been two days, but how’s it going?

Someone commented, “Where are the reviews by the new readers?” And my counter is, well, [laughs] I think a new reader isn’t going to read it and then run to the computer and write an online review! They are reading it for entertainment and they don’t know you’re supposed to put them in bags and boards.

To me, there’s a definite silent majority that doesn’t check out websites or tweet about it. It’s a tough group to measure. That said, based on recent numbers, certainly Justice League No. 1 has surpassed the recent highs in comics sales. The second printing is already sold out, we’re doing a third. And Action No. 1 and Batgirl No. 1 have also sold out [from the distributor]. I’ve heard anecdotally from retailers, from texts and tweets, about first-time comics readers. It looks very positive.

It’s also setting records digitally. I can’t give numbers, but on the first day it set a record for us.

Once you compared the volume of DC’s digital comics sales to dental floss. Is it up to dental tape now?

It’s too early to say. The goal isn’t to increase one pipeline vs. the other. [emphasis mine] Everything is designed to increase the overall size of the pie.

How do you see print and digital evolving together either in the short term or long term?

Obviously there are going to be some people who convert from print to digital. They may already have done that or are doing that. When Justice League came out [in digital form], there was already a pirated digital version that had been out for six hours. For me it’s all about giving people who want digital comics a legal alternative. And I think that’s an important decision for the health of our business. At the same time I don’t think you can go digital and say you’re trying to reach new readers without going out to promote this as we have. The TV commercials we’re doing have a pretty extensive buy list of mainstream cable shows. There are a lot of good things happening. We’ve brought a lot of good creators to the books, we’ve promoted the hell out of it and made it as easy to buy the comics as possible, and I think that strategy is paying off.

This relaunch comes at a time when the comic book industry is faltering. From Rob Salkowitz’s August 30, 2011 article for Fast Company,

Why is a media entity as large as DC and an industry as widespread as comics publishing still wrestling with the problems of digital distribution in 2011?

The short answer is that the retail distribution system for comic books is tied up in a fist-sized knot and has been for the last two decades. Starting in the 1980s, most comic publishers discontinued newsstand sales, where unsold issues could be returned for a refund, in favor of a “direct market” system that shipped exclusively to specialized comic book stores on a non-returnable basis.

But it turns out there is a problem distributing your product exclusively through independently owned retail stores run by and for your products’ biggest fans. Despite the efforts of some active and visionary retailers, the odor of overgrown adolescent male hangs heavy over many comic shops, creating a forbidding environment for women, kids, and casual fans who might have an interest in the material but don’t want to put up with old-school comic book culture.

(It seems the characters in The Big Bang Theory [US television programme] are not quite as outrageous as one might think.) At any rate, Salkowitz regards this attempt to include a digital version of an issue as part of a strategy to migrate from print to digital,

So here we are in 2011 and the industry is just beginning to seriously discuss real, commercial models for digital comics. It’s a critical moment. If Hollywood money and the bookstore channel dry up before publishers have successfully migrated their audience (and their revenue stream) to digital, they will be stuck with the same dysfunctional retail system and an acutely shrinking, aging audience.

Will DC’s move signal the beginning of the next era for the comics industry, or the beginning of the end? In classic comic cliffhanger style, we’ll have to wait for the next issue to find out.

This contrasts with Lee’s assertion (in the interview with Heidi MacDonald) that one format is not intended to displace the other.

This relaunch also affects the stories. Susan Karlin interviewed Grant Morrison, author of Superman No. 1, 2011, for her August 29, 2011 article for Fast Company,

On Sept. 7, DC Comics will launch the revamped Action Comics, written by veteran comics auteur Grant Morrison–hot off his lauded new book, Supergods. Morrison has the superhuman task of reinventing one of the comic world’s–and popular culture’s–biggest characters for the 21st century, and, in the process, trying to write a new chapter for the struggling comic book publishing industry.

“I felt the weight of history with this one,” says Morrison in his soft-spoken Glaswegian lilt. “I wanted to do something that was as much a part of these times as when (Action Comics) first came out. Superman has always been the champion of the oppressed. I wanted to move away from the standard superhero tales and in the direction of folk tales in the vein of a Paul Bunyan.”

In the revised version, featuring art by Rags Morales (penciling), Rick Bryant (inking), Brad Anderson (color) and Patrick Brosseau (lettering), Morrison pares down the convoluted narrative that began overshadowing the Superman myth. “It had become a pro-wrestling contest between characters– who was stronger, faster, bigger,” he says. “I wanted to evoke a more universal human Superman, who was less of a costumed figure representing patriotic authority, and more about struggles on the street.”

… Superman’s fighting crime, of course, but the authorities are suspicious of his powers. He’s misunderstood. He’s different

It seems this focus about ‘fear and suspicion’ of the superheroes is to be found in all of the ‘new’ comics. From the MacDonald article,

When you first see these heroes, because of their powers and wearing masks, and not using their real names, the public is anxious and fearful about them.

I wonder if Morrison, Lee and the others involved in this relaunch recognize that these feelings of fear, suspicion, and anxiety might also describe the comic book industry as it grapples with the changes in publishing and distribution.

Nanotech comic books

Originally released in 2008 by Marvel Comics, New-Gen chronicles the adventures of nanotechnology-enhanced super humans. From the article by Patrick Montero at the New York Daily News,

Though similar to other superhero teams, the nanopowered creatures of the futuristic action comic series, New-Gen, are not your average mutant superheroes. What sets them apart is the seamless blending of your classic superhero with real science-based fact.

“Nanotechnology is a real science,” exclaims J.D. Matonti, creator and co-writer of the New-Gen series, “I reached out to NASA scientist, Dr. Brad Edwards, [to learn about] the possibilities of nanotechnology. What if someone was composed of nanobots? What sort of incredible powers could manifest?

We wanted to employ a realistic approach as to where those nanopowers could originate from so when our audience read New-Gen they would think, ‘Hey, this can really happen!'”

I searched Dr.Brad Edwards and found an interview where someone with the same name and an association with NASA (US National Aeronautics and Space Administration) discusses his work on a space elevator. From Sander Olson’s article on Next Big Future,

… Dr. Edwards received his PhD in physics in 1990, and worked at Los Alamos National Lab for 11 years. After leaving Los Alamos, Dr. Edwards has dedicated his career to researching and developing the space elevator concept. All of his research indicates that the space elevator concept is valid and feasible. He currently heads a company called Black Line Ascension, which is actively promoting the space elevator concept. He has published several books on the space elevator, including The Space Elevator: A Revolutionary Earth-to-Space Transport System, and Leaving the Planet by Space Elevator.

I think this is the same person cited in Montero’s article and, while he doesn’t mention nanobots, he does discuss carbon nanotubes and their application in his space elevator project at some length.

Also cited in Montero’s article is a NASA Center for Nanotechnology. The site doesn’t seem to have been updated since April 2007. I mention it because of this comment in Montero’s article,

According to the NASA Center for Nanotechnology (CNT), nanotechnology robots, or nanobots, are microscopic machines that work on an atomic level to systematically organize and manipulate materials 100 millionth of a millimeter or smaller.

I couldn’t find any references to nanobots on that website. Perhaps the creators/writers gave Montero references that were valid in 2007 when they were likely researching and preparing the series prior to its 2008 launch?

I did go to the Marvel Comics website to find free copies of the first three installments of the series as promised in Montero’s article. (Go here.) From the Marvel Comics New-Gen page,

A battle over Nanotechnology rages between two superhuman scientists. Gabriel banishes his former friend, Deadalus, to an underworld, sends his infant twin sons to Earth and takes in the young children and creatures affected by Nanotechnology. The children and creatures grow up possessing unique NanoPowers in the Association for the Protection of New Generation (A.P.N.G.) and will oppose Deadalus as he evolves into the purely evil Sly attempting to transform worlds.

There’s also a New-Gen website where you can read up on the latest about the series, find biographies for each character, and more.

The series, from what I’ve seen of it, looks like it might be good, goofy fun although I understand from Montero’s article that the creative team has reworked the original stories to make them edgier for their new (2010) release as mobile comics. As for the science aspect, I think they had good intentions when they started the research.