I remember using Comic Chat when I was in elementary school, trying it out with my new Internet Explorer install. It was the first chat program I had used, and thought it was both exciting and scary to be able to talk to complete strangers. Comic Chat is an application which generates comics from online chat, and uses the IRC protocol.
I was surprised to find this paper on Comic Chat written by the authors in 1996. Interestingly, it was published in SIGGRAPH, the top computer graphics conference in academia. From reading this paper, I find that Comic Chat is a lot more complicated than I initially thought.
Comic Chat creates realistic comics, which mainly consist of characters, speech balloons, and panels.
Generating a comic requires placing characters in a panel. Comic Chat used cues present in the text to generate the character’s gesture and expression. Things such as smileys :-), use of “I” or “you”, and punctuation would change the appearance of the character. In addition, the position and orientation of the characters is determined by a greedy algorithm. The following strip has examples of position and orientation issues: the first panel is missing a speaker, the characters in the second panel are not facing each other, and the outer two characters in the third panel are talking over the two middle characters. The fourth panel shows a correctly drawn panel.
Comics generally use four different types of balloons,
- Speech balloons for regular text, drawn with a solid outline and tail
- Thought balloons for what a character is thinking, with a solid online but a tail of ovals
- Whisper balloons for private conversation, with a dotted outline and tail
- Shout balloons for shouting text, with a jagged outline (not shown in figure)
Determining a balloon’s dimensions and placement is determined by a complex algorithm, which you can find in the paper. There are many things to take into consideration when placing balloons, such as placing them so they are read in the correct order, so they don’t overlap, so they are located somewhat over the speaker’s head, and to leave room for the tails.
Panel breaks are calculated to accommodate text properly, and to make the comic appear more natural. Breaks can be made when there are too many characters in a panel, or there is not enough room for the text. A break is also introduced when a character speaks twice to ensure a character does not have more than one balloon per panel. Panels are usually close-ups of characters to get a good view of the active character. However, a zoomed out shot is sometimes done to show the surroundings and characters in the scene.
While Comic Chat has become antiquated and few users now use it to chat online, it still has some value today. I realized when reading this paper that the web comic, Jerkcity is constructed from Comic Chat.
You can download a copy of Comic Chat if you want to give it a spin.
Kurlander, D., Skelly, T., & Salesin, D. (1996). Comic Chat. Proceedings from SIGGRAPH ’96: International Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, 225-236. [PDF]