From page to screen: ‘Motion comics’ pop up on apps like TikTok, Snapchat
An animated Goddess Kali glares at you from your smartphone screen. Her enraged eyes blink; she sticks her tongue out and her sword lights up with angry sparks. She is ready for battle. Over the next 30 seconds, she takes on the demon Raktabeej, finally decapitating him with a spinning chakra.
That’s a snapshot from Kali, an ultra-short, animated “motion comic” launched on TikTok by the comic book and film company, Graphic India.
Motion comics differ from their printed and digital counterparts in that the characters are mildly animated, and there are voiceovers, sound effects and music. The comic book look and feel, though, are kept intact. Because of the nature of the platforms — TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, Spotify — each episode is between 5 and 50 seconds long.
Kali was a test run, but it did well, getting millions of views. So, in November, Graphic India launched two original motion comic series on its TikTok handle — 18 Days: The Mahabharata and Devi.
“The future of comic books is about jumping from the printed page to the smartphone screen and reinventing the format,” says Sharad Devarajan, co-founder and chief executive officer at Graphic India. “Motion comics allow for a new type of storytelling to emerge using the same underlying content. The goal is to bring these stories to potentially millions of new people who are not regularly exposed to comic books and can discover the medium in a way that is more relatable to them.”
A few months before Graphic India, in July, Blizzard Entertainment launched its Overwatch motion comic series on Snapchat. They have two digital comics out so far: Train Hopper, on the adventures of a cowboy vigilante; and Dragon Slayer, both from the Overwatch universe. The stories are told through 5- to 6-second Snapchat stories featuring animation, music and sound effects.
“The stories have speech bubbles, just like a comic would. The overall effect is immersive, but leaves a bit more to the imagination than a fully animated cartoon would,” says Eugene Walden, co-founder and chief operating officer at Madefire, the media technology platform responsible for animating the series on Snapchat.
Spotify, too, has been making attempts, the most notable of them being its 2018 series, Spotlight: Archie - The New Riverdale, which featured six episodes based on the new Archie comics.
To make these app-based versions, printed artwork from each comic book panel is animated. Sound effects and transitions are added. “Our comics are sketched using bold pencils strokes, inks and coloring to make each panel pop off the page. These visuals become even more impactful when seen on a mobile screen,” Devarajan says. “The motion comic version also allows us to quickly adapt each comic book storyline into numerous local languages by just changing the dubbed voice-over tracks.”
Typically, comic book companies pick from their fantasy and superhero genres, which have been found to work well in motion comic form on the new platforms.
“We understood that there was a huge community of Overwatch fans who were also heavily engaged Snapchat users,” says Walden. “Graphic fiction is undergoing radical change in terms of format and distribution to cater to this new audience. Even the new creators creating comics make and experience art digitally. So you’re starting to see storytelling modes themselves start to change.”
For users, these motion comics do combine the best of two worlds. Bengaluru-based Patrick Ignatius, 37, chief manager for revenue at MX Player, has viewed all of Graphic India’s comics on TikTok and says they’re easier to consume than comic books — especially since that format doesn’t translate easily to the smartphone, e-reader or tablet PC.
“Since they’re just 30 or 40 seconds long, you can binge watch them and yet they won’t take up too much of your time. Unlike a book, these comics are convenient to watch even while travelling or when you’re taking a chai break at work,” says Ignatius. “The new format also brings the comic book format to life, without making you feel like you’re watching an animated movie.”
Bengaluru-based yoga instructor, Neha Prem, 36, a fan of mythological fiction, says having the comics narrated was helpful too. “We’ve lost the habit of reading because we’re hooked to our phones so much. So it’s nice to have a voiceover narrate the comic for you.”