Monday, March 24, 2008

I Think Star Wars is Turning Japanese's Expanded Universe blog recently showcased a number of scenes from the original Marvel comic and the much later Media Works magna editions of the original Star Wars trilogy. It reveals both a striking contrast in how different cultures approach the material in a graphically illustrated form and how different artists either suffered or benefited from a sophisticated familiarity with their subject. But in particular, the comparisons below demonstrate how a more flexible storytelling format can facilitate good narration, dramatic effect, and inventive visuals.

To some degree, it's unfair to lament Marvel's original adaptations of the Star Wars trilogy. Each comic was produced during each film's post-production period – meaning the artists had not seen the films and were working merely from the script with only some key photography and concept art to provide visual direction. But more significantly, and especially in comparison to a manga adaptation, Marvel's artists had to conform to the page count and printing standards of newsstand comics from 1977-1983. This meant that all the action of a Star Wars film had to be crammed into six issues (or, in the case of Return of the Jedi, a mere four).

Japanese manga, on the other hand, has a much more flexible format. Unlike American newstand comics, manga page counts can swell or constrict to accommodate a more deliberate and varied pace of storytelling. And since the manga adaptations were not released until 1997, their artists benefited from years of study and familiarly with the Star Wars films.

What follows is a sampling of the most striking juxtapositions of the Star Wars trilogy presented in Media Works 1997 manga adaptation and Marvel's original serial interpretations. Please note that the manga pages presented here are their original Japanese incarnation, with the action playing out right-to-left. When Dark Horse Comics translated the manga editions to English they flipped the imagery so that it read left-to-right. Scene descriptions are taken from

The Cantina
Starting with the Episode IV adaptation from Hisao Tamaki, the manga edition definitely benefits from the cantina being a much better researched environment. Offering up a whole page for Luke and the reader to explore the darkened corners of the bar lets the artist populate it with many more familiar faces. The devil-faced Labria is there, as is the band, the side-burn sporting rockabilly spacer BoShek, the snooty looking smoker Dannik Jerriko, and a rather fetching rendering of the Tonnika twins.

Conversely, the Marvel version has to condense its cantina introduction into a single panel. From the imagery in this and the background elsewhere in the comic, it seems likely artist Howard Chaykin was only given reference stills of the aliens assembled on set in England, and not the aliens shot during pickup photography -- so no Hammerhead, no Bith band, and no devil-face.

Han's Run-in with the Stormtroopers
The Japanese version of Han's run-in with stormtroopers aboard the Death Star really plays up the comedic angle of this scene. The exaggerated wild takes and flop sweat on Chewbacca, the cry of Han's battle charge curving down the corridor, Luke's half-lidded boredom with Han's antics, and the shoulder-to-shoulder countercharge by about 17 stormtroopers crammed into one panel are all for laughs.

The US Marvel version plays it more straight, and because the action is distilled to only six panels, Han's dialogue has to explain what's happening in the scene.

The Death of Obi-Wan Kenobi
A very graphical convention encountered time and again in the manga adaptations is the complete absence of backgrounds when a dramatic moment demands all attention to the foreground. When Obi-Wan sacrifices himself to Vader's blade, the moment takes place against stark white, so as to leave little doubt as to what happened.

The American version has to have the action of Kenobi's disappearance occur in only two panels, so it makes the most of it by having an extremely dramatic frame of Vader's strike, followed by Roy Thomas' descriptive text further detailing what has just occurred.

The Destruction of Alderaan
This is truly a stunner. First, the US version, which contains the destruction of Alderaan in a single panel.

Now, the manga version, which turns Alderaan's death into a real show-stopper, stretching it out to ten whopping pages. Across these five two-page spreads, we see ground zero on the surface of Alderaan and a stunned crowd scene as a blinding light flashes down from the heavens. We cut to Leia's anguished reaction before the planet finally vanishes in an enormous explosion that turns the Death Star into a tiny silhouette.

For more examples, visit FB

Monday, March 17, 2008

Turn the Pages with Issuu

There are plenty of ways to embed documents into webpages. But when it comes to replicating the look and feel of a magazine or book, most digital efforts fall flat or complicate the interface.

Thank goodness there's Issuu.

Issuu lets you upload a PDF and then flip through it seamlessly on a dedicated Webpage or in a small embedded widget. Issuu's media viewer, which presents the content like a real publication, is a slick Flash-based interface that is fast, scalable, and smooth. But most importantly, Issuu's page-turning interface doesn't detract from the experience – indeed, it gives the reader a good feel for the document's "print" layout and makes browsing online publications familiar and fun.

Just upload your PDF to Issuu and it takes care of all the heavy lifting. Issuu converts your document into SWF that looks more like a book than a standard text document. And while there are plenty of services out there that let you embed a PDF file on a web page, Issuu is one of the best looking, and performing, that we've seen. The new ebook can then be embedded on pretty much any website, including Facebook, MySpace, LiveJournal, or Blogger pages (case in point).

Each digital book is set on a simple gray background. There are thumbnails of each nearby page which are given an OS X-ish zoom treatment when you mouse over them. And even small details of the original texts can be perused by zooming in to full screen mode, to read small text,or by simply zooming around with your mouse cursor to view each page in greater detail. It's completely intuitive, and great for documents with a lot of art (of which there are many samples already on Issuu's website). In fact, Issuu has already inspired hundreds of users to make and comment on a wide array of professional-looking art, photography, and travel mags, all of which are on view in Issuu's open library.

We can't wait to see more print designers use apps like this to create purpose-built print websites. But whatever your motive, give Issuu a shot and let us know what you think. FB