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Exploring Comics Space

March 1, 1999

Is your comics reading in a rut? Well, this site sponsored by United Media is intended to blast you out of it. Pick a comic-Dilbert, say. Today’s strip appears on the screen, along with tools that let you go back and see the last couple of weeks. Now for the cool part. A set of color-coded sliders represents four defining characteristics: the age of the characters, the age of the strip, the continuity of the story line, and the “zoo factor” (extent to which characters are nonhuman). Move these sliders up and down and you will see, bobbing across the bottom of the screen, a constantly reshuffling set of icons for six or seven other comic strips that have the specified qualities.

Say you start with Dilbert, then raise the zoo factor and lower the continuity and the character age. Result: a selection set that includes Robotman, Peanuts, and Alley Oop. Choose Peanuts, and the Dilbert strip disappears with a gradual, peel-away effect to reveal today’s adventures of Snoopy and friends. The whole point is to tinker, so now we lower the zoo factor and raise the story continuity, and get dealt a new set of choices, including Arlo & Janis and For Better Or For Worse.

OK, so it’s only comics. But others would be wise to look here for a creative approach that might apply as well to weightier types of literature. You can keep up this reshuffling and sorting endlessly, but make sure you have a fast computer. The Java applet works tolerably on a 266 MHz Pentium II, but trying it on a slower machine may put you in foul humor, no matter how funny the comics.

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