S.M.A.S.H. 4 / Pitches / Future

On Saturday 26th of November the fourth S.M.A.S.H. happened on the 4th floor of the Barbican. Three panels. Twelve guests. Lots of interesting chat.

For each panel we sent the guests a list of questions and asked them to write down their thoughts which they then read out at the start to get us going. With their very kind permission we now present their words below.

This here is what people wrote about – Future.

What does the future of comics look like?
In the future will we read all our comics on a screen? Why?
What new forms can comics take?
What haven’t comics done yet?
At what point do comics stop being comics?
Do we need to change the form of comics or will it change itself?
What is the most futuristic comic you’ve read? What made it so?




I have literally no idea what the future of comics looks like, I barely know what the present of comics looks like but I can tell you what I hope the future of comics looks like.

I’d like to see comics become more popular, and more accepted as an art form, not so that we can gain acceptance to the grand palace of Art and Literature where the tasty vol-au-vents are, but so that more people get to experience what an intuitive way of telling and reading a story comics is.

I feel like this is happening already but I’d like to see more women creating and consuming comics, as well as artists and readers from all ethnic backgrounds (says the middle class, white guy). I can enjoy up to two episodes of Big Bang Theory back to back, but honestly I’d like to free comics from the weird set of cultural assumptions that have tied it to teenage boys and the emotionally stunted in the popular imagination. (Maybe then my wife will come into comic shops other than Gosh!)

I enjoy the odd superhero movie and comic, but I’m sick to the back teeth of people hearing I like comics and asking “so, what did you think of the latest Batman/Avengers/this week’s Spiderman film?”. Some of them are alright, but mostly I found them to be boring, formulaic, CGI-fests with no vision and I’m not sure why we’re talking about them.

I’m 38 and I’m fed up with superheroes.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with a good superhero yarn, but I feel like comics (by which I guess I really mean UK and US comics) have been hamstrung by this peculiar attachment to one, self-obsessed genre. There have been loads of great UK comics that have nothing to do with superheroes or even sci-fi but ask most of my non-comics friends what a ‘graphic novel’ is and they’ll think of ‘one of those comics for grown-ups, where the superheroes swear and have sex’.

I want to see the ‘comics industry’ as another successful wing of publishing, in which readers enjoy and expect to find all kinds of stories, and not just fiction but non-fiction, biography, poetry, journalism, all the kinds of information that can be relayed by this versatile and immediate art form. I guess I’m thinking of a situation more like the comics culture in France. My hunch is that these comics will be enjoyed on paper and screens, at least for the foreseeable future. We’re forever being told that our society has become more visual, and comics should be the perfect medium for our time, positioned at the pregnant point between word and image. But too many people still freak out at the thought of comics being capable of conveying anything beyond lycra empowerment fantasies.

To be clear, I think that comics and comics culture have made significant inroads in this direction in the past twenty years. It’s been wonderful to witness the increasing diversity of comics readers and the variety of comics being produced. We just need more of this. This will mean more publishers, more outlets for physical and digital comics, more journalism about comics and hopefully more readers.



Barcelona in the early 1990s. I am a festival with Art Spiegelman. We meet up after looking at so many comics from stand to stand, old and new, and he tells me:  “Comics keep getting stuck in the same ten minutes.”

There is all this forgetting, this repetition, the learning, then unlearning and relearning, all those innovations not built upon.

This is why Spiegelman has also advised:

“The Future of Comics Is in the Past.”

How can we build the future comics if we don’t know what we’ve already built?

But is there a future for comics?

Thus year, Alan Moore explained why he sees no future in him writing (and drawing) comics: “I know I am able to do anything anyone is capable of doing in the comic book medium.”

So has Moore truly exhausted the possibilities of comics?

If anywhere has done this, it would surely be Japan. The country has by far the hugest creation and consumption of comics anywhere in the world. Even the biggest comics store in the West is no bigger than a tiny corner shop compared to Mandarake’s Godzilla of an emporium, filling an entire , multi-storey shopping centre in Tokyo and visited by all ages and types, not just collectors or otaku.

Hideki Egami, former editor-in-chief of Shogakukan’s auteur-driven monthly manga magazine IKKI, prophecied: “It would be far too conceited to think we’ve already seen it all or that everything has been done. We are still at the beginning of manga, we’re still at the dawn of a new era.”

New technologies expand storytelling potential, delivery and interaction. Balancing this, there is also a rejection of hi-tech and a yearning to return to high-touch, haptic comics – physical objects, tactile experience, craft-based. For example, Ilan Manouach’s Shapereader uses sixty Braille-like symbolic ‘tactigrams’ to narrate a comic about an Arctic expedition for the visually impaired.

So we are seeing lots of ‘sort of comics’ or ‘not quite comics’. And we will see more. Comics as sensory, experiential, performative – as in Dave McKean’s Black Dog, Art Spiegelman’s Wordless!, or Marc-Antoine Matthieu’s S.E.N.S. immersive, contemplative exhibition and Virtual Reality world.

From flickering cave walls to flickering audio-video installations, comics will answer to that human longing for moving images – images that move you. What counts are not the tools, old or new, but the uses which imaginative creators put them to.

As Berkeley Professor Alva Noë wrote in 2012: “You can’t hold hands with a picture, but you can caress it with your eyes.”



The future is an anachronism.

The future is still the Jetsons.

When I look at smart phones and VR I think “we’re nearly there now, didn’t realise the future would take so long”

That’s because we hand the future over to technology and live in a ghost world – the future imagined by the past.

Can we imagine new futures? Politically? Culturally? Artistically? I’m not seeing it. It’s my hope that  this debate doesn’t get framed within technology and capitalism just because these are the only futures we have now. How can we sell? How can we buy? How will technology serve us? How will IT redefine the medium?

I’m constantly haunted by that Fukyama quote “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is the end of capitalism”. Hence our love for the zombie apocalypse.

JG Ballard said that what the world needs is new metaphors. Without new metaphors we hand the future over to capitalism and place reality in the hands of consumerism, because art becomes passive, comfort food. Art should stick in the throat and jump off the plate, remind you that you’re alive. Something to save us from what we ‘like’.

Comics have an advantage over cinema, popular music and the novel, because we are still the black sheep of the arts, we still occupy that outsider space, we are still undiscovered country, we can create that shock of the new.

I wanna read something I’ve never read before, I don’t want comfort eating with zombies and superheroes, I want something that didn’t seem possible before it happened, something that lets me believe there is a future.

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