The First Computerized Comic

By | Thursday, August 03, 2023 Leave a Comment
Shatter Special #1
One thing I need to continually remind myself of is that what has been common knowledge to me for ages isn't necessarily common knowledge for everyone. A while back, I saw, for example, several people on Twitter ... er, X... completely stunned to discover Mike Saenz's Shatter, which debuted in 1985.
Except I read these in the 1980s when they first came out. My father purchased them, in part out of curiosity to see what the computer he just bought was capable of. The story was very much in a Blade Runner type of vein and, coupled with the computer generated imagery, I was hooked very early on.

Rather than give the full history of the book myself, I'm going to reproduce here editor Mike Gold's notes from the Shatter Special and Shatter #1 before a letters page got started. (Apologies for using cell phone pics; I don't have a scanner handy.)
Shatter Special Editor's Note
Shatter #1 Editor's Note
I don't think I've ever seen mentioned either was that Saenz put together an animated trailer for the comic as well. I have no clue how it was distributed; some variant of sneaker-ware, I suppose. But it was minute-ish long video featuring animations using the artwork from the comics. Kind of like how "motion comics" are created, but this didn't pretend to be comics. It was very much an animated piece that happened to be using art from the comics, much like you would make a movie trailer. I can't find a copy online anywhere, and I'm sure the 1985-level technology that created it would be insanely difficult to port into a format useable today.

Shatter was billed as "the first computerized comic." Everything Saenz (and later Charlie Athanas) drew for the book was done with a mouse. The only thing not done on the computer was the coloring. It's clearly dated in a lot of respects (the fonts they had to choose from were horrible; I think there were only 12 to select from, one of them was the dingbats font Cairo, and they were all bitmapped so you could realistically only use each font at a pre-designated size!) but it was something very special and exciting at the time. No one, and I mean no one, was producing comics like this at the time, and that uniqueness was not lost on even then-teenaged me!

I haven't actually re-read the story in years. I've caught snippets of reviews that say it's only an okay story, but that's like watching a recording of a concert and saying it was meh. A lot of the excitement and exuberance is in particpating in the action as it's actually unfolding. Readers knew they were witnessing something special in Shatter and dove into it for that. It's worth examining today from a historical perspective, but I doubt anyone could capture the feeling we had seeing it hit the shelves back in the mid-1980s.
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