Our paper will discuss the development of CBML, or Comic Book Markup Language, a TEI-based XML vocabulary for encoding comics, comic books and graphic novels. CBML provides standard TEI extensions to build an XML vocabulary for encoding metadata and content commonly found in comics, a popular art form that is increasingly the subject of serious humanities scholarship. CBML provides mechanisms for encoding comics panels, speech and thought balloons, narrative captions, sound effects, advertisements, character information, and other features found in comics.

With the emergence of scholarly disciplines such as cultural studies and new areas of interest in traditional scholarly fields, comics have recently become the subject of serious critical attention and scholarship. Unfortunately, many of the comics that might be appropriate subjects of scholarly interest are not widely available. The commercial reprints are generally extremely expensive or woefully incomplete. For instance, the Marvel Comics "Essential" series and DC Comics "Showcase" series provide reprints of many of their classic titles in an affordable format, but they are printed on cheap newsprint, in black and white, lacking the bold colors of the originals. In addition, the vast majority of comic book reprints lack the interesting advertisements, fan mail, and other content that are an integral part of these publications when they are considered by scholars as cultural artifacts. The preservation, study, and analysis of these important cultural artifacts require digitized editions of the original comics, encoded with an XML vocabulary suitable for capturing their varied and complex data and metadata.

Comics present a unique combination of text and graphics. Though mass produced, comic books remain a very hand-crafted art form and perhaps share more in common with the illuminated manuscript than the printed book. The images are drawn, inked, and colored by hand, and even the text is lettered by hand. Only very recently has much of the coloring and lettering on new comics been migrated to digital environments. The text--from the familiar speech and thought balloons to the graphically rendered POW! SMASH! BANG! sound effects--is inextricably bound with the image. The digitized comic book--no matter how meticulously encoded--cannot be sufficiently represented in XML alone; the facsimile page image is also required. An interface that integrates the comic book facsimile page images with XML-encoded text and metadata presents difficult challenges in usability and interface design but promises an extremely powerful tool for researchers, scholars, and students interested in comics as art form and cultural touchstone.

This presentation will include:

  • An update of recent CBML developments, including plans to release this research project publicly on the web and expose the work to a wider audience by incorporating comics from the 1930s and 40s that are now in the public domain.
  • A detailed discussion of the motivation and technical issues behind CBML.
  • A demonstration of a prototype interface, based upon the eXtensible Text Framework (XTF).
  • A discussion of usability requirements for an interface to comics and other texts consisting of tightly coupled texts and images.
  • An introduction to a TEI P5 compatible release of CBML.