TLDR: I'd like your help designing and perhaps co-patenting what you coined the infinite canvas. I'm working on the tech that makes that possible right now. A 3d navigation engine called Harmony.
I'm a goofball, but this is actually a serious request. Please read.
Billions of blistering barnacles! This got longer than I expected!
Even if you're not Scott yourself, I'm sure you'll still find this letter (more like an essay, smh) very interesting. At the Guild of Artists, everything we do is shared with our community in the interest of transparency. Thanks to the community members that caught mistakes and helped me make improvements!
This letter includes several excerpts from Scott McCloud's graphic Novel "Reinventing Comics: Evolution of an art form." Please support him by following his socials and purchasing his excellent work available in stores, both physical and digital, worldwide!
Do I know you?
Not yet! I'm Marc, a 23 yo Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science with a specialization in business and accounting. I have experience working on technologies like computer-vision, robotics, augmented reality, medical privacy-compliant software and more. In my spare time, I'm an accessibility-focused web developer that maintains two open-source browser extensions used by nearly a million people all over the globe.
A little while back I got in touch with the very nice Kristi, the person spearheading the hurculean Etsy strike. I shared some details about the project I've been working on (more about this later) and, in the following weeks, she excitedly pointed people towards my cause. This led me to meeting Thomas, another programmer, who himself is very interested in comics and a big fan of yours. When describing my project, he asked me "Have you heard of Scott McCloud?" One thing led to another and I purchased your graphic novel "Reinventing comics."
What I'm working on
I've now been working for eight months on starting a cooperative between professional artists called "The Guild of Artists" (a bit cheesy, I know ). We're building an inclusive, safe, open, artist-owned marketplace to share and sell artwork. We hope to become a bastion dedicated to protecting artist, worker and creator rights. I've been working on building the technical infrastructure that makes it possible.
First versions of the marketplace were very boring web pages. Hence, the designs got a mixed response from our small community long before they went live. I wasn't happy with the restrictions those designs enforced, so I set up to build a sort of virtual sandbox where artists build galleries in a 3d top-down video-game-like world.
The Age of Corporations
There's a lowly word executives in the tech industry like to throw around a lot. Rather that call a piece of artwork by what it really is, they refer to it as "user-generated content." As far as they are concerned, its face value is only the revenue it generates. Blech!
Traditionally all social platforms force you to upload user-generated content in limiting ways; including restrictive layouts, quantities, formats etc. It makes sense given that algorithms are designed to pit these individual nuggets of content against each other for real estate on precious user feeds. They force artists to make serious compromises when sharing their work, placing bets on which piece of artwork in their catalog will gain the most traction.
The corporations who build such software do so with the intent of generating money, often by collecting and re-selling user data, showing ads and taking fees from merchants. If artists could show their art how they wanted, where would a company efficiently squeeze in an advertisement? God forbid a user actually like a creator's content so much that they leave the app to go support the artist directly! Oh no, my precious bottom line has been ruined!
One of the earliest requests from the artists I came in contact with was to remove these creative restrictions. Artists want to share not just one image, video or text, but several pieces of information together as a single, cohesive unit.
"But hey, is that a problem?" Scott then asks on the following page. I think so. Our artists seem to think so too. See the conversation below, one of the very first we ever had regarding what would become the Guild of Artists:
Easy, no problem... or so I thought. This choice led me to completely re-think how I was going to get this show on the road. When I boiled down the core idea of presenting artwork to an audience... I was left with images, videos, text, etc relating to each other spacially; in essence comics.
Over two decades ago, you had in many ways envisioned the future I was trying to build. The similarities between your ideas and my approaches to solving issues are striking... Additionally, your comic challenged me to re-approach the problems I've been dealing with building this tech.
For example, a big issue building apps is incompatibility between different screen sizes and navigation methods.
Most websites spread out content on wider-screened desktops. If this same layout was used on smartphones, users would have to awkwardly scroll side-to-side to reveal hidden content on the left and right sides of the screen, while people expect to only scroll up/down. To solve this issue, layouts are resized on mobile screens so content shows itself in a single column that fits within the width of the screen.
Unfortunately, this is one of several issues with the "infinite canvas." If I give artists a sandbox where they can place artwork in places where they might be hidden on smaller screens, it will result in very mixed experiences for people browsing these spaces on different devices.
However, I realized that taking inspiration from the comic medium, this infinite 3d gallery can be sub-sectioned into pages, that are themselves sub-sectioned into comic panels. Rather than separating these, they always exist together in a 3d space; the viewer's perspective is altered so their viewing experience of the artwork can be maximized on whatever size screen they are using.
On larger devices, entire pages would be shown at once. On smaller screens the content would be zoomed in on individual panels.
The Age of the Independent Artist
The web is inspired by print. However, as it progressed, the web has started to morph into the third dimension, the z-axis. Built on top of the technologies of the current era, I envision a free-to-roam artist-created 3d world built on top of flat rectangular comic pages with interactable elements. Imagine 3d models that "pop out" from the page, or pages rotated in 3d space.
The Guild of Artists marketplace would be a catalog of comics, each made of an infinite number of pages from which customers could purchase ready-made artwork, commission artwork and more. Pages could be connected to others using dimension-warping portals, allowing a fluid experience for visitors to travel in the z-axis from one comic to another. Artists could share what they are working on by publishing comics and updating them over time. These updates would be summarized and pushed to their fan's devices.
My hope is that in the future we will start to repair the damage created by large corporations: think the harmful delivery/response times marketplaces like amazon/etsy place on artists or the unsustainable expectation for artists on twitter/tiktok/youtube to stay relevant with viral trends. Comics could replace twitter feeds for sharing artwork, and portals could replace retweets allowing artists to share each other's work and promote social causes important to them!
Watch my recorded video below for more details, or visit the whats.guild.art on a device with a large screen for access to a 3d presentation that demonstrates and explains how the marketplace will work.
Why I need your help, Scott
Firstly, I need a partner that shares this vision; someone who can bring it to life with their artwork. I want someone who's willing to explore the extent of what is possible; who's work and feedback will be as critical as mine in determining the look and feel of the final system. Scott is a veteran of the comics industry and it'd be a dream to work with him in order to make this a reality.
Secondly, I'd like to address a minor fear of mine when it comes to legal rights. I want what I'm making to be a tool exclusive for professional artists within our network. My hopes for a patent are to show that we're serious, lend credibility to what we're building and defend ourselves if necessary. A patent is hardly a necessity or a priority, but a provision. No idea is worth anything without good execution and we're still a long way from that. The real work is building a community and a helpful tool for artists to make a living. My offer for a co-patent is serious, but it requires time and money from both parties involved; so it's up to you whether it becomes a reality soon. Especially since I don't plan on filing for a patent on my own for a while.
Thirdly, I need an art spokesperson. I'm happy to do the talking, but when it comes down to illustrating the concepts I have in my head, it only comes out as scribbles that make children's artwork look like masterpieces. So what I need is someone to show our audience what's in the making and then show what's possible once it becomes usable.
Fundamentally, The Guild of Artists is designed not to generate profit... rather it's designed to keep itself afloat within a large enough margin to guarantee its services be provided to artists. It has no provisions for paying staff and developers. We'll be relying on crowd-sourced funding from our artist community and that relies on traction and usership. Our goal will be to eventually to create a sustainable business where the marketplace directly addresses the needs of artists and artists directly fund ongoing development and moderation.
Contact me back and we can set up a meeting time! I'm very friendly... or so people tell me.
At the end of the day
Your comic was invaluable in that it helped me re-think several flawed aspects of my approach to solving the harmony renderer, among several other problems. I'm really glad I found it. Thank you for writing it!!!
Ultimately I understand that what I'm asking for may be a lot, so I'll take whatever help or feedback you're willing to give me if any at all. Your reputation precedes you after all and you undoubtedly lead a busy life. I don't expect a response. It was worth a shot. Thanks for reading what I had to say!
Regardless of what you choose, this is my life now, I'll see this to the end. Maybe I'll file a patent on my own once I scrounge up the funds, but it'll probably be a while.
This last one goes to anyone reading this, regardless of who you are. If you see any value in what I'm trying to build, please become a part of it!