Kleefeld On Webcomics #95: Fumetti

By Sean Kleefeld

I try to be particular in my word choices, so let’s clear up “fumetti” right off the bat. In English, the term is commonly used to describe comics that are made up of photographs instead of drawings. It’s actually a borrowed word, though, originally coming from Italy. “Fumetto” is the Italian word for a comic, with “fumetti” being the plural form. It got lifted into English with a slight alteration to the meaning, and the basic concept of photographed comics was reasonably popular throughout the 1970s. Most commonly, they were used as printed adaptations of movies and TV shows, with still shots being used as a quick and easy way to show the same story. This allowed fans to revisit their favorites repeatedly before the widespread use of home video, and these fotonovels, as they were often called, largely disappeared from store shelves with the advent of VHS. Although, strictly speaking, “fumetti” are comics produced in Italy, I’m going to use the term here in the common English vernacular.

The problem with fumetti has historically been the production cost. It’s much cheaper, for example, to draw page after page of a starship battle with lots of aliens than it is to create models and design costumes and the whole works. Add in the actual cost of film development and production, it adds up quickly. It can work at massively large scales that you find with movie studios, but the smaller scales that you see with books make it financially untenable. It only worked for those fotonovels because the models and costumes and everything were already completed for the movies themselves.

However, between the creation of digital cameras eliminating the need for film and the accessibility of the internet eliminating the need for printing, fumetti has been making something of a comeback in the form of webcomics. A potential webcomic creator may not be able to draw anything recognizable, but it’s exceptionally easy to take a picture. Not always a good one, of course, but many bad photographs are still more legible than even some half-decent drawings. The ubiquitousness of cameras any more means that almost anyone can create webcomics any time.

The most common approach to fumetti is basically to mimic the same visual language that most other comics have followed for decades. Panels are broken into distinct chunks with each one showing a different scene, and word balloons are added to show characters speaking. Stories like Union of Heroes and Night Zero use this approach.

But that’s not the only way to do fumetti online. It’s actually proven to be very effective for cooking demonstrations as readers can see precisely what their creations should look like. Tyler Capps makes things more entertaining, though, by taking a comedic approach in Cooking Comically, adding in some surprisingly stylish stick figures to provide additional context and commentary. I can’t say I’ve tried any of his recipes (I’m rubbish in the kitchen!) but many of them look fantastic! Albeit perhaps not always very healthy.

But another approach to webcomics that I’ve seen a couple of times is something closer to poetry. Derik Badman has probably been the most experimental in that regard, but the most recent example I’ve seen is Joshua Hoover’s A Story Revealed. Unlike some of the other fumetti creators, he’s actually a professional photographer first, so his images tend to be a bit more artistic. He’s only a few installments in, and admits that he hasn’t quite found his footing as a storyteller yet, but his approach in breaking down a single photograph into a full page comic can make for some interesting visuals. He is still telling a story with each piece, and there’s a lot of potential in his approach, I think, especially as he learns to balance the interplay between text and imagery.

There’s no one approach that’s more right than the others, of course. As with any webcomic, the execution depends on the needs of what the author is trying to do or say. But the internet removed a lot of the entry barriers that prevented many people from pursuing their dreams of be a comic artist, and digital photography has removed even more barriers.

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