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"Why did I frame cut instead of thumbnailing? Because I couldn't upload it for thumbnailing because it was 36 inches tall. Fucking infinite canvas."
—Eric Burns-White, Websnark

In principle, a Web Comic has several advantages over the print equivalent, due to the greater flexibility of the medium. One such advantage which enthusiasts of the genre often mention is the "infinite canvas": the ability to create pages of nearly-unlimited width and height, with the viewer scrolling around the page. A related idea is that webcomics can have far more pages than would be possible in print, potentially connected non-linearly by hyperlinks.

In practice, both of these forms of expansive "canvas" have proved very difficult to use effectively. Scrolling (especially horizontal scrolling) rapidly becomes tedious, and scrolling in two independent dimensions can cause the reader to rapidly get lost on the page. Similar issues exist with non-linear or multi-linear storylines: they require an exponential amount of writing work for the number of possible paths, something which most webcomic artists (the majority of whom only work on their series part-time) are unable or unwilling to commit to. Deviating from a print format also makes it much more difficult to create a print version.

The third aspect, unlimited extension, has had a major impact on the genre, but not in the expected way.

Few series have (intentionally) applied the infinite canvas principles, and fewer still do so successfully; most of the comics which managed it either were one-shot strips, or were bonus material added to an otherwise conventional series. However, finite-yet-larger-than-usual canvas has often been useful in comics that stretch beyond a traditional page's length. And it's all better than the space in the weekday newspapers...

The idea was introduced in Scott McCloud's highly influential book about the comics medium (in comics medium) Reinventing Comics.

Examples of Infinite Canvas include:


  • Comics in A Moment of Peace tend to sprawl vertically. Sometimes this is an intentional effect that creates a sense of descending or ascending.
  • Delta Thrives -- a fairly effective use of a (horizontal only) scrollable screen.
  • Dresden Codak: Several comics are of a length that would be at best impractical for a print comic. Note that the linked comics are not apt to be split into smaller sized comics either.
    • This has continued into his later strips. Lantern Season, arguably the largest one to date[1], is, according to the author, "the exact height of Dustin Hoffman".
  • Sluggy Freelance used the extra space to Anviliciously drive home a stock-footage joke in its Humongous Mecha/Another Dimension/Stuff Like That parody arc.
    • Also, on the strip's anniversaries (and a few other occasions) the strip will feature a flash image to make the characters actually move around in the panels.
  • Order of the Stick has an excellent example (spoiler warning) of infinite canvas, though there are more original ways the principle could be applied. Using a really long strip to depict lots of falling is considered the ur-example of this trope, but it is also a very intuitive example. Ironically, OotS is actually printed as compilation books, so it remains to be seen how well this strip transfers to a limited canvas.
  • Mac Hall used an enormous vertical comic for an elaborate Shout-Out to the music video of Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice".
  • This Eegra comic is a particularly weird example.
  • Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life: every single strip is a long line of panels. But the story is so good that you get over the scrolling.
  • Narbonic occasionally experimented with this, usually at the high point of a plot arc or during one of Dave's New-Year's-Eve dream sequences.
    • In particular, the second comic here specifically name-checks Eric Burns-White.
    • And later on, in one of those dream sequences... right here. Useful probably because it does use the 'endless falling' bit previously mentioned.
  • Fans! had a couple of Mind Screw arcs take place within the infinite canvas. Despite the technically poor quality of art, the way it was presented was so good it actually worked.
  • The Webcomic Massive Multiplayer Crossover Crossover Wars features the nonlinear variation; partly as a function of the sheer number of webcomics involved, there were many intertwined threads -- each having their own names, usually something like "Fantasy Wars", "Super Wars", or "Squirrel Wars" (!) -- which converged at the conclusion.
  • This is another non-linear one, a comic presented as a series of profiles for people, places and things, with links beneath explaining their connection.
  • Cry Havoc did this here. which just appears to cover three fights at once, but comes of muddled and hard to see.
  • Pup Ponders the Heat Death of the Universe. It's very big, but not nearly as big as the concepts it embodies.
  • Killer Robots From Space has strips one frame tall but sometimes dozens of frames wide (it varies).
  • Xkcd makes perhaps the grandest use of the infinite canvas, to present a logarithmic-scale depiction of the entire observable universe.
  • The Spiders is one of the best illustrated use.
  • When I Am King (Warning: probably NSFW).
  • This appropiately-named "Cliffhanger" in By Way of Booty Bay.
  • Scott McCloud himself has a few on his website, and some of them continue the thematic series that began with Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics.
  • This girl has comics that go on for about ten screens' worth, at least. And they're but-gustingly hilarious, to boot.
  • The day that old Starslip Crisis ended and the newly rebooted and renamed Starslip began, this was the entire front page. Extra credit: the site navigation buttons are part of it, the "end" button is shattered, and the "back" and "beginning" buttons were functional.
  • Checkerboard Nightmare parodied Infinite Canvas on at least one occasion.
  • This Schlock Mercenary strip.
  • Unwinder's Tall Comics is named after the unconstrained height of its comics.
  • This Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal strip.
  • Nature of Nature's Art loves using infinite canvas, both vertical and horizontal.
  • Flying Man and Friends lampshaded the infinite canvas in this strip.
  • Of course, User:DM Maus has had a stab at this
  • The Way of the Metagamer: Although the comics are all approximately the same size (except for double-length specials), characters, speech bubbles, and shoes often breach the borders of the panels. And then there's this comic, in which the characters climb behind the panels.
  • The MS Paint Adventures uses this concept in a couple of ways:
    • The second adventure, Bard Quest, has multiple paths. However, due to the complexity of the story, it was dropped fairly early.
    • Homestuck uses flash as a way for viewers to explore the environment, scrolling both horizontally and vertically. More to the point, Homestuck also makes use of animated and interactive adventure game segments, which would obviously be impossible in print.
      • Not too impossible that you cannot purchase books of the series though!
    • Also of note, the Midnight Crew intermission in Homestuck has a time loop.
    • The End of Act Five flash has an unexpectedly-expanding screen during a vital moment - making the event particularly effective, and also breaking the bounds of the traditional limits of a panel.
    • Homestuck also has an incredibly complex storyline, the like of which would probably be impossible in pure print media.
  • Demon Planet has one of the last strips before the reboot oriented diagonally so that you can't just use one scrollbar.
  • City of Reality employs this trope on many pages. It also sometimes makes use of Flash to alter the story, which makes the comic unprintable.
  • Cyanide and Happiness uses it here, and highlights the above-mentioned problem of horizontal scrolling.
  • Parallel Dementia uses this a lot, most awesomely here.
  • Estancia won awards for Best Use Of The Infinite Canvas - it had amounts of material roughly the size of half an issue of a normal comic book each presented in a one-pannel-wide column. The dialogue and action still flow smoothly, but when it was made into print books, the artist had to get pretty creative...
  • The bonus strip for Episode 344 of Darths and Droids.
  • The Wormworld Saga is so far only a single chapter - but that chapter is over 25,000 pixels long.
  • The Pale uses this throughout, each page a scrolling horizontal canvas with the 'panels' blending into each other.
  • Framed!!! used this a great deal, having significant parts of the story on infinite canvases that the reader needs to scroll in a loop to follow or presented in an out of order series of frames that only makes sense when you click on each frame to get to the next one in order (with some bonus frames that aren't linked to stuck in the middle). Damonk did a lot of experimenting with what the infinite canvas made possible.
  • My Obsession With Chess, by Scott McCloud himself, chronicles his obsession with chess. It's about 16 feet long, done in alternating black-on-white to white-on-black panels.
  • Dovecote Crest makes use of this. Most notable is the series of pages for the letter Charlie reads, from a Union soldier to his Confederate brother.
  • This Jellyvampire strip, which is about pushing boundaries.
  • Face All Red uses this to horrifying effect.
  • Subnormality Does this with reckless abandon. Constantly. And they're amazing.
  • Penny Arcade uses a minor version Here, while taking Scott McCloud to task for his position on Micropayments. Gabe and Tycho were outspoken critics of both concepts when they came up in the late 90s and early 00's.

Notes

  1. 5,195 pixels tall
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