Thursday, 14 March 2013

The trouble with comics - James

I've got a headache. I feel like I've spent the night in the pub but without having had the luxury of actually going out and having a drink. I feel dizzy. I feel nauseous. Most of all, though, I feel frustrated.

Why? Because I can't read my comic books, that's why. Well, at least not for more than half an hour without getting eye strain and symptoms of travel sickness. It's become harder and harder to read comics over the years as my Retinitis Pigmentosa has slowly deteriorated my eyesight, but that doesn't seem to stop me trying.

I can just about manage with a normal book that has plain text from left to right and top to bottom using my analogue magnifier (on the very rare occasions in which my Kindle isn't to hand and so long as I have the correct lighting and something to prop the book up on) so I've been trying to figure out why comic books have come to elude me over the years… and the answer is right there on the page.

Comic books present the events of a story in a narratively uniform but not always visually uniform way. The panes that the stories are drawn into can be squares, rectangles (both horizontal and vertical) or even take up an entire page just to show one significant moment. It would be nice if this was consistent from comic to comic but often each page is an explosion of fluctuating visual perspectives and colours. They can feature close-ups on characters' faces or pull back to a wide shot of an entire city buzzing with activity that requires patient scrutiny. One thing remains the same though: the writing. And the writing is very small and not always in a straight-laced font. So not only do I have to contend with the shifting shapes and sizes of the action but I also have to zoom in even more on the speech bubbles when it's reading time.

And that's when the headaches start.

I've been experimenting with a range of devices to see what works the best in an attempt to solve the problem. I've tried my analogue magnifier, my electronic handheld magnifier, my CCTV, my mono-mouse and even, out of desperation, my monocular (leaning the comic book up against the back of my sofa and viewing it from the floor). What works the best so far is the simplest: the analogue magnifier; but the constant need to shift focus and proximity to the page still creates eye strain, nausea and sometimes back pain. The CCTV would probably be my next choice as I can move in and out without having to worry about lighting or my seating position – it all happens up there on screen at the touch of a button. The image on the electronic magnifier is a bit too jumpy (a combination of 'natural' digital flickering and the motion of my hand) and too bright and can make me feel travel sick very quickly. The mono-mouse, which has no zoom in/out function, is good for when the panes are small but for the larger images I find I have to use something else.

And the monocular? Well, the less said about that surreal little moment the better.

I'd like to say that I've solved the problem and can confidently announce what the solution is but I can't. I can only assume that in order to get through a whole book I'll have to sit there with my entire arsenal of magnification hardware and a box of anti-nausea tablets. So if a smarter visually impaired comic book geek than me out there has figured out what the solution is then I'd love to hear from them! Until then I'll have to keep on with my tests and get through about one comic book page a day.

Wish me luck!