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Prediction: AI will lead to a Cambrian explosion of comics and graphic novels

When a new technology arrives, people often focus on the first-order effects of that technology. These are important, and should be taken into account, but to get ahead of the crowd, consider the second, or even third order effects.

This general principle will likely be true about AI as well. A lot of people have focused on the question of whether or not AI will eliminate the need for writers.

It will likely eliminate the need for bad writers, but in a world filled with bad writing, the good writing will be even more valuable. Moreover, even human writing is fast enough that the speed of composition is not a critical factor. Heck, human writers have always produced “instant books” about major events. For example, here’s an erotic novella about exposing oneself to a Chinese spy balloon.

Another thought floating around is that AI will power the animation of the future. The problem with this notion is that it’s pretty clear that not all animation is created equal. Just having good CGI doesn’t mean you can match Pixar. And creating good animation remains a wicked challenge even for the most sophisticated AI.

But, I do predict that AI will play a major role in making graphic novels and comic books an even more dominant art form.

We often use the phrase “comic book movie” without pausing to consider why this art form is so dominant. After all, there are far more dominant forms of literature, such as the romance novel, that are not as central to our popular culture (thought romance novels are an enormous business).

The reason that comic books are so successful are that they combine the power of striking visual art with incredibly plot-rich narrative, in a format that is relatively less time- and resource-intensive to produce.

Humans are visual creatures, so while there are weirdos like me who love reading, most people would prefer to look at interesting pictures, and comics excel in this regard.

Humans also love story, and comic books are incredibly plot-rich. Something is happening on every page; a standard comic book issue includes 22 pages of content, but provides the narrative equivalent of 45 minutes of television drama, or 250 pages of novel.

And of course, comics are less resource-intensive than filmed entertainment, and an individual creator can create far more comics than novels in a given period of time.

The limiting factor is the effort it takes to produce the visuals. The comic book writer creates a script, an artist creates the visual panels, and an inker adds the shading and colors.

Now given a choice between watching a movie or reading a comic book, most people will opt for the former. But the supply of movies is far more limited. And comic books provide a similar experience; it’s just that the reader’s mind (the world’s most efficient computer) is doing the work of drawing connections from panel to panel and narrating the action.

The power of AI is that it can allow a single writer without any drawing ability to create a complete work of art. And that work of art is more accessible than a novel, and infinitely cheaper than a movie. Meanwhile, it can provide much of the same narrative experience.

AI cannot match the power of a professional comic book illustrator and inker. But it can allow anyone to create a comic book. And this Cambrian explosion in creators and creativity will allow the comic book form to spin out new subgenres and approaches at a furious pace. Most of these will die a deserved death. But some will strike a nerve, and the end result will be a much greater amount of narrative being created, largely by independent solo creators.

I’m excited about where this might lead. What do you think will be the third order effects of this trend?

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