Are Webcomics Comics?

In a comment in response to a post discussing the GLAAD Awards, Lisa Jonte said “I am disappointed by the lack of a webcomics category for a comics-oriented award.” Earlier this year, Brigid at DigitalStrips discussed a similar topic, about why no webcomics were mentioned in “best of the year” lists.

It’s an intriguing question. I was going to immediately discard the smart aleck answer, “webcomics aren’t good enough”, but I think that’s part of it. I have not seen any webcomic as good as Fun Home or that I enjoyed as much as Dramacon.

A large part of that is down to the technical experience. It took me a chapter or two to fully immerse myself into the world Bechdel creates in her book. With a webcomic of similar depth, I would have bailed before that point, because it’s not as comfortable for me to read onscreen, waiting for page loads and trying to ignore the blinky ads surrounding the material I’m interested in.

Also, I don’t think of most webcomics when making “best” lists for the same reason I don’t think of most superhero comics or other serials — in order to declare something great, it’s got to have an ending that I can evaluate. The only webcomics I’m aware of (and that’s a big limitation right there, my knowledge of the form) that had endings also had print publication.

For example, Mom’s Cancer, one of my best of 2006, started as a webcomic. If it had stayed in that format, though, it wouldn’t have had the power and impact that it did in terms of reading experience. I’ve been trained to think of things onscreen as short and ephemeral. A book contains material worthy of permanent collection, ideas to be reflected on and experiences judged meaningful. Webcomics have to overcome their history as a cheap way to keep up with comic strips at work before they’ll be taken seriously.

There’s also the format of most webcomics. They’re similar to newspaper strips, short groups of panels based around gags. Is anyone asking why no comic strips weren’t included in awards or best-of lists? They have their own recognition ceremonies. In comparison, when it comes to filmed entertainment, there are Oscars for movies and Emmys for TV shows. Is it a bad thing to analogize movies to graphic novels and Emmys to other types of comic works?

I’m curious to know what others think, especially those who think a webcomic should have been named as best of last year. If so, what was it and why?

Similar Posts: Webcomics in 2006 Roundtable § Are Webcomics Going to Be the Next Crash? § Monsters of Webcomics Exhibit Opens in August in SF § How to Make Webcomics § Submissions Now Open for 2011 Glyph Awards; Judges Named


67 Responses to “Are Webcomics Comics?”

  1. Chuck Says:

    Webcomics are hard for me to read, too. Occassionally I’ll find one that I like, and I’ll read a big chunk of the archives in one sitting, but there are none that I look at on a daily or weekly basis. I know folks younger than me who seem to follow webcomics regularly, as they’re updated. For me, I need more story than a few panels or a single page. When I find a webcomic that I like, I’m always thinking “I wish this was in a book!”

  2. Dorothea Says:

    I’m a little unclear why webcomics should suffer because you’ve “been trained” not to enjoy or appreciate them.

  3. Paul O'Brien Says:

    Are webcomics comics? Generally, yes, because they tell stories using the medium of static pictures arranged in space. Or whatever definition you want to use. There have been some exceptions over the years, which deviated so far from the normal definition of the medium that they were closer to being limited animations. But on the whole, sure, they’re comics.

    Perhaps the more crucial question is why they should get a separate category, however. In practice, from what I’ve seen, the vast majority of “webcomics” are just normal comics that happen to be using the web as a distribution method. Actual engagement with the additional and alternative storytelling possibilities of the web is relatively rare. If the only underlying commonality is the distribution mechanism, one wonders whether that’s really sufficient to make “Best Webcomic” a very meaningful award. You might as well have a “best comic distributed by Diamond” award.

  4. Joshua Macy Says:

    Narbonic was certainly in the running for the best comic last year, and it came to an end in December.

    Personally, about the only comics I read nowadays are webcomics or manga, plus the occasional archive.

  5. Lyle Says:

    Johanna, I’ve been interested in webcomics for some time but have had a hard time finding a webcomic that keeps me returning. While part of the problem is that I can’t find any webcomics that match up with print comics I read, I think a bigger factor is that I’m having a hard time finding a webcomic I enjoy as much as the websites I frequent, which usually offer more content for me to read with less load time (due to the image/text balance).

    There are a few newspaper comic strips I follow on the web (The Bad Reporter, Deb Aoki’s Bento Box and Pearls Before Swine), but those are titles that have earned loyalty from me from years of reading in print. I wouldn’t be following the first two if they didn’t have RSS feeds, however, that alerted me to new content.

    I’ve been looking for a webcomic that attempts to update soap opera or adventure comic strips like Rex Morgan or Steve Canyon with some modern sensibilities (the ones still appearing in papers show their age, IMO) since it’s not something I can find elsewhere.

  6. Lyle Says:

    Paul, you’ve reminded me of one problem I sometimes have with webcomics — some appear to be a comic page scanned and uploaded to the web, which doesn’t read as easily for me on a monitor.

  7. Johanna Says:

    Dorothea, assuming webcomics are “suffering” because I don’t read many of them is a much more egotistical stance than I feel comfortable with. Who cares whether I read them or not? I just wanted to provide some alternate perspectives on a question asked more than once.

    Either the web is just another distribution method, in which case, see my comments about why I think it’s an inferior one that doesn’t serve the work best; or it’s a sub-medium of its own, in which case, why should they be included in coverage focused on print comics?

    Paul: isn’t “best comic distributed by Diamond” one all of the Wizard categories? No? My mistake. :)

    Joshua, I’ve tried Narbonic, but to me, it seems like Love & Rockets: you had to be there at the time and grow with it to really appreciate the endgame.

    Lyle, I agree with you about preferring to spend browsing time on reading text and discussion.

    Great comments, please keep them coming!

  8. myk Says:

    I pretty much agree with your comments, Johanna. I always find new webcomics which look intriguing and put them in my RSS-reader, only – I never look at them again.

    I just can´t be bothered to read comics on the web (with very few exceptions), even the really good ones. I simply wait (or better, hope) for the eventual book collection.

    On the suggestion-side of thing: Dicebox – I think everyone who likes books like Finder, Galaxion, Wandering Star, etc. would enjoy it.

  9. Johanna Says:

    Myk, ok, glad to be agreed with :), but why is it that you do that? It’s a little bit of a copout just to say “not for me” — which was the purpose of this post, for me to think about why webcomics seem different.

  10. Crocodile Caucus » My problem with webcomics Says:

    [...] Johanna today considered why webcomics don’t get mentioned in lists of the best comics and notes some problems with webcomics that resonates with me very much. [...]

  11. James Schee Says:

    This discussion makes me think of something Grissom on CSI said when it was pointed out to him that case files he was looking for were easily found on the computer to be read. While he was going through hard copy files to look for what he needed.

    “When I read off the computer screen I have to lean forward to read, when I read a book I lean back. I prefer to lean back”

    There are a lot of good webcomics out there, yet they are easily forgettable unless you have the time to go to them. (and then have to play catchup which can be time consuming)

  12. Jeff Coleman Says:

    Paul–

    “Perhaps the more crucial question is why they should get a separate category, however. In practice, from what I’ve seen, the vast majority of “webcomics” are just normal comics that happen to be using the web as a distribution method.”

    Movies and television shows are both visual moving-picture entertainments that just happen to be using different distribution methods. But there are Emmies and Oscars that distinguish the two.

    Why not have a different category? Honestly, one of the biggest reasons in favor of it is that webcomics have a distinct “culture” of their own, different from that of (say) direct-market comics, or imported manga, and so on.

    I’m not saying it wouldn’t worthwhile to consider the whole scope of everything that is “comics” when considering a “best”, but I don’t see the harm in distinguishing the two.

    Jeff

  13. Sebastian Says:

    Hmm… I don’t read as much webcomics as I did, say, 2 years ago. But there’s still a lot of good stuff out there. Still, you are correct in that the better series also tend to develop printed editions (Sinfest, Piled Higher and Deeper, Inverloch, Angel Moxie, PvP, Megatokyo, I could go on for quite a while).

    One exception comes to (my personal) mind, though. “Questionable Content” is currently my favourite webcomic (and quite high in an overall ranking) and there’s no collection in sight. Might have to do with the unusual format. http://www.questionablecontent.net/

    Mind you, the humour very clearly isn’t for everyone, but I just love the dialogue and the verbal fencing.

  14. TZG2.0 | FASTER, INTERNET! KILL! KILL! Says:

    [...] There are a lot of webcomics I enjoy. In bookform. And then there´s the lot that keeps piling up in my feedreader, so it´s good to see that I´m not the only one who apparently has a problem reading comics on the web. Picking up a ball from both Johanna and Lyle, let´s have a look at why by and large webcomics fail to enthrall. [...]

  15. Larry Holderfield Says:

    Let’s see… I read about 50 webcomics a day, maybe 5 comicbook a week.

    Reading webcomics is like reading a comicbook, one page a day. If it isn’t written for that, the web may not be the best medium for it.

    Full disclosure: I have had a photo-based webcomic for over two years, and did publish a print anthology.

  16. Andre Says:

    It’s worth noting that the two books you cited- DramaCon and Fun Home- both got their start in webcomics/comic strips. Svetlana did Chasing Rainbows for Girlamatic and Night Silver for Wirepop, and Allison did Dykes to Watch Out For as a comic strip.

    Daily or weekly installments are a good way to get experience, so webcomics are a good thing to watch for upcoming creators, and stuff that might offer something you might not see published otherwise…….

    I see it as a good place to start out, and a good way to supplement your comics reading. And as others have mentioned, if it’s a really big hit or a compelling work an editor picks up on, more and more works are making their way to print, like Salamander Dream, Narbonic, PVP, Van Von Hunter and other assorted works.

  17. Andre Says:

    ps-

    for the record I do webcomics here-
    http://www.girlamatic.com/comics/jeepers.php
    and
    http://webcomicsnation.com/andre/ here

  18. Kelson Says:

    Here’s another webcomic that has an ending, but hasn’t appeared in print (though there is a rumored book that Amazon is willing to let you pre-order). Queen of Wands ran from 2002-2005. From 2005-2006, the artist repeated the strip from the beginning to the end with a sort of “director’s commentary.”

    It starts out looking like a joke-a-day strip, but storylines and characterization start appearing quickly, and backstory, and eventually it starts to take the shape of a set of series-long character arcs. Be warned: the last strip (and therefore the ending) is on the front page, so the archive might be a safer place to start.

  19. Dani Atkinson Says:

    Personally, I think webcomics at their best can provide the best of both worlds; graphic novels and strips. You have the suspense built between installments and the long term relationship between the reader and the material that you get from a strip or serial pamphlet, but the ready availability of the archives allows for the depth and intricacy of plotting normally found in graphic novels.

    Plus, there are some things webcomics can do that no other sequential form can. It lends itself to thought experiments and multimedia exploration.

    It’s a very new medium, with a lot of young and inexperienced creators finding their footing. But even now there are works out there that I would put up against anything available in comic book stores. And digital distribution is fast becoming the first choice for up and coming creators. As previously mentioned, some of the creators you’ve cited were newspaper and or webcartoonists first.

    And saying that the good stuff ends up in print anyway, to my mind, misses the point (besides being untrue. What about the various flash and multimedia comics that CAN’T be printed?). Some of these stories would never have made it to print if they hadn’t proven themselves online first. And they didn’t magically become good at the moment they were put on paper. A good comic is a good comic, regardless of whether it’s on paper or pixels. Ignoring comics on the web means missing out on a whole helluva lot of what sequential art has to offer.

    (With regards to what you said about wanting a completed story with an ending to evaluate, a number of webcomics have wound their way to sea. Here’s an index of completed webcomics.)

  20. Journalista » Blog Archive » Jan. 16, 2007: Quiet days in Dullsville Says:

    [...] Johanna Draper Carlson wonders why webcomics don’t show up in best-of-the-year lists. [...]

  21. T Campbell Says:

    There seem to be two questions here:

    1) Why don’t the tastemakers in comics seem to appreciate webcomics?
    2) Why don’t I?

    I think the answer to both is partly generational. A growing number of people see nothing unusual about reading on a computer screen, even for extended periods of time. But a lot of comics tastemakers have been part of the field for longer than webcomics have been a factor.

    In the first case, I think they’re getting there. The Eisners, Ignatzes and Harveys have all developed webcomics categories.

    In the second case, welll… you’ve hit me with this issue many times before and I’ve never known what to tell you. I disagree strongly that Mom’s Cancer carried more emotional impact in print than online, but I recognize that that disagreement is rooted in a difference in reading tastes. (No, I don’t think every comic works as well or better online, but I think partisans on both sides overemphasize the differences.)

    Like the selective “manga blindness” that you’ll still find in some best-of-comics lists, I think “webcomics blindness” is likely to continue to clear up, year after year.

  22. Joey Manley Says:

    Paul O’Brien wrote: “You might as well have a ‘best comic distributed by Diamond” award.’”

    That’s not what all those “industry” awards already are? Color me surprised!

    Joey
    http://www.webcomicsnation.com

  23. Ed Sizemore Says:

    Johanna, I guess I tend to think of webcomics on the same par as comic strips. The comparison I think of is Prince Valiant or Steve Canyon. Both offered a full page each week and they told an ongoing story, but even when collected in books according to story arcs we don’t call them comic books or graphic novels. So I don’t think of webcomics like I do manga or comic books. I think of them as their own unique category. I think that print and webcomics attract different readers, so it doesn’t surprise me that most of the critics you read don’t have a webcomic on their best of list. I don’t follow webcomics myself, but I bet their of plenty best of webcomic list out there.

  24. Lisa Jonte Says:

    “On the suggestion-side of thing: Dicebox – I think everyone who likes books like Finder, Galaxion, Wandering Star, etc. would enjoy it.”

    Psst! Myk! Galaxion is now a webcomic at GirlAMatic.com. (I know this because I’m the editor.)

  25. Larry Young Says:

    Do webcomics have their own awards? Haven’t awards traditionally sprung up once a focussed individual or a group of like minded individuals tired of head-banging and served a perceived audience?

    Are the Web Cartoonists’ Choice Awards so ill-regarded? Or do web cartoonists just want an Eisner?

  26. derik Says:

    I was just filling out my WCCA ballot and couldn’t find enough webcomics to fill most of the categories. There are a few webcomics I consistently enjoy (Dicebox, Scary Go Round, Dinosaur Comics, Les Petits Riens, Hutch Owen, Mostly Banal, Finder (is that now considered a webcomic?)) but not many. Partly, I’d say it relates to the low barrier to entry and they are free. It makes for a much greater amount of work to sift through.

  27. A. Hunt Says:

    In practice, from what I’ve seen, the vast majority of “webcomics” are just normal comics that happen to be using the web as a distribution method. Actual engagement with the additional and alternative storytelling possibilities of the web is relatively rare.

    I’d hazard a guess that the same is true of many minicomics, just with a Kinko’s involved. And minicomics have their own category at the Ignatzes, if not elsewhere.

  28. Jackie Estrada Says:

    Hey, Johanna, since you have always been a big supporter of Batton Lash’s print “Supernatural Law” at CWR, I’m just wondering if you have checked out the webcomic at http://www.supernaturallaw.com (which is completely different material than the print version) and if you have any comments on the differences between the two versions. Batton has been doing new stories specifically for the web and utilizing that medium differently, especially because he can use color in interesting ways and because he can be more topical. The storylines run for a few months each (updated on Mondays and Thursdays). The most recent storyline, “Weird Eye for the Normal Guy,” just wrapped up.

    Jackie Estrada

  29. David Oakes Says:

    Actually, Ms. Estrada brings up a good question:

    If webcomics are somehow validated by being gathered in print editions, how do we view print comics that are distributed on the web? Is “Girl Genius” making the best of a bad market, or simply retreating? Is “Supernatural Law” exploring multiple storytelling avenues, or diluting the brand? (And that’s even before questions of content.)

  30. Lyle Says:

    A Hunt, for some reason, though, I find it much easier to dig through a number of minicomics and find the ones I want to buy. Browsing a similar number of minicomics is more exhausting for me.

  31. Johanna Says:

    Wow, lots to respond to. Just hitting the high points: I think having a separate webcomic category in awards is fine, but the people I was responding to seemed to be asking why webcomics weren’t considered for “best of” lists in competition with print comics, not in addition to, so that doesn’t address their objections. Is there a webcomic that deserves to be on a Best of 2006 list without having a separate format category?

    I am in great sympathy with considering webcomics more similar to comic strips than graphic novels. And I think it’s great that the web is there for people to get their start or gain experience… but again, that doesn’t answer the question I was trying to ask.

    Jackie, no, I haven’t read Batton’s work online. I suppose I should try it, but personally (and this is a big stumbling block for me in trying webcomics) I’m not looking for *more* to read. Do you have an RSS feed for just that strip? That makes it much more convenient for me to keep up with.

    Lyle, I think one of your “minicomics” should be “webcomics” but I’m not sure which one. :)

  32. A. Hunt Says:

    Lyle–

    Assuming that the second “minicomics” is “webcomics,” I don’t doubt it–I’m the same way. I figure it’s because it’s much easier to pick up a book, flip through it, and choose to buy it than to find a promising website out of the bedlam and click around on it. With a physical book, you can leaf through the pages and get a good, representative sense of what it’s like and whether any cool stuff is buried in the center without devoting much time or effort to it–webcomics just don’t allow for that, unless they have a huge archive page with all the comics displayed on it (which would be a load-time nightmare).

    Johanna–I don’t know if it would go on a Best of 2006 list (I forgot which issues came out this year, and I didn’t read many print comics), but I do like Platinum Grit a whole lot more than anything else I read :).

  33. Alan Coil Says:

    I don’t do webcomics for one reason: I’m on dialup.

    :(

  34. Robert Tinnell Says:

    I’m finding this whole conversation fascinating and I wanted to jump in if only to stray a bit and discuss the potential power of webcomics. With the webcomic we’re doing now, THE CHLEATION KID, we’re attracting tons and tons of people who otherwise would read no comics – web or print. Granted that’s because they have a vested interest in the subject matter – biomedical treatment of autism – but nonetheless, we’re getting people to read comics. And for me personally that’s a cool thing. Fortunately the format also encourages a lot of feedback so we’re hearing a lot from readers – a lot more than I ever do on my print work – and that is a great bonus. The flip-side is, yeah, getting nominated or otherwise recognized is probably an uphill slog prior to going to print. But in our case, wherein our primary concern is to inform people and otherwise build awareness about how it’s possible to treat autism (in a way that is, again hopefully, humorous and entertaining), I think the medium is performing marvelously and I get very excited at the potential for telling stories that otherwise might not reach a large audience.

  35. Johanna Says:

    A, Platinum Grit started in print! hee hee hee

  36. myk Says:

    Psst! Lisa! I know Galaxion is now a webcomic at GirlAMatic.com. (I just hope that there will be another book collection eventually, because the first one sitting on my shelf is kinda lonely)

    And I agree with the Robert´s point that webcomics are a pretty good way to get more people to read comics. Because it´s free and it´s easy to get hold of them, whereever you are. Just try keeping up with minicomics if you are, say, in germany.

    It´s just that for me, a book is a book. I´m stubborn. That´s why I still buy vinyl and not CDs. That´s why the only webcomic in my best-of-the-year list is a book collection of a webcomic.

    Putting it provicatively: Digital is the cowards way.

  37. Ed Sizemore Says:

    Johanna, I though I was addressing the question of why webcomics wouldn’t be part of any comic list I made. Because I think of webcomics as comic strips and not comic books, that is why I wouldn’t put any of them on my best of comics list. I loved Calvin and Hobbes and still think it’s one of the greatest comic strips ever written, but it would never have appeared on any best of comic list I made because it’s not a comic book. Well, you know I’m a stickler for definitions, so no matter the quality of the comic strip/webcomic it won’t be part of my comic list ;-).

  38. Joey Manley Says:

    Myk said: “Putting it provicatively: Digital is the cowards way.”

    Myk: I followed the link, and went and read your blog. I found it intelligently written and well-done, though I disagreed with many of your positions (on webcomics, obviously). If you had not posted your writing on your blog, if, instead, you had typed it up on paper, gone to Kinko’s, printed up a bunch of copies of your essays/posts/etc., and tried to distribute them physically, I never would have seen your writing, and I never would have had an opportunity to consider your thoughts. You probably would have only been able to distribute them to your friends, who would probably have been in a position to agree with them anyway (given the usual reasons people become friends).

    Now: which is the coward’s way?

  39. Tara Tallan Says:

    What a great debate! I found myself re-thinking my position on webcomics as I read along. My initial reaction to webcomics (speaking as someone relatively new to the scene) was exactly what’s already been said by several people– that they are simply an alternate means of distribution, and the ultimate goal is to get them in print form. But upon mature reflection, I don’t think that’s all they are.

    Would anyone here say that comics are a poor man’s (er, person’s) novel (or animated show)? No, because we all recognize that comics are a legitimate medium for storytelling that when fully utilized is capable of telling stories that *can’t* be translated to prose or to film. I think webcomics will eventually earn its own award category for the same reason. It’s a medium quite distinct from print comics.

    Do the majority of webcomics creators make comics that take advantage of the medium? No. I think we’re all still learning to do that. On the flip side, I don’t think most print-comic creators take full advantage of the comics medium either. (I don’t mean that as a criticism, just an observation. Sandman-style word balloons are a neat use of the medium, for example, but seeing them in every comic out there would be silly.) But just as print comics have their unique storytelling challenges and strengths, so do webcomics. But I suspect most of us creators are too concerned with being unable to evetually collect the comics into a print form to really run with the fancy stuff you can do online (well, that and a lack of the techincal knowledge, in my case anyway). The more people we have willing to read online comics without the expectation of an eventual print format, the more amazing webcomics we’ll see.

    So yes, webcomics needs its own award, one that will acknowledge the people who are *really* creating webcomics, as opposed to comics on the web. Let’s encourage this growing medium!

    –Tara

  40. Lyle Says:

    Browsing a similar number of minicomics is more exhausting for me.
    Ack! Yes, that’s supposed to be webcomics. Blush.

    I tried looking around one webcomics site yesterday, and I remembered that part of the problem for me was load time, with a decent amount of time passing before I even get to a blank page with an image loading. Usually when that happens, I move my attention to another tab and get back to the slow webpage later… and that works for most webpages where most of what I was seeking has loaded by the time I get back but with webcomics that’s step one.

    I guess I don’t look at webcomics as less than minicomics (and I do enjoy minicomics) but minicomics are more convenient for me. Maybe that’s partially because I only buy minicomics twice a year at times when I go into “shopping trip” mode (at APE and at San Diego).

    Joey, that’s an interesting point to me, as someone who once participated in APAs as well as online discussion. I’d say I put an equal amount of work into my two zines and my blog, but in the end I look back at my zines more fondly since they got a lot more attention in the “polish” stage — I’d give the final product second and third looks that I don’t always do when I communicate online (see my comment above and other embarrassingly badly written comments). I don’t necessarily see webcomics as lesser than print comics (I definitely prefer print, since the creator can’t take away a good print comic from me as easily as a website can be taken down) but I actually do see printed zines as better than blogs. That, however, are due to factors that may not pertain in self-published comics.

  41. Joey Manley Says:

    Lyle:

    I used to do print zines in the ’80′s, too (nothing that ever turned out to be famous — I was in high school; my zines were not carefully-constructed or well-distributed). By the time the web came into my life about ten years later, I had fallen out of the self-publishing scene, but jumped right back in, with enthusiasm, seeing it as the perfect opportunity to exercise those parts of my brain and my heart again. I didn’t expect it to be anything more than that — this was early on, when the web was just for weirdo hobbyists, a group of people I’ve always sought out and felt comfortable in. Then, of course, there was the big dotcom boom. And so on. Ignoring all that, though — it seems to me that the two means of expression — print self-publishing and online self-publishing, whether comics, text, or what — have a lot more in common, at least in terms of the motivations and drive on the part of creators, and in terms of the raw talent available. I guess the barriers to entry in print might weed out a few less-talented people (but, for that matter, they probably weed out a few more-talented people, too — I’d almost bet my life on it).

    Like print, there are hobbyist self-publishing venues, and professionally-edited venues, and a wide range of “in betweens” in between. The only real difference is scope: the sheer volume of material posted on the web in any given, say, day, is probably at least an order of magnitude, or two or three, larger than the volume of material published in print in the same time period. I don’t think that the percentage of that volume that is worth looking at is any different — there’s no real reason to think so. It’s just more intimidating to approach, if you’re not already acclimated. Perfectly understandable.

    Also — I hope that that slow webcomics site wasn’t one of mine! We’ve been having some intermittent slowness lately, but overall our service is pretty good.

    And Johanna: sorry for taking this thread off-topic somewhat.

  42. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Says:

    As a webcomics newbie, I see them as being the comics parallel to slam/performance poetry, which has always been seen as a stepchild to “real” poetry, despite the fact that many such poets do more gigs, have wider audiences, sell more books (and/or CDs) and make more money than your average page-bound poet. Nevertheless, it’s the page-bound poets who are seen as being more legitimate and awards-worthy.

    – Of course, like webcomics (and regular comics, regular poets and 99% of everything else) the vast majority of slam/performance poets aren’t very good. Dealing in generalities is a zero-sum game. –

    As for awards, I think there should definitely be a separate category for them…to begin with. (Same thing for manga, and OGNs vs. TPBs.) Eventually, the exceptional ones will push through the psychological barriers of the keepers of their respective gates and one will snag a nomination, possibly even a victory, lifting all boats.

    American Born Chinese and Mom’s Cancer both started out as webcomics and their print editions have gone on to gain critical acclaim, bringing more attention to webcomics in general. Those two in particular made me take notice and I’ve recently been seeking them out as a result, and I doubt I’m alone in that regard.

  43. myk Says:

    Joey, I would like to reply to your post in more depth, but am right now distracted by my feverish son, but for now let me just say that I think, in your reply to my – granted – blunt provocation, you missed a point I was never even going to make.

    There is a difference between a blog, written from and for the moment, and a work of art, surely you´d agree. And the visibility argument, I never even tried to refute that.

    I´d like to come back to this later, but I guess I´ll take it over to my blog, not to clog Johanna´s comments more than necessary – I´d also be interested in which points exactly you disagree on, as you never made that clear.

    As a reminder, I like webcomics. I was just trying to find out why they´re problematic for me.

  44. myk Says:

    Also, Tara brings up an interesting point:

    But just as print comics have their unique storytelling challenges and strengths, so do webcomics. But I suspect most of us creators are too concerned with being unable to evetually collect the comics into a print form to really run with the fancy stuff you can do online (well, that and a lack of the techincal knowledge, in my case anyway).

    And I´m wondering what that fancy stuff might be? If you´re going full-blown animated, well… then it´s animation right? So – and I´m genuinely curious – what´s the special stuff that´s in store for us?

  45. T Campbell Says:

    Actually, Myk, I *wouldn’t* agree that there’s a difference between a blog and art. Everything creative is artistic. But I think you mean that a blog post is a quick, momentary exercise, while a book is longer and harder work.

    You seem to be saying that because something is written for an online audience, it’s written only for the moment. That’s just not how I approach things. I’m writing for print and online this year, and I generally find a webcomic MORE of a long-term commitment than an OGN. I’m not just entertaining for a day; I’m building an archive.

    Granted, most webcomics with really big audiences are somewhat episodic, but then again, so are most superhero comic books and manga.

    There’s a sequence near the beginning of UNDERSTANDING COMICS where Scott represents comics as a pitcher and its genres, styles and ideas as the liquid inside it. I would prefer to represent comics as the liquid, and the computer screen, the newspaper page and the paperback as differently-shaped glasses. Drink your beverage from a Tiffany’s glass or an old shoe, it really doesn’t taste that different.

  46. Tara Tallan Says:

    Ah! Well, I was recently alerted to I am a Rocket Builder which I thought was just amazing. If you start off reading his Explanation, it’ll all make more sense, though.

  47. T Campbell Says:

    What´s the special stuff that´s in store for us?

    Well, the obvious stuff includes infinite canvas, branching paths and comics in three dimensions, though I find there’s a lot of room for subtler effects.

  48. Roche Says:

    If printing a collection validates webcomics, then it does so in precisely the same way that trade paperback collections validate floppies.

    Which is to say, my hardbound copy of Death: The High Cost of Living doesn’t invalidate my much loved copy of issue #3 at all, it just makes it easier to carry around. (And the floppy makes it easier to get friends hooked on Gaiman.)

    Like floppies, webcomics have inconveniences attached to them: page load times instead of fragile covers. (And neither lends themselves to be being read in the tub, though some try.) I’d say that broadband is a prerequisite for a smooth enough reading experience to get hooked on anything via it’s archive. I’m sometimes stuck with dialup, so I feel that pain, but webcomics are futuretime as the Alpha Shade guys say.

    The agility of an artist’s response to the audience, and the daily/tri-weekly/weekly supsense and release cycles are pretty unique. (Barring newspaper comics, of course, which will soon disappear.) Having that same time release structure, and a common starting culture (e.g. Scott Kurtz’s PvP) leads to a fair number of them being strip-like, but clearly that’s not inevitable, and not a determining characteristic of webcomics.

    Should strip-like webcomics be out of consideration? Sure, if the rules normally exclude newspaper strips (or collections therof.) I don’t have a stake in that game. If you don’t want to see them on your best-of lists, okay by me. But since the format (html pages and images) doesn’t shape the content to be exclusively gag strips, nor nice tidy serialized fiction (e.g. Girl Genius), maybe it would be good to figure out why drawing that line is important to you.

    You wrote: Webcomics have to overcome their history as a cheap way to keep up with comic strips at work before they’ll be taken seriously. Sounds kinda like how the superman newspaper funnies that were collected as floppy comic books were just a cheap way to keep up on the doings of Clark Kent. You weren’t baiting us with that, were you?

  49. Roche Says:

    Huh, that last post came out waaay ruder than I intended. Gomen.

    I respect what you do, and I’ve been delighted with your reviews of webcomics that have made it to print. It would be lovely if you would look at some that haven’t made it to print yet, but that’s the world’s biggest slushpile I’m pointing at, so I can understand if you’d rather not. Attention is (so far) cheaper than dollars, so it seems rational to stick with things that both time and money have been sunk into.

  50. Johanna Says:

    In general: there is no off-topic for this post — it’s here for discussion, and I’m learning, as I hoped to do.

    Tara, re Galaxion running online: are new pages appearing yet, or is it still rerunning the print material?

    Joey: I think myk’s gone a bit far, but the comparison between discussion and/or essaying and strips isn’t a compelling one to me. It took me years goofing off online, refining my mode of expression and opinions, before I would dare ask anyone to pay money for my thoughts. And yeah, I do value my print work (and my website in toto) more than I do any particular web-published piece. So even if I’m a Luddite, I’m consistent. :)

    Roche, I’m picking on you because you posted last: if we agree to leave out the strip-like webcomics, what are the non-strip webcomics that are worthy of being named best of the year in competition with all comics, whatever format? I don’t want to put anyone on the spot, and I can see why some can’t/won’t name names in answer to that question, but no one’s answered it yet. (And your post didn’t seem particularly rude to me.)

  51. Tara Tallan Says:

    Johanna, it depends how you define new pages. I restarted Galaxion, redrawing and reworking the story, so everything is new. The plot is more or less the same, but I’m taking a slightly different direction to get there this time. So we’re learning different things and exploring different aspect of the characters along the way. However, there is also an 8-page short story up that is entirely new (except for having been printed in a minicomic I made up back in September to help promote the online series). I do plan to collect them eventually (despite my eariler arguments I’m still print-biased myself!), but at my current rate of a page per week it’s gonna take some time….

  52. Joey Manley Says:

    The biggest advantage of webcomics? If you work in an office, you can almost always get away with reading comics when you’re supposed to be doing something else. Unless you work for a comics company, it’s very difficult to do so with print comics. That sounds like a joke. I’m actually serious. Our biggest traffic spikes are during work hours.

    On a more personal note, the only kind of print comics that appeal to me are trade paperbacks or (preferably) hardcover collections of items I’ve already read in digital form — things I already know that I really, really love. Sort of like buying records only after you become familiar with the work of a musician through his/her songs on the radio. Anything else just clutters up the house, and I can’t stand the thought that everything I’ve ever read would have to follow me around this world in heavy, physical, inconvenient-to-access, difficult-to-preserve, expensive-to-store form. But I know that this is not a common attitude in the comics community. It’s Just Me.

  53. T Campbell Says:

    It’s not just you.

    I pick up floppies more often than you do, but the storage problem gets to me, too. Longboxes can only do so much.

    Well, the obvious stuff includes infinite canvas, branching paths and comics in three dimensions, though I find there’s a lot of room for subtler effects.

    Man, could that be any vaguer? Myk, if you’re still listening, I want to answer this more thoroughly but it’d take an article. Until I can write one, I recommend you Google “Making Comics Chapter 5 1/2,” available online. It’s much more revealing about this topic than Reinventing Comics was.

  54. David Oakes Says:

    I think that “Things web comics can do that print can’t” and “Webcomics as good (or better) than ‘Fun Home’ et al” have the same answer:

    The potential is there, but.

    Most of the defenders so far have argued that web comics aren’t lesser, just different. Or that currently respected art forms didn’t used to be. Or just that web comics should be, because. But everyone is arguing potential, not actual. (As Johanna keeps pointing out.)

    Web comics shouldn’t be dismissed because the technology isn’t common. (But it isn’t.) Nor should they be dismissed because WillS@Great.Lit.Org hasn’t produced a work universally accepted as good, regardless of media. (But they haven’t.) Web comics deserves just as much respect as anyone else for having created a work. (And to those using the term “floppies”, you might want to check your own biases.) But do any of them deserve a reward? I haven’t found one, yet.

  55. Joey Manley Says:

    David: it’s just that reading lists or recommendation lists are not really good ways to debate, because no matter how high the quality of the work you’re recommending, you can never counter the, “eh, that’s not to my particular taste — got more?” argument. For the purposes of a debate of the merit of an entire distribution medium, it’s enough to get an admission of potential from one’s debating, um, partner! Ha! McCloud was always falling into that trap, back in the day (though his webcomics recommendations, which you can find on his website and in his books, are always spot on — if your tastes run toward formal experimentation, that is).

    But I’m willing to make a go of it. Here’s just one example of an online comic that could, and should, be at the top of as many “best of” lists as possible.

    James Kochalka’s American Elf: http://www.americanelf.com/

    It started life as an annual (bi-annual?) print collection, but has found its true home online. In other words, moving from print to the web actually improved this work, both in terms of its popularity and its impact. It makes perfect use of the online medium, but there’s no fancy technology in play — it’s just a daily strip. The fact that people can read it on the same day that James made it is an integral part of its appeal — and that’s something that could never have happened with any other distribution medium, not newspapers, not comics books, not nothing. Reading just one strip is amusing. Reading a swath of them over time reveals their profundity.

    That’s just one. And, yes, I got more. I got hundreds! Thousands!

  56. Jackie Estrada Says:

    Johanna:
    Regarding Supernatural Law online, there isn’t an RSS feed, but you can sign up for e-mail notification of new episodes having been posted. The stories to date have been “My Husband Killed Me, and Now He Must Pay . . . Damages!” (a takeoff on both Scott Peterson and Nancy Grace); “The Life-Partner of Frankenstein” (in which a county clerk won’t issue a marriage license to the Monster and his “Bride”); “How to Talk to a Mortal (If You Must)” (mythology’s Medusa takes on a Ted Rall-type cartoonist); and the just completed “Weird Eye for the Normal Guy” (featuring Mavis and The Creeps). Batton does indeed use different storytelling techniques for the web than in the ongoing comic book series. All can be found at supernaturallaw.com .

    Jackie

  57. Joey Manley Says:

    Actually, Jackie, there is an RSS feed.

    http://www.webcomicsnation.com/rss.php?type=creator&creator=1160

    Joey

  58. Jackie Estrada Says:

    Thanks, Joey! You da man–

    Jackie

  59. roche Says:

    Johanna wrote: if we agree to leave out the strip-like webcomics, what are the non-strip webcomics that are worthy of being named best of the year in competition with all comics, whatever format?

    Erk! That’s hard! ;)
    Howabout instead, I list the non-strip webcomics that I actually read/check on a daily basis*?
    Harker: Engaging horror/swashbuckling pastiche of 19th century fictional characters centered around one Jonathan Harker. Sample nifty sequence involving Villefort from the Count of Monte Cristo: one, two. Pacing/scripting quality oscillates wildly around different values of really cool. Possibly disqualified since it is difficult to determine which year which chapter belongs to.

    No Rest for the Wicked: A fairy tale cycle told with precisely the kind of implicit and explicit horror and comedy traditional stories deserve. Includes references to The Buried Moon and Grimm bros. The Girl with No Hands. Art quality varies widely, but is dead on during dramatic sequences. Beginning of Chapter Three, which was completed this past October. Part of the charm is in figuring out where the different characters came from, so I recommend starting at the beginning in any case.

    Alpha-Shade: flash version, html version You’ve reviewed their first book before. Book two came back from the , printers shortly before Christmas, so it probably fits the time frame. Book two is all noir-ish suspense, obscure intrigues and character development with gorgeous art as usual. I couldn’t tell you if someone would get engaged by picking it up now, and I cannot figure out how to bookmark a starting point for a given page to show a specific scene. (Though the interface does let you jump to a given chapter start quite easily) Honorable mention for their intentionally bad gag-a-day vote incentive comic for webcomic industry jokes involving the price of Wacom tablets quantified in cans of pepsi, and the invention of the mildly NSFW “vote incentive fairy.” (Html links are starting to break with the post preview at this point. Link is supposed to be a href=” http://www.alpha-shade.com/www/JBVote/JBVote.htm

    Girl Genius. Because, well, duh. Awesome, swashbucklink story, gorgeous colors, comedy, great line quality, etc. etc.

    So, yeah. Mostly Girl Genius, ftw, for the year.

    *Megatokyo intentionally omitted due to it’s obvious wonderfulness. I can be objective about Mt in much the same way that light can choose whether or not to leave a black hole.

  60. roche Says:

    David Oakes,
    Bias in the use of the term “floppies”? I don’t get it. Great distribution method. Poor print quality/durability. Meh. No big, right?
    I think it’s a pretty good analogy to webcomics: phenomenal distribution method. Poor print quality (low dpi), poor UI (too clicky/scrolly/slow). McCloud covers that in his Chapter 5 and 1/2.

    So far the main problems I see with webcomics is that low barriers to entry lead to a much bigger slush pile, and the interface doesn’t lend itself to getting engaged as a reader. The first is a good argument for the job Johanna does. The second is a good argument for buying print compilations and for passing around links to specific pages instead of whole sites.

  61. Rachel N. Says:

    You say you can’t wade throug harchives of sequential webcomics, but what about chunked, non-sequential webcomics like mine? There’s no soap operatics, few if any “to be continue-eds” and each installment comes complete: Five pages or so tells an entire story and you don’t need to know anything about any of the characters before reading it. I releease all the pages for a single story at once, so there is no need to keep checking back to find out how something ends. Aren’t there other webcomics like that?

    My mother always stressed how important it was that she could sit down to actually finish a story in one go.

  62. riv Says:

    You want some examples of graphic-novel-quality? Well, seeing as Girl Genius has already been mentioned:

    Digger : I’ve read bits and pieces of Bone, and this is at least as good. Costs a micropayment to read the archives, but it’s pure wombats, hyenas, talking statues, liver jokes, and undead gods goodness. Ursula Vernon is an amazing writer AND artist, and it makes the work really stand out. It’s got beautiful black-and-white artwork, and marvelous characterization and dialog.

    Gunnerkrigg Court : Sort of like Harry Potter meets Sandman with a dash (but not too much) of Saturday morning cartoons and Edward Gorey. Episodic with an underlying plot. Awesome world and really nifty techno-mytho-magical elements.

    Both of these read better in one go than when following daily/weekly updates. They might be better described as graphic novels publishing online rather than “webcomics”, but people seem to like to call any comic on the internet a webcomic. I agree with above posters who said that a publishing medium is a kind of weird line along which to define a genre.

  63. myk Says:

    T Campbell, I´m still listening and I´ll check out McCloud right away. Hope he doesn´t suggest interactivity, or alternate storylines though, as that´s exactly what I don´t want from my comics, and storytelling in general.

  64. myk Says:

    Also, I´d second riv´s recommendation of Gunnerkrigg Court. I ordered the first book a while back (see, it´s books again) and it´s a pretty enjoyable read.

  65. Digital Strips: The Webcomics Podcast Says:

    [...] Johanna Draper Carlson, of Comics Worth Reading, started the ball rolling by giving two reasons why she had trouble taking webcomics seriously: the interface and the format. Slow load times and blinking banner ads are part of the problem, and as a reader of traditional comics, she has a hard time reading one page at a time, rather than sitting down with a completed work. And she admits to some cultural bias: For example, Mom’s Cancer, one of my best of 2006, started as a webcomic. If it had stayed in that format, though, it wouldn’t have had the power and impact that it did in terms of reading experience. I’ve been trained to think of things onscreen as short and ephemeral. A book contains material worthy of permanent collection, ideas to be reflected on and experiences judged meaningful. Webcomics have to overcome their history as a cheap way to keep up with comic strips at work before they’ll be taken seriously. [...]

  66. Comics Worth Reading » Webcomic LinkBlogging Says:

    [...] The discussion seems to have petered out at the post Are Webcomics Comics?. That’s the disadvantage of this format: when something scrolls off the front page, conversation tends to end. I did learn things, though, and I thank my knowledgeable and talented commenters and readers for that. [...]

  67. Ambi Says:

    I read a lot of webcomics. Print comics are pretty much a monoculture out here dominated by superhero comics, except for a few works of exceptional quality, like those of Eisner himself. But I couldn’t find printed comics like the ones I read on the web, where there is an immense diversity. From other posts here I get that the US doesn’t have such an extreme monoculture, so if I was there I could actually compare, instead of just pointing out my support of webcomics.

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