The Dawn of the Publishing GIF

It’s the dawn of the publishing GIF. If you pay enough attention, you’ll be able to feel it in the air: the buzzing, looping electricity that knows no bounds. It uses ebooks and the internet to infiltrate our homes and our minds, and once there, it stays and lays low, playing over and over and over again until it’s time. And, my friends, it is almost time.

Anyone else feeling this? No? Well, I guess it’s just me, but I’m here to make the case that GIFs are up and coming in the publishing world—and even to go so far as to say that they’ll eventually end up replacing illustrations in digital publications. Everything is coming together to make this possible: the technology for creating enhanced ebooks, the integration of animation in institutions offering illustration degrees, a growing interest in artists’ use of the GIF as an art form, and a growing interest in GIF illustrations among readers—book consumers like them, and when have we ever let down our readership (especially when they’re offering us money)?

Let’s start with enhanced ebooks, or interactive ebooks. These have a wide range of capabilities: they support audio files, video, animated GIFs, highlighting, note-taking, built-in dictionaries, and touchscreen actions that allow tablet users to interact with stories in a way that wasn’t previously possible. They can do all these things, but I’m just talking GIFs in this blog post. GIFs are the lowest common denominator and relatively cheap to develop; if you want a chance at competing with the other ultra-flashy ebooks, an animated GIF is the cheapest and easiest way to do it. If you’re interested in a longer discussion of enhanced ebooks and their capabilities (with a few examples thrown in), UX Magazine has a great article that outlines everything.

So that’s the story from the technical side of things, but what about the artistic side? More and more, schools are incorporating some sort of animation course into their illustration programs. Just read a few of the descriptions in Animation Career Review’s list of the top forty illustration programs in the US, and you’ll be able to see how the lines between static and animated art have blurred. In fact, some illustration programs are specifically incorporating animated GIFs into their curricula.

There are illustrators outside of the publishing world already using GIFs to tell small, simple stories—much like a static illustration, but with the sensibilities and nuance that movement can provide. They publish their work online, but why not collaborate with a publisher and publish it in an ebook? Here’s a short, incomplete list of some of my favorite artists to give you an idea of what I’m talking about: Daniel Barreto, Nancy Liang, harifa, Max Litvinov, and Qieer Wang.

Additionally, there are already some GIF-illustrated ebooks out and about. One of my recent favorites is The Bright Side by Maren Uthaug, an ebook from Denmark that was acquired and published as a printed graphic novel, but whose aesthetic inspired an interesting journey on the part of the publisher. I also discovered one while writing this post, but all I was able to find were the illustrations without the text. They’re for a book called Zły by Leopold Tyrmand, and they’re part of a graduate project by illustrator Karol Banach. Here’s hoping the complete ebook is out there somewhere, or at least soon will be. And of course there’s always Nathan Pyle’s NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette (basically a classic GIF ebook by now).

And finally, why are we doing this? Because readers love it. Whether it’s because of that turn-of-the-century bliss we get when surrounded by flashy, blinky, gaudy stimuli, or because we’re needing more and more sensory input to actually feel something, anything—whatever it is, SnapApp has put my dramatic stream of consciousness into numbers, if you’re into that sort of thing. If not, just know that people like reading interactive ebooks—they really do.

With all of this in mind, all I have to say is, Can you feel the buzzing in the air?

Is the Market for YA Dystopia Growing as Bleak as the Genre’s Content?

Shortly after The Divergent Series: Allegiant hit theaters, searches for “YA dystopia” in Google News yielded a veritable barrage of articles declaring that the genre was finally on its way out—at least in cinema. From the Guardian to the LA Times to the Washington Post, speculation was rampant. But if we’re truly nearing a hard moratorium on YA dystopia in film, what does that mean for books?

In 2014, Lois Lowry, author of The Giver, stated that YA dystopia “was a trend, and it’s ending now.” Whether she was correct is up for debate. It stands to reason that what’s considered popular or passé in cinema might have some effect on other media. This may or may not be especially so for young adults, who tend to be more easily influenced and concerned with what is or isn’t “cool” (though it’s also possible that teens don’t really care about what adult reviewers have to say about their media). Either way, one has to wonder at this point whether the problem is really with the genre itself, or rather a blatant lack of originality. A Twitter account titled Dystopian YA Novel (@DystopianYA) beautifully illustrates this point with gems such as the following:

My sister Harpa played with her hair. In a lot of ways, she reminds me of a metaphor for my childhood innocence.

When People Are Categorized By A Single Defining Trait, One Girl Will Rise Above. Because Her Single Defining Trait Is Being Different.

Even with Anthem so close to me, dark hair and clear green eyes, I couldn’t stop picturing Ermias, with his light hair and clear green eyes

I try to comfort myself by thinking of what I know: My name is Valentine Neverwoods. I am from the Colony. Nothing else is what it seems.

Anthem is so complicated. Even though that seems to be his only personality trait.

This account is far from the only place on the web that pokes fun at the genre’s tropes—SNL’s parody trailer “The Group Hopper” makes the same overall point, and the previously cited LA Times article kicks off with this description: “In movie theaters this past weekend, a reluctant teen hero led a rebellion comprising an implausible clan of oppressed but likable young iconoclasts. Together they rose up around their chosen one to fight their government’s evil social engineering.” The Hunger Games? The Maze Runner? The Giver? Divergent? Maybe even the final Harry Potter installment? When a synopsis like this one can’t narrow things down to a couple possibilities, even when restricted to recent big-name works, there might be some creativity lacking in the genre.

Issues aside, there are many reasons YA dystopia might have become so popular in the first place. One Forbes article speculates that the widespread desire for such novels might partially stem from young adults’ distress over the state of the world—the result of the actions of previous generations, ripe with war, environmental disasters, massive societal problems, political corruption, and so on. Additionally, teens are expected to make long-reaching choices at a relatively young age; accomplish the same things going into adulthood as previous generations did (despite wildly different circumstances); and sit, test after high-stakes, standardized test without complaint. These dystopian novels take the seeds of these problems and anxieties and blow them up for the protagonists to cope with, navigate, and even change. Another article pointed out that the genre has also done well in allowing young women access to roles and traits traditionally only given to boys and men.

This is all to say that, at least in the world of books, maybe what’s dying isn’t dystopian YA fiction, but rather a set of tired tropes—and considering the reasons they often appeal to the target audience, maybe not even those. Series starters such as Red Rising, Red Queen, and An Ember in the Ashes have each met impressive success very recently despite claims to the genre’s doom, as I’m sure have many others. We’ll just have to wait to see where this goes.