Intro 1Our paper is about our construction of a web archive out ofCanadian comic book artist Seths imaginary Canadiantown Dominion City.We wanted to take advantage of the form of Sethscomics and their theme--the decay and loss of buildingsand urban spaces--to create a virtual heritage site thatwould have some advantages over real heritage sites.These advantages reveal themselves as we contrastSeths comics with his cardboard model version ofDominion, which ends up being a fixed empty shell thatlacks the temporal dimension of the comics.
Intro 2Seths decision to "build" DC out of cardboard models,shows the problem of fixing structures in space, which isthat the anxiety over material preservation leads to stasisand death.We think the problem with cardboard Dominion issimilar to that of many "real" heritage sites: they try tomaterialize and make permanent something that was neverso in the first place: the spirit(s) of the past inhabiting thespaces.Meanwhile, the comic book version and our web archiveof it allow what architect Michael McClelland calls the"ghost functions of the past" to circulate in the present.
Archives and ArchitectureBecause of the way they use space (the grid of panels anddrawings) and time (the variable sequence of panels anddrawings) comics provide an ideal structure for multipleiterations of buildings and spaces.The structure of the comics page is like a grid ofcompartments to store images: like these perfume bottles.But also a grid of rooms or windows stacked on top of eachother like floors.This structural affinity between comics and both storagecontainers and buildings perhaps explains why urbanpreservation is such a popular theme of comics artists likeSeth.
Archives and Architecture 2But because comics are generally disposable artifacts,printed on cheap paper, their ability to preserve buildingsand urban spaces can only be ironic: comics areephemeral, they dont last.So theres something odd about trying to preservesomething more permanent (buildings and streets) withsomething less permanent (drawings on paper). But thisoddness resolves when we consider that comics artists likeSeth are in fact demonstrating the ephemerality of thebuildings and spaces themselves: they dont last either.
Icon and Caricature(PaintShop) 1In the drawings within the grid, comics represent by acombination of icon (general outlines) and caricature(immediately identifying details).Take for example this out of business paint shop inToronto from Seths Its a Good Life if You Dont Weaken.We see the outline of the paint shop and a few identifyingfeatures. These features help evoke others that Sethmentions but doesnt depict visually: wood shelves, tilefloors, tin ceilings. This is a bit of a trick. If we recognize theiconic and caricaturistic features of the building, we fill inthe features with our minds eye.
Icon and Caricature 2With this trick, Seth shows that the cartoon image cannotphysically capture architectural details; it can only triggerthem through mnemonic clues: we are always only gettingthe tip of the icebergClearly, comics cannot "preserve" the materiality ofwhat they represent, but they can evoke that materialitythrough associative triggers, like a map evokes the territoryit represents.When we combine the grid of the comic book page withdrawings within that grid, we have an architectural archiveof mnemonic triggers that can sustain heritage through theengagement of its viewers.
George Sprott 1We applied web technology to notions of the grid and thecartoon in Dominion City as Seth represents it in his storyGeorge Sprott, which is as much about the buildings of thecity as it is about the title character, a radio host who growsincreasingly out of touch with the present.The stories of the buildings show their multipleiterations, their narratives that resist being frozen at anyparticular point. For example, the Melody Grill begins asDer Hirschsprung, German restaurant in the 1930s,becomes a local celebrity hotspot in the 1950s and dies asa cheap lunch spot in the 1980s.
George Sprott 2Seth tells similar stories of the Radio Hotel and CoronetLecture Theatre, and they all have similar trajectories: anorigin, a vibrant heyday, and decay.We believe these trajectories lead Seth to "build"Dominion out of cardboard because the narratives ofbuildings have a fatalistic entropic pattern: Seth only seesbuildings declining and failing, never being revived orreplaced by something new and exciting.Seth would like to preserve these buildings at their peakrather than show their decline over and over. We think thatthis desire in Seth mirrors that of heritage preservationists
Dominion CitySeth originally build the models to get a better idea of howto situate his stories, but the stories never came. Instead hebecame obsessed with collecting buildings, putting them inamber and saving them from the wrecking ball.While our first impulse was to celebrate cardboardDominion as the ultimate iteration of the imaginary town,We ultimately found the loss of temporality and the loss ofnarrative that accompanies it, kills the past in order topreserve it.The 3D materialization of Dominion turns out to be aninadequate container for the ghosts of the past.
Return to ComicsOur web project re-introduces time and narrative while"preserving," albeit virtually, the various iterations ofbuildings and urban spaces. We take the panels of thecomics grid and stack them in virtual space so viewers canmove up and down from past to present, while also movingacross and around the city.Consequently, we hope that it provides model for avibrant, interactive archive that shows the full range ofhistory rather than an empty shell that freezes structures ina particular historical moment.
DAVE - The WebsiteThe website allows the audience to thinkthrough and play with Seths comic. Taking thelayering possibilities of a web-based platformas its starting point, the interactive archive ofSeths numerous iterations of Dominion Citybecomes something that users can manipulate.We think this concept should be extended intothe heritage site.
Website 2The interactive space of the web is a greatplatform for engaging users by allowing them tobuild their own narratives by manipulating theobjects of Seths Dominion City, and byextension, the heritage site it represents.Dominion City can be reimagined andreinterpreted across all its iterations, allowingthe reader to create a topographical history ofDominion City.
Tagging / TopographyAdding interactivity to Seths representation ofDominion City allows the user to build atopography, or graphic representation ofsurface features and something that shows therelationship between these features.Interactivity also means taking advantage ofthe "webs web"; tagging, organizing, andmarking up objects becomes a central mode ofpresenting and archiving materials.
Tagging 2 - No Walk ThruThe website links the structure of the comicspanels and the narratives numerous entrypoints to allow the user to manipulate theobjects of Dominion City.Rather than emphasize the virtualreconstruction of an architectural space, asmost virtual heritage sites do, this websiteencourages the user to manipulate thoseobjects to explore new narrative linkages.
No Walk Thru, BabyIn other virtual heritage sites, the user is lockedwithin the prescriptive organization of an archivethat reveals objects one at a time in a sequence.Doing so de-emphasizes the connectedness thatgives those objects meaning.Comics and the website allow for somealternatives for the combining, layering andjuxtaposing of archival materials, or objects.
The ConnectionsWithin comics and the website, there can bemultiple paths through sequences. Connectionsturn back on one another, criss-cross differentobjects, and resist a linear path.By making Dominion City into an archive ofobjects, a virtual storehouse of ephemera, files,and media, the website encourages the kind ofuser / site exchange we think enriches anencounter with historical buildings, districts andnarratives.
Connections 2The user can link together or "tag" in a varietyof ways:1) showing the links between different iterationsof the melody grill and the individualsconnected to it: (missing note above doorshows time passing / George Sprott young &old / Sir Grisly Gruesomes pic on the wall /Otto Klugs opening night)
Connections 3These connections transcend the originalorganization of the comic, emphasizing othertemporal dimensions and iconic connections.2) Linkages within the website also encourageconnections between the world of the fiction--Seths comic about George Sprott--and thematerial representation of it:showing the different iterations of the MelodyGrill or The Radio Hotel.
Connections 4While still locked within the static mode ofpictures and cardboard, the linkages herenonetheless give some purpose to Sethscardboard city.3) Taken a step further, the user can link thetwo previous "tagging sessions" together:showing both the relationships in the comic andalso the characters direct relationship to anobject whose materiality exists outside thebounds of the story.
Connections 54) Where the website accels however is infostering connections between different mediaand the different modes for understanding thecomic:showing how an author contextualizes hisproject in an audio interview, featuring theephemera of its creation (drafting), and itsnumerous iterations. In this case, cardboardand paper / 2D and 3D.
The Connections 6A users encounter with Seths George Sprottthrough the website is enriched not simply by thejuxtaposition of images and virtual architecture.Instead, the website leverages its architecture ofconnectivity and interactivity to facilitate the usersreconstruction of Dominion City and emphasize therelationships between the ephemeral objects withinit.
Connections 7The users engagement with Dominion City isnot governed by a linear sequence, a virtualtour, 360 degree view, or vignette.Instead, it is governed by how the userchooses to engage with the objects, orephemera, that make up Dominion Citysarchitectural spaces and its larger role inshaping the narrative connections in Sethscomics.
Connections 81) The user can seek out different perspectiveson a static map, exploring the differentconnections or paths through Dominion City.2) The connections and paths can then in turnbe "tagged" with relevant contextualinformation, data, and explanation.3) Connections and paths offer differentperspectives, set off sets of images or directusers to other spaces in the archive.
The FacebookishnessThe user then makes the heritage site meansomething rather than engage with a pre-existing expository narrative about it.What makes the website for Dominion Cityeven more interactive is its foregrounding ofexchange. Users are given spaces to "tag,""comment" and record data about theirexperience with Dominion City as virtualheritage site.
The TwitterishnessThe user can present their record of discoveryby tagging the objects according to theirsequential desires. Or, they can contribute toan ongoing dialogue about the materials in thearchive by commenting. Or, they can add theirown relevant media. The result is a record ofthe uniquely personal encounter with theephemera of Dominion City.
Heritage Site as ComicsMakersThrough their engagement with this virtualarchive, users participate in the same kindfictional heritage reconstruction that drives Sethto represent Dominion City in different media.The website however emphasizes the layeringof icon and caricature that is the domain ofcomics, encouraging objects to coalesce into aunified narrative.
The Open BoxIndividual objects become part of the heritagedistrict archive as Dominion City takes shapefor the user through their manipulation of theobjects in its archive.Allowing users to engage with these objects iskey to conveying a sense of a lost past andallowing the user to animate the "ghostfunction" and give Dominion City meaningbeyond the empty materialism of a threedimensional cardboard model.
The Empty BoxIf we take the users ability to manipulate thearchival objects or disallow their personalengagement with them, we leave only buildings ascold and empty as the cardboard box from whichSeth builds his material Dominion City.
Conclusion - ObscuredWhat a virtual heritage site built around afictional city represented in a comic shows us isthat how the individual engages with theephemera of the site perhaps has moreresonance than the physical existence of thesite.The ability to manipulate the archivesephemera, the bits and pieces inside buildings,is perhaps more important than thearchitectural spaces themselves.
Conclusion - ClearThinking of the virtual heritage site as havingthe structure common to comics suggests thatheritage sites might emphasize the usersattachment to the ephemera of the past ratherthan its strictly its physical architecture.The architecture worth preserving isultimately a narrative one, a creative one, and adeeply individual one.