Friday, February 24, 2012

Telling Time

Earlier this week, Errant Story released the time line for the universe.  It's an interesting read, and it got me thinking about time and how it works in webcomics.   General time travel comes up in comics often enough that I won't go through and highlight these, but it's the use of time in comics that is more fascinating that it probably should be.

Which is to say in most cases, it doesn't work at all.  The majority of comics are "frozen" in time.  Character personalties may evolve over time, but their physical structure really doesn't.  Let's take Sluggy Freelance, my go to, for example.  Torg, Riff, Zoe and the rest have changed over the years since the comic started, the way they think and act this stands out particularly well.  Physically, though, they really haven't.  Aside from the art getting better (which I'm not counting), their general physical appearance really hasn't changed.  Though it's not outright stated, given the various time skips that have occurred, I suspect that the same amount of time the comic has been around has passed for the characters.  That's 15 years.  That means they're all in their mid 30's by this point, if not older, but they still look like the 20 somethings that started the comic.

A lot of newspaper comics do that, of course.  Blondie has existed for 80 years, and the couple aren't more than 40, if that, since their kids hit the teens.  Garfield has a birthday every June, meaning he's 33 now, but cats don't live that long.  Curse of a popular comic, I suppose, the characters really can never age, no matter how many years, both in comic and without, pass.

Then of course there's the oddly compressed.  College Roomies from Hell is about college students.  That means 4 - 6 years, max can pass.  How many years have actually passed?  13.  Now I haven't read it in a while, but somehow I doubt they've gone through more than 3 years at this point (unless there was a time skip I missed, could happen).  So much has happened in that comic that it would fill a lifetime, even more than Sluggy has managed, let alone 3 years.  Nothing is wrong with that, of course, lots of comics do that too, but it still seems odd.

Just Another Escape took advantage of the weird way time can be made to work in comics by bouncing between the past, present and future with the goal of having it all come together and make sense.  Didn't quite make the goal, but the idea is quite creative.  It covered past events which would normally have been done with flash backs or exposition while keeping it clear when things were happening.  I don't know of ANY comics that did exactly what JAE did, but then, I haven't read all of the comics.

Then there's City of Reality.  First there was the use of flash to let the reader play out events differently, using a special device to reset time and try again.  Still one of the most innovative use of flash in a comic I've seen, and a lot of fun to boot.  This is topped later by a time travel plot outright erasing an entire chapter and replacing it with another one (yes, they both start out the same).  Confused me when I read it, kept thinking "didn't we already cover this?,' then things went completely nuts and it was really awesome.

There's more about time, like time dilation stuff like in Too Late To Run where one of the main characters starts out frozen in a room separated from time.  Schlock Mercenary played with time travel and time related clones when Kev went back in time to prevent Tagon's death (and make a killing on the stock market).

Time is fun to play with, and can make an interesting, if confusing if abused.  Best to keep track using flow charts when it gets overly complex, just don't expect people to understand it.  Until next time kiddies.

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