For someone who’s never read any webcomics, maybe just stuck to physical paper and ink, net-scribbles can seem like a daunting new competitor to their beloved variant covers and trade paperbacks. I hope to enlighten you all with the major pros of this relatively new medium, and hopefully counter some of the cons!
So yes, first of all, webcomics are a major competitor to traditional comics, perceived to be stealing away custom from comic book shops. The way I see it, any competition is good for the marketplace! Just like the storylines comics tell, you need a bit of conflict to stir things up, or risk being stagnant and same-y every week. And also, we’re starting to see some cross-pollenisation cropping up. Dark Horse have recently been releasing trades of popular webcomics such as Doctor McNinja and Axe Cop alongside its usual fare, and of course the bigger boys in the webcomic market have released their own trades through online shops. It's like flicking through pages of the internet in your hands!
The next and most common criticism I personally hear about webcomics is: “Webcomics? Isn’t that just gamer/gaming stuff with in-jokes I wouldn’t get; fanfic of already popular franchises; self-published childish scribbling and pencil porn?”
To which the answer is yes, plus everything else. The true joy of the digital landscape is freedom; freedom to write/draw what you want, freedom to make your comic however you like (including with moving GIFs if you’d prefer), and freedom of choice. It takes very little to start up a webcomic: site hosting, a little bit of technical know-how to make your site look nice and learn how to update with new pages, and a few ad-banners to (hopefully) pay for the hosting. Of course, very few webcomics actually become popular enough to become self-sufficient and start selling collected graphic novels, t-shirts, and merch.
This is because freedom of choice is - of course - a double edged sword. Lurking on the web are examples of all the above complaints, and the dross does unfortunately outweigh the gold. Gaming webcomics do tend to make up the majority of the diversity piechart (in my personal experience anyway, it depends on which corner of the internet you explore). But then internet people are tech-savvy mostly, and poking fun at gaming is easy and fun to do!
And yes, there are a few webcomics that flirt with the danger of copyright infringement, they think they can get someone else‘s character to do all kinds of things. And of course, some are just scribbles of madmen. Do not fret though! There is gold in them thar net-hills! And as I hinted at earlier, the freedom of the internet means that some outstanding designs are possible that could never be attempted on paper. When you have unlimited space to draw, the sky’s the limit. And animation is a wonderful thing in webcomics, as seen in the above strip from Playr 3 by Cool Surface! From simple GIFs to mighty Flash files, it's possible to blend still image and movement to create something better than its parts.
You see, the main good thing about the freedom of webcomics is the freedom to experiment, with very little financial risk and no editor breathing down your neck waiting for an excuse to cut costs. Take for example, Daily Dinosaur Comics over on qwantz.com. Who would have ever thought to keep the pictures on the page the same every day, but just change the speech bubbles! And yet it is one of the most popular websites on the net, and you can actually feel the dino-characters growing in personality as you progress through the archives.
Oh yeah! Another HUGE plus point for webcomics are the digital archives. This is one of those things you wish could work for everything in life, especially paper and ink comics. Just click a button, and you go straight back to the very beginning of the story! No “jumping-on point” required! It’s a simple thing, but to me its one of the first things that attracted me to webcomics. Reading an epic story from beginning to end, without having to root around in car boot sales and secondhand stores for the first issue.
Of course, not everyone has the time to trawl through a vast archive of story, desperately trying to catch up with ‘today’. To those people I say Gag-A-Day comics are the way to go. These are webcomics whose pages rarely follow on from each other, instead providing a new punch line every day for a quick fix of funny. Try to go for the long-running ones, it’s a sign of quality when you can be consistently funny day after day, and not run out of jokes after the first week. xkcd is a great example.
Now I admit, the world of webcomics can seem quite daunting. The best way to start is to see if a favourite comic artist or writer is involved in a webcomic. A few of them use the internet to stretch their writing/drawing muscles, practicing their art and trying out new things whilst building a fan base online. For example; Doug TenNepal, the creative mind who invented Earthworm Jim, has a recently started webcomic called Ratfist that you might like to peruse. And from there, it’s a simple process of checking if your chosen artist/writer’s webcomic site has a page of links called “Affiliates” or “Friends” or “Webcomics You Should Read” etc. This is a great way of building up a portfolio of similar comics (or at least similar quality comics, even if the subject matter isn’t), and if you explore the links pages of those webcomics, pretty soon you’ll have your master list to read weekly. Notice the webcomics that are on several lists of links. Those are the doozies.
An alternative method is to check out the various sites whose main function is to provide a list of webcomics that can easily be skimmed through to find a good one. Places like thewebcomiclist.com, or topwebcomics.com where comics are voted up or down so you can easily see which ones have the best voting incentive - uh I mean which ones are best! Also, check out sites that act as merch shops for many webcomics at once. They usually only accept membership from relatively well known (and therefore financially less risky) webcomics, so their webcomics are more often than not the best the web has to offer. Try topatoco.com, that’s a good collection of webcomics, and a great shop as well!
So that’s it! Your introduction to webcomics, and my introduction to writing articles!
Todd is worried he might have used the word “webcomic” too often.