Argon Zark!

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Argon Zark!
Author(s) Charley Parker
Website http://www.zark.com
Current status / schedule Irregularly
Launch date June 1995

Argon Zark! is a webcomic, created by cartoonist and web site designer Charley Parker. It is arguably the first true Web comic, i.e. the first continuing comic story created specifically to be distributed on the World Wide Web. The strip first appeared in June 1995. The strip was last updated in September 2008.

Synopsis[edit]

Argon Zark! is about a hacker who has created a new Internet protocol, PTP, or "Personal Transport Protocol", which enables the physical transport of people or objects through the Internet.

On his first test of the new protocol, he is joined by his "Personal Digital Assistant" (i.e. robot companion), Cybert, and a delivery girl named Zeta Fairlight who is accidentally caught in the action that sweeps Argon and Cybert into the computer and the Web.

The stories are a combination of science fiction (cyber without the punk), humor, Internet parody, pop-culture sci-fi and art history references, pure nonsense and surreal adventure. The situations are very Web-centric, featuring characters that inhabit "domains", search engines (that must be kick-started), a "Sea of Links", computer daemons, aliases, and references to various websites and institutions of the time, including parodies of Yahoo, Netscape, and AOL.

Notable features[edit]

  • Argon Zark! was created specifically for display on a computer screen. It was drawn in a horizontal format, designed to fit a computer screen rather than a vertical printed comic book page.
  • The artist deliberately used "unprintable colors", out of the color range of CMYK printing, but viewable on a computer monitor with 16 or 24-bit color.
  • It was one of the first comics about the Internet (or that takes place there), and one of the early few in which a computer geek or hacker is the protagonist. The strip's motto is "I link, therefore I am!"
  • It is a digital comic, drawn directly on the computer using a graphics tablet and computer graphics software, This is still rare – most comics, even webcomics, are drawn on board, scanned and then colored on computers.
    • Argon Zark! is not the first comic created on a computer; the first digital comic was Shatter, by Mike Saenz and Peter Gillis, published by First Comics in 1986. The first few issues of Shatter were drawn with a mouse on a first-generation Mac.
  • Argon Zark! was one of the first comics to add interactivity and animation to comic pages.
    • Zark was the first web comic to do this, although CD-ROM comics were using interactivity and animation around the same time. A notable example of this would be Reflux, a CD-ROM comic published in 1995 by inverse ink.
  • Argon Zark! was one of the first comics to adapt to Internet technology as it changed, adding animated GIFs, JavaScript interactivity and dHTML layering shortly after each technology was introduced to the web.
    • There is some controversy about whether adding animation defies the definition of "comics", but the strip is not an animated cartoon. It is a series of static comic pages into which occasional animated panels have been inserted using GIF animations, or over which hidden dHTML layers have been placed which reveal small GIF animations when triggered by JavaScript links. In recent years the author has switched to providing animated layers by embedding the comic pages in Flash files.
  • It featured pages in which image maps overlaid the images so that objects in the images were links leading to other sites on the Web (notably several panels in which the characters find themselves adrift in a "Sea of Links").
  • It was one of the first comics (web or print) to make extensive use of image editing software for "special effects", by utilizing filters and compositing techniques in Adobe Photoshop and Fractal Painter, and filter suites like Kai's Power Tools. It also takes advantage of the fact that there is no separation of the line art from the color plates for printing, as in traditional comics, so parts of the "finished" art can be dramatically manipulated in the software. The author uses the graphics software to manipulate, tile, distort, blur, repeat and rearrange the images in ways difficult or impossible in traditional comics, giving the settings and action a unique digital-only character.
  • It was one of the first comics to mix hand-drawn illustrations with 3-D generated backgrounds (created in KPT Bryce).
  • It is one of the first comics to explore interactivity in terms of adding supplementary information and subplots to the story using hyperlinks, as opposed to the more common practice of offering multiple storylines.
    • After the introduction of Netscape 2.0 (early 1996), the strip began to feature "hidden pages", not apparent to the casual reader, but linked from images within the visible comic page. With the introduction of dHTML in the 4.0 browsers, some pages began to include dHTML layers that contained bits of animation, shown and hidden by JavaScript rollovers. e.g. a page in which the overt story line features references to the "Headscape Hesitator" web browser is linked to a "hidden page" that is a parody of the Netscape download page. Again, there was no overt notice of this to casual readers, the animations and additional content were treated more like "Easter Eggs".
  • The first 50 or so Web pages were collected and published in a "Dead Tree Souvenir Edition" in 1997 (obviously minus the interactive and animated bits). This may also be one of the earliest instances of Web-based entertainment migrating to print.
  • The strip is still going. making it not only the first, but longest running true web comic. Updates in recent years have become more infrequent, but the strip is continuing.
  • Argon Zark! received a good deal of press in the years before online comics became common, both in electronic and traditional media, and may have introduced a number of people to comics who would otherwise have been disinclined to pick up a printed comic book.

Sources[edit]

Books[edit]

  • Parker, Charley (1997). Argon Zark!, Arclight Publishing
  • Iuppa, Nicholas V. (1998). Designing Digital Media, page 149 plus CD-ROM content, Focal Press
  • Alspach, Jennifer (1998). Photoshop and Illustrator Studio Secrets, pp. 223–229 IDG Books
  • McCloud, Scott (2000). Reinventing Comics, pp. 165, 214, Paradox Press
  • Withrow, Stephen (2003). Toon Art: The art of Digital Cartooning, pp. 45 118–119, 184 Watson-Guptill
  • Hartas. Leo (2004). How to Draw and Sell Digital Cartoons, pp. 17, 60, 72, Barron's ISBN 978-0-7641-2662-8

Periodicals[edit]

  • Kurtz, Frank (December 1996). "Panels and Frames", Internet Underground

Newspapers[edit]

  • Sunday Tech section (August 25, 1996). The Houston Chronicle
  • Macklin, William H. (June 5, 1997). "Cyber Hero to the Rescue", The Philadelphia Inquirer, pp. F1, F3, Knight Ridder Wire Services
  • Carrington, Penelope M. (June 6, 1997). "Argon's World", Richmond Times-Dispatch, pp. E1, E6-7, E11

Web Sites[edit]

External links[edit]