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. Additionally, comics and the mythologies they have spawned are a vital part of our popular culture. Witness the surprising and almost unprecedented popularity of comics-inspired films, including X-Men, Spider-Man, and Batman Begins. In the 70s, 80s, and 90s, the Superman and Batman film franchises produced regular blockbusters. 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.In addition, the vast majority of comics reprints lacks 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.
Comics present a unique combination of text and graphics. Comics, though mass produced, 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. 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 page image is also required. An interface that integrates the comic book 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.
In order to facilitate the preservation, study, and analysis of these important cultural artifacts, the original comic books need to be digitized, and an XML vocabulary suitable for capturing the varied and complex data and metadata of the comic book needs to be developed. CBML is an attempt to develop such a vocabulary and complex data and metadata, and by extension, a website suitable for discovery of these graphic materials for teaching, learning or research.