Pixeling in the Retrosphere

VIII. Thanks for the Random Access Memories

Project Summary

The long journey to produce a pixel art comic on a decades old computer is now over. If I had set out to prove that it can be done at all, then I would have fallen short, because it had been done before. In the late 1980s, German comic artist Michael Götze already produced three books of his "Robot Imperium" series. One in black and white and the other one in colored format.

The creators of the cyberpunk comic "Splatter" had in the mid-1980s used a similarly capable Macintosh computer to draw the first nine issues of their series.

I had not set out to prove that it can be done at all, but rather, that it can still be done today. The comic is finished, and I am mostly happy with it. There are definitely some areas for improvement. While I still do not think that debating whether this is art, I still would like to use a quote often credited to Paul Varléry or Oscar Wilde: "A work of art is never truly finished, but merely abandoned." I could work on these five pages forever, constantly refining and redrawing them. At some point the project had to find an end and have a final result. You hold this result in your proverbial hands (merely proverbial, because you are most likely reading this on a screen).

Printouts of the finished comic pages

Figure 47: The printed result of the pixel art comic project (Source: Marin Balabanov)

Lessons Learned

I barely scratched the surface of the Atari's capabilities. If I would continue making comics this way, I could produce much more refined results and much better comics. Now that I have set up all the hardware and familiarized myself with the production methods, I can experiment with new techniques and aesthetics. While I am really happy with the color palette that I used and am grateful to Dawnbringer for composing such a versatile palette of 16 colors, I most definitely would use something else for a different project.

The same thing goes for NEOChrome, the graphics application. If I would embark on another comic project on the Atari, I might prefer to use another application like Deluxe Paint by Electronic Arts or CrackArt produced in the demo scene.

Another important lesson I learned during this project is to be careful when posting preliminary results to social media. While I was working on the hardware upgrade of the Atari Mega STE, I removed the disk drive and broke open a larger opening to the case's front to accommodate the HxC floppy emulator. I posted a rough cut of my upgrade video in a retro computing group on Facebook. Nearly immediately, I was confronted with criticism that I am mutilating classic hardware, irreversibly disfiguring the case of a computer that is no longer produced.

Marin presenting the printed pages

Figure 48: Holding the finished work in hand (Source: Marin Balabanov)

The Future lies Ahead

When I started working on this project, the pop cultural mainstream was riding high on a 1970s and 1980s nostalgia wave. Shows like "Stranger Things" and movies like "Ready Player One" skillfully appropriated the aesthetics and the story beats of the Steven Spielberg and Stephen King classics from decades long gone, updating them to the sensibilities of today’s viewers. In many cases the viewership was too young to have first-hand experience of the times depicted. Nevertheless, they succumbed to a "second-hand nostalgia."

Even though I am old enough to remember much of the pop culture of the time, I also became enchanted by nostalgia and by retro. By the time I had finished the pixel art comic project, I was totally satiated by the lush landscape of nostalgia and retro memories. While I still passionately love retro hardware, I was fed up by the nostalgic as aspects of the retro scene.

Regardless of any bleak prophecies, I think that the future of technology will be better than the past.