In principle, a webcomic has several advantages over the print equivalent, due to the greater flexibility of the medium. One such advantage which enthusiasts of the genre often mention is the "infinite canvas": the ability to create pages of nearly-unlimited width and height, with the viewer scrolling around the page. A related idea is that webcomics can have far more pages than would be possible in print, potentially connected non-linearly by hyperlinks.
In practice, both of these forms of expansive "canvas" have proved very difficult to use effectively. Scrolling (especially horizontal scrolling) rapidly becomes tedious, and scrolling in two independent dimensions can cause the reader to rapidly get lost on the page. Similar issues exist with non-linear or multi-linear storylines: they require an exponential amount of writing work for the number of possible paths, something which most webcomic artists (the majority of whom only work on their series part-time) are unable or unwilling to commit to. Deviating from a print format also makes it much more difficult to create a print version.
What's more, there are technical issues as well; many browsers have trouble loading large numbers of images at once (or one extremely large image). Many readers aren't willing to wait several minutes to read a single comic strip, regardless of its quality. This also cuts off some of the accessibility of the comic, since bandwidth access in places like libraries and Internet cafes is usually limited. Using hyperlinks to simulate a non-linear or branching story adds page loading to the technical problems.
The third aspect, unlimited extension, has had a major impact on the genre, but not in the expected way.
Few series in the West have (intentionally) applied the infinite canvas principles; most of the comics which managed it either were one-shot strips, or were bonus material added to an otherwise conventional series. However, finite-yet-larger-than-usual canvas has often been useful in comics that stretch beyond a traditional page's length. And it's all better than the space in the weekday newspapers.
The concept has taken off with Korean Webtoons, where each installment is a long, vertical image, typically with frames that take up the entire width of the page. Many authors take advantage of the fact that readers have to scroll through the image by adding space between frames to create dramatic pauses, having a series of slightly different images come one after another to create a sense of motion, or by creating pictures where the subject only slowly becomes apparent.
The idea was introduced in Scott McCloud's highly influential book about the comics medium (in comics medium) Reinventing Comics. He also advises that changing to this medium requires re-learning the Page-Turn Surprise technique.
- Awful Hospital: Used effectively to convey the sheer scale of The Abyss.
- #Blessed: Season 2 has Joanna falling for an entire chapter, represented mostly by one long panel.
- Every page of Sigeel's webcomic, Blood Stain, is a linear strip of panels. Each page approximates to about 4,000 pixels wide.
- This appropiately-named "Cliffhanger"◊ in By Way of Booty Bay.
- Checkerboard Nightmare parodied Infinite Canvas on at least one occasion.
- City of Reality employs this trope on many pages. It also sometimes makes use of Flash to alter the story, which makes the comic unprintable.
- The Webcomic Massive Multiplayer Crossover Crossover Wars features the nonlinear variation; partly as a function of the sheer number of webcomics involved, there were many intertwined threads — each having their own names, usually something like "Fantasy Wars", "Super Wars", or "Squirrel Wars" (!) — which converged at the conclusion.
- Cry 'Havoc' did this here. which just appears to cover three fights at once, but comes of muddled and hard to see.
- Cyanide and Happiness uses it here, and highlights the above-mentioned problem of horizontal scrolling.
- Dark Legacy Comics #370 is four images stacked together, collectively 38,814 pixels high. It extends from outer space to underground and then delves into the past.
- The bonus strip for Episode 344 of Darths & Droids shows a very expanded version of the grapple system rolls and counter-rolls during the five seconds or so of screen time Padme was struggling with a Geonosian.
- Decrypting Rita uses this to good effect in telling its story. It helps there are buttons for quick scrolling between the pages of a chapter.
- Delta Thrives — a fairly effective use of a (horizontal only) scrollable screen.
- Demon Planet has one of the last strips before the reboot oriented diagonally so that you can't just use one scrollbar.
- Denma The Quanx, as mentioned in the description, is a Korean webtoon. Every chapter is a single "comic" with infinite scrolling.
- Dovecote Crest makes use of this. Most notable is the series of pages for the letter Charlie reads, from a Union soldier to his Confederate brother.
- Dresden Codak: Several comics are of a length that would be at best impractical for a print comic. Note that the linked comics are not apt to be split into smaller sized comics either.
- This has continued into his later strips. Lantern Season, arguably the largest one to date,note is, according to the author, "the exact height of Dustin Hoffman".
- Drowtales introduces this after chapter 39, resulting in longer pages and things spilling over out of the page.
- This Eegra comic is a particularly weird example.
- Estancia won awards for Best Use Of The Infinite Canvas - it had amounts of material roughly the size of half an issue of a normal comic book each presented in a one-panel-wide column. The dialogue and action still flow smoothly, but when it was made into print books, the artist had to get pretty creative...
- Fans! had a couple of Mind Screw arcs take place within the infinite canvas. Despite the technically poor quality of art, the way it was presented was so good it actually worked.
- A subtler usage of this shows up from time to time in the comics of Fifteen Minds, in the form of the usual A4-ratio panels stacked vertically but drawn as a single tall, continuous piece, giving this trope's effect. Appears on page 28 of Blue Moon Blossom, and page 1 of Legend of Legendary Mighty Knight.
- Flying Man and Friends lampshaded the infinite canvas in this strip.
- Framed!!! used this a great deal, having significant parts of the story on infinite canvases that the reader needs to scroll in a loop to follow or presented in an out of order series of frames that only makes sense when you click on each frame to get to the next one in order (with some bonus frames that aren't linked to stuck in the middle). Damonk did a lot of experimenting with what the infinite canvas made possible.
- Hark! A Vagrant uses the infinite canvas for a ridiculously long joke about Janet Jackson here.
- His Face All Red uses this to horrifying effect. Emily Carroll's comics in general are fond of this. Mostly it's the "long vertical comic" approach, but the final page of "Margot's Room" really takes the Infinite Canvas to town, making the reader scroll all over the place to follow the action.
- Hobo Lobo features horizontal scrolling, parallax viewing, background changes, and in some cases sound effects and animations.
- In a similar vein, "If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel: A Tediously Accurate Scale Model of the Solar System."
- Of course, DM Maus has had a stab at this.
- This scale model of a Hydrogen atom. The proton is 1,000 pixels across, the electron orbiting it is 1 pixel across and 50 million pixels to the right (which according to the author, on an average screen resolution of 72dpi, is approximately 11 miles of scrolling!)
- Killer Robots From Space has strips one frame tall but sometimes dozens of frames wide (it varies).
- Mac Hall used an enormous vertical comic for an elaborate Shout-Out to the music video of Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice".
- Comics in A Moment of Peace tend to sprawl vertically. Sometimes this is an intentional effect that creates a sense of descending or ascending.
- MS Paint Adventures uses this concept in a couple of ways:
- The second adventure, Bard Quest, has multiple paths. However, due to the complexity of the story, it was dropped fairly early.
- Homestuck uses flash as a way for viewers to explore the environment, scrolling both horizontally and vertically. More to the point, Homestuck also makes use of animated and interactive adventure game segments, which would obviously be impossible in print.
- Not so impossible that you can't purchase books of the series though!
- Also of note, the Midnight Crew intermission in Homestuck has a "time loop."
- The End of Act Five flash has an unexpectedly-expanding screen during a vital moment - making the event particularly effective, and also breaking the bounds of the traditional limits of a panel.
- Homestuck also has an incredibly complex storyline, the like of which would probably be impossible in pure print media.
- At one point in Act 5, the Homestuck disc was scratched, forcing the audience to go to one of the characters (a certain Doc Scratch) to salvage it. In the meantime he took over the comic, changing the scheme of the website to white text on dark green, and introduced a banner at the top of the page. For each panel, the banner changed as well, telling a story in tandem and often mirroring the events of the panels. Not only that, but when Andrew Hussie appeared in the setting of the banner, Alt Text was introduced to display what he's saying at that point. Later, when the Big Bad appears, instead of normal text there is a huge hover-over image of his text saying something threatening. If there's one comic that is determined to explore what the internet can do for storytelling, it's Homestuck.
- Right after the above format change, the reader is presented a scrapbook with clickable pictures from which to explore a series of smaller events in more or less any order.
- In Act 6, there are occasionally character select screens where readers can choose to follow one or another character's path before the other. Of course, he mostly writes the routes one at a time and posts them as they go along, so for people who've caught up with the story, there isn't really any difference to if the comic was in print.
- Also in Act 6 there was a long stretch with two parallel sets of panels, showing events that happened simultaneously in nearly identical locations. There were two forward buttons, one under each set of panels. The forward under the first set led to the top of the second set, then one under the second set led to the next page.
- And, of course, most commonly and yet less obviously, the simple fact that the number of panels and amount of text can vary wildly between pages - one page might have a single, simple image without any text, while another might have three complicated pictures and pages of conversation. Andrew has said that he's become so used to the flexibility this style provides that it would feel extremely difficult to write a comic involving panels now.
- Act 6 Act 6 Act 4 (yes, an act consisting of multiple acts that are themselves split into more acts) features some wide and tall pages where John flies through space and observes the carnage caused during [S] GAME OVER.
- Narbonic occasionally experimented with this, usually at the high point of a plot arc or during one of Dave's New-Year's-Eve dream sequences.
- In particular, the second comic specifically name-checks Eric Burns-White.
- And later on, in the very last of those dream sequences... which is just one long sequence of dream-Helen falling, falling, falling...
- Nature of Nature's Art loves using infinite canvas, both vertical and horizontal.
- Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life: every single strip is a long line of panels. But the story is so good that you get over the scrolling.
- The last few chapters of Octopus Pie uses the infinite canvas several times, usually to convey the passage of time. "the witch lives" and "oops! bye!!" are the two most noteworthy examples, but there's also "well" as a more comedic example.
- The Order of the Stick has an excellent example (spoiler warning) of infinite canvas, though there are more original ways the principle could be applied. Using a really long strip to depict lots of falling is considered the ur-example of this trope, but it is also a very intuitive example. (In print, the strip is broken into several page-high panels.)
- Almost certainly influenced by this episode of Scott McCloud's Zot! webcomic.
- Also one where Haley is knocked back so much by an attack she breaks through the side of the panel.
- It was also used to show multiple events unfolding simultaneously.
- The Pale uses this throughout, each page a scrolling horizontal canvas with the 'panels' blending into each other.
- Parallel Dementia uses this a lot, most awesomely here.
- Penny Arcade uses a minor version here, while taking Scott McCloud to task for his position on Micropayments. Gabe and Tycho were outspoken critics of both concepts when they came up in the late 90s and early 00's.
- Prequel has dream sequences involving this, including some that are animated as you scroll down them.
- Pup Ponders the Heat Death of the Universe. It's very big, but not nearly as big as the concepts it embodies.
- Sarilho does this occasionally, as when the Professor makes a quick summary of the events on the night of the Foreigner's awakening.
- This Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal strip.
- This Schlock Mercenary strip. (You almost need a bigger boat to see it all...)
- Scott McCloud himself has a few on his website, and some of them continue the thematic series that began with Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics.
- My Obsession With Chess chronicles his obsession with chess. It's about 16 feet long, done in alternating black-on-white to white-on-black panels.
- Sluggy Freelance used the extra space to Anviliciously drive home a stock-footage joke in its Humongous Mecha/Another Dimension/Stuff Like That parody arc.
- Also, on the strip's anniversaries (and a few other occasions) the strip will feature a flash image to make the characters actually move around in the panels.
- SMAAAASH!! uses these all the time.
- The Spiders is one of the best illustrated use.
- The day that old Starslip Crisis ended and the newly rebooted and renamed Starslip began, this was the entire front page. Extra credit: the site navigation buttons are part of it, the "end" button is shattered, and the "back" and "beginning" buttons were functional.
- Subnormality does this with reckless abandon. Constantly. And they're amazing.
- Sunstone takes full advantage of sprawling downwards, panels can flow into each other and often great space is used to show characters head to toe. Word of God has stated the only real problem with getting the work published is the huge amount of reformatting that would have to take place to fit the comic into a book.
- This is: is another non-linear one, a comic presented as a series of profiles for people, places and things, with links beneath explaining their connection.
- Touhou Nekokayou has this to say on the subject in Strip #12
"While Scott McCloud's wild predictions on the Infinite Canvas were kind of cool, they were pretty much dashed by things like 'usability' and 'load times'."
- Unwinder's Tall Comics is named after the unconstrained height of its comics. Unwinder's conceit is that a taller comic is a better comic.
- The Way of the Metagamer: Although the comics are all approximately the same size (except for double-length specials), characters, speech bubbles, and shoes often breach the borders of the panels. And then there's this comic, in which the characters climb behind the panels.
- This comic is an even better example.
- When I Am King (Warning: probably NSFW).
- The Whiteboard is usually done as a three to four panel strip in a horizontal alignment, but this strip is made in a vertical alignment, and goes far beyond the three panels of a regular strip.
- The Wormworld Saga is made up of huge chapters - the first is over 25,000 pixels long.
- xkcd makes perhaps the grandest use of the infinite canvas:
- Presenting a logarithmic-scale depiction of the entire observable universe.
- And three strips later, they go in the other direction.
- Strip #1110 "Click and Drag". Words fail. According to some calculations, this strip would be 43 meters wide if printed in full resolution.
- Strip #1190 "Time" is possibly an inversion of the infinite canvas, taking a series of panels or moments in a very slow animation and presenting them one at a time in a single panel space, updating every hour or so.
- #1608, "Hoverboard", is basically "Click and Drag" in video game form. You collect coins in a seemingly small play area, but if you go past the boundaries of the area you'll enter a massive world filled with shout-outs to Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, among the many other things present.
"Return to play area."
- #1732, "Earth Temperature Timeline" is a long vertical linegraph spanning tens of thousands of years.