Being ’Here’ with Richard McGuire
Richard McGuire was invited by the FLIC Pro to present his book and ebook ’Here’.
Why did you want to do an ebook of Here?
When I started to make the book I knew the concept was perfect for an ‘enhanced’ ebook. My publisher was excited because most of the cartoonists making graphic novels are not really interested in digital media, they’re purists. I’ve been involved with animation and I enjoy exploring new technologies.
According to you, why publishers are still reluctant to make ebooks?
Publishers are excited, but they are still a little fearful that it undermines book sales. They know how to sell books but unsure how to promote things like these.
Most of the interactive things I’ve seen are for children, I don’t see a lot for adults. I was really lucky to work closely with a programmer and develop this along side of the book version. They are both non-linear in their storytelling, but the digital version goes even further in that direction.
Can you tell us about the origins of Here?
The original ‘Here’ comic was one the first thing I’ve ever had published, it was a short six page story.
Later, I made a few children’s books. At one point I thought I should really try to do a graphic novel. I thought my first version of ‘Here’ was worthy subject to expand. It took me 3 years.
What’s new in the app?
Well first, it’s not an app, it’s an ‘ebook’. If it was an app, it would seem more like a game and I didn’t want it to be a game. We had a lot of discussion about this kind of things.
We discussed many options in it’s development. I’m also a musician, so that was suggested at one point to add a sound track. But for me, that was a different thing, this is a reading experience. I wanted to introduce animation, but very subtly, very small movements that only happen occasionally. The animation is timed by the program, so it doesn’t happen every time, when it happens it’s a real surprise, a real event, and it’s something moving in real time. You can page through the story back or forward like a normal book, or you can touch the panel and it continues the dialogue thread of that story. Or if you click on the date on the upper left corner, it starts to randomize and new combinations happen that don’t exit in the book. It’s still surprising to me, and there are thousand and thousand of possibilities. It’s interesting because the combinations start to create new meanings. Sometimes the new combinations of dialogues are really funny. It is mostly randomize, but we worked carefully on the some of the logic behind the randomization. For instance, there are ‘groupings’ that work better together so the program favors some things over others, but the same combinations don’t happen every time, that would be too predictable and become boring.
How difficult was to work with new technologies and with a developer?
Programs had to be written specifically for this. As an example when it came to animation we wanted it to load very fast with a hesitation. I don’t know a lot of the specifics about technological problems. The developer and I would meet and discuss what was possible. There was always this kind of discussion of going back and forward.
The first version that the programmer showed me had all these buttons everywhere and I thought it’s just looked too complicated and ugly. I wanted it to be very intuitive.
On the first page, there’s a little bit of instruction, but it’s not much. It says "this ebook is an adventure. It is the deconstruction of ‘Here’. The story is non linear, it experiments with the formal properties of comics, using multiple panels." The only instruction is: "you can swipe the pages, read the book in order, or shuffle or reshuffle the pages to allow new combinations and connections to arise. You’re your own guide in Here where time and space are anything but finite and the only limit is the screen itself." It simply says "tap the date and panels”, that’s all you need to know. It is the ‘remix’ version, It really enhances the book experience.
Now, you would like to move forward and adapt Here as a virtual reality experience, in that case is it still a reading experience ?
Every medium has its own strength. I was always saying that this story works best as comics, because in comics you can have simultaneousness that you can’t get in other mediums. When you open that book and you see all the information, because it’s like a diagram it’s like a map, you can read it very fluidly. If it was a film, I thought it would be too confusing, you wouldn’t know where to look, there would be too much movement with all these different panels.
I’ve been in recent discussions with people who are interested to produce the ‘virtual reality’ version of the book. VR is such a different experience. It doesn’t make sense to make a direct translation exactly like the book. It is such an immersive experience, they suggested sound cues to direct the viewers direction, and your movement would create the change. I thought that’d be an interesting way of rethinking the book. There is so much to explore with this new medium.
Is there specificity when you create for children?
I always try to create things that I’m concern about, I don’t feel I am creating for children specifically. With my first book, ‘The Orange Book’, it came about when I saw an orange in a subway track and I thought “Oh this poor orange, such a bad fate! And what happened to the other oranges” and then I was thinking of it, more about the path of life and fate of the individual.
Every book has the same kind of process, one of them is called ‘Night Becomes Day’. It’s about how one thing becoming something else, it’s a meditation on interconnection, as an example, trash can be recycled and become paper, and paper becomes something else. Another book is about ‘karma’, when someone does something and there’s a chain reaction that goes back to the person.
I’m working on a new book, it’s a bit like ‘The Orange Book’ in a way, it’s about people connected by their thoughts, everybody is thinking about each other. These are my concerns, which are not necessarily only for children, but I do want it to be ‘fun’. I want all my work to be entertaining and experimental.