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Review: Creating comics goes social with Bitstrips

Bitstrips launched earlier this month as the latest new social web social 2.0 social web application to make webcomics easy. Did I mention that it was social? I was curious about the site both from a technical perspective and how it would treat comics. It was a big hit at this year’s South by South West Interactive event in Austin TX, but could it every affect the syndicated artists?

So what’s the big deal?

Bitstrips allows anyone to create a webcomic as easy as creating a Mii, or Yahoo Avatar. Friends can have fun building up caricatures of themselves and then write out a strip, gag or story about themselves. Once a comic is created, the finished product can be posted on blogs, MySpace, Facebook and a variety of other different sites. You can also leave comments, email a copy of the strip, flag it, rate it, and if the creator allows, you can even make a copy and modify it. To those with a good deal of discretionary time, this site is very sticky.

To experiment with it, here is a cartoon that I did back in 2003:

Here’s my attempt to recreate the same gag using Bitstrip:

But why would a syndicated cartoonist care about Bitstrips? In the short-term, there’s nothing to worry about. It’s too rudimentary for anyone to draw anything seriously and because the comic is hosted on their server, a creator’s ability to monetize their work is zilch. But it does do one thing better than any syndicate online offering: it allows visitors to comment, Digg, StumbleUpon, rate, or interact with other interested readers in a variety of ways. The ability to create a community is going to be paramount with the younger generations.

Here’s where it gets its kudos: It’s pretty easy to build characters and set them up in different scenes, sizes, colors, change and modify just about everything. You can create a three or four panel strip, a one panel gag or a multi-row story. And it requires no artistic ability.

Here’s where it falls short: There is no ability to change the width of the lines – it’s like drawing everything with a large sharpie. There is a limiting number of things like types of hair, clothing and scenes. If you save a character, you can’t go back and update the character – which is why my interviewee appears to be in underwear. I found it difficult to position items in the panel. Each time I tried to make the table larger, it made the characters larger as well defeating my purpose of placing them behind a large desk. And did I mention that it requires no artistic ability? Expect a lot of less than mediocre work.

The site reminds me of a point that Andy Rooney made several decades ago (and I’m paraphrasing): The computer doesn’t make us better writers, nor the microwave better cooks – it just made it easier to make lousy stuff. That said, the microwave and computer is now found in every home – the newspaper won’t always be.

Community Comments

#1 Howard Tayler
March/20/2008
@ 7:22 am

And it requires no artistic ability.

I’ll argue against that, because I think panel composition is an artistic ability. People with no panel composition skills, who can’t see in their minds’ eye what needs to be changed to pull off a particular gag, those people will be churning out the submediocre content.

People who DO have those skills can probably do okay, and will likely do even better if Bitstrips ever gets around to expanding the palette a little.

This isn’t going to threaten hand-drawn cartooning, however. No more so, at least, than MIDI devices with orchestral samples threatened orchestras back in the 80’s and 90’s.

–Howard

#2 Norm Feuti
March/20/2008
@ 2:00 pm

My concern would be this bit in their terms of use:

You will retain ownership in all Content You post on the site. By posting Content, you grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, Bitstrips a worldwide, perpetual, royalty-free and non-exclusive license to use, modify, publicly display, reproduce and distribute such Content until You or We remove it from the Site.

#3 Mike Rhode
March/21/2008
@ 4:41 pm

Here’s an interview I haven’t listened to yet:

*BITSTRIPS*FORTUNE COOKIE CHRONICLES*MOST STOLEN BOOKS* Jian Ghomeshi
talks to Ba – the Canadian creator of cartooning social network site
BitStrips. And New York Times columnist Jennifer 8 Lee talks about her
book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles about how Chinese food developed
outside China. Plus, a look at the most pilfered book titles and why
they get shoplifted

Right click to Download Q: The Podcast for Wednesday, March 19, 2008
[mp3 file: runs 57:05]
http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/qpodcast_20080320_5051.mp3

#4 Garey Mckee
March/21/2008
@ 7:46 pm

This is ver interesting. Especially in light of Dawn’s development of her comics site. I had mentioned in that thread that the only way any comics site is going to get any major traffic to warrant good ad revenue is to somehow make it socially interactive.

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