Thunderpaw: When a GIF is a Comic is Something New

Thunderpaw, Jen Lee, 2014


Thunderpaw In The Ashes of Fire Mountain, Jen Lee, repoghost, 2014

GIFs in comics. Okay. I am WILD excited about gifs in comics. GIFs in comics push the definitions, question your complacency. WHY do you like “comics?” What makes “a comic?” This is animation, this is animated, but is it not a comic? It is. It takes what a comic has to be (a series of moments, dignified and made story by the pauses and changes between them) and PUSHES it, pushes each moment nose-down into its pool of own musky, heightened intensity. Fuuuuck, just LOOK at this first sequence from Thunderpaw.

Even just the first whole image, six panels:

Thunderpaw, In The Ashes of Fire Mountain, Jen Lee, repoghost, 2014

Not every panel of Thunderpaw is animated, and those that are vary in how much. Panels with animation don’t always loop immediately, so they’ll appear static when your eyes hit them sometimes. It depends on how fast you read. Some are smooth loops, and some obviously reset (the “Phooey!” panel on page three, f’rex). The resets don’t matter to me, because your eye notices the loop intro before your brain’s ready to hit that panel; it times it for you, subconsciously, and you move across smoothly. It’s fascinating to me how smoothly gif’d comics go down. They’re new, and they’re web-specific, and they’re fantastically exciting, but they’re not hard to get through.

I’m a good dog, says a disembodied voice leading in. “Good dogs lay down and wait,” kid dog #2 Ollie says. This is advertised as a “sad dog comic.” Sparky little animations that repeat/repeat/repeat keep you pepped and comfortable; don’t turn back yet.

Sometimes the looping isn’t smooth but the jagged switch from end back to start pastes another layer of nuance over the seams of necessity. “Of course they’re coming back!” says kid dog #1. Ollie’s eyes are on his cheery companion’s face, they’re watering, his nose runs. He skronks his sadness back up inside when kid dog #1 reassures him. Then the animation ends, and his gaze snaps back to watery concentration — disbelief? Need for more? Total focus? Get to the next panel, already.

A GIF’d comic can show a flash of light in real time. A traditional comic can’t. Comics find their ways around that. They make it work, doing amazing things with fast moments, tricks of chronological context, isolated seconds. This is no knock. That’s what makes comics an art form. But GIF comics are a new art form. They can freeze that second meaningfully by putting it in one panel. It’s different. It’s exciting. It’s another way to tell a story.

Thunderpaw, In the Ashes of Fire Mountain, Jen Lee, repoghost, 2014

Two pages later there’s a fully static spread that illustrates the most motion in the story so far. Why? This beautiful QUESTION! “Why did you choose to tell your story this way?”

Because it works. I am so there. I’m in this story. These beautiful GIFs were a trick, because the puppies are sad and in danger and it hurts. I watched Homeward Bound a lot as a child. I know how they sting you with this stuff.

Thunderpaw, In the Ashes of Fire Mountain, Jen Lee, repoghost, 2014

This is the most hyped I have been about a post-apocalypse story for a long time. The old ways are smashed up, gotta find new ways. Right?

This page scrolls.

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Claire Napier

Claire Napier

Critic, ex-Editor in Chief at WWAC, independent comics editor; the rock that drops on your head. Find me at and give me lots of money

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