Imagine, if you will, that every time you went to the comic store, everything was just free. The store was open 24 hours a day, too. And you could actually be in your bed, sitting up, all comfy-like, and have some invisible helpers roll your bed into the comic store and other helpers, also invisible, would bring the comics that you asked for to your bed, and then you could read them. That, dear reader, is how I choose to describe how my morning has been when trying to get a handle on the ramifications of my “best web comics” search a few hours ago. Except that I am not in my bed–but I could be (I’d rather be, actually–I totally have another cold). But still, you spend about 10 minutes checking around for good web comics and, well, it’s a whole new way to burn a few hours, let me tell you.
Web comics have been around a long time (Penny Arcade, left, just celebrated 10 years) but I have never really gotten into them. I mean, read a few (I’ll go over them below), but I even then I don’t read them regularly; I queue them up for a few weeks, or even months, before I go to the website, mostly because the comics tend to be in “strip” form. However, I like idea of web comics for a variety of reasons I will go into starting with the next paragraph.
First off, there’s a certain honesty to them. I mean, compared to a getting your comic published on actual paper or getting a newspaper to add them to the funny pages, web comics are pretty easy to create once you have an idea and some modicum of artistic skill. It doesn’t cost a lot so basically lowers the price of entry to the point that, not unlike in the Marix, there is no bar. You have a point of view and feel like drawing and typing? Then make a web comic! The flip side? It’s like being a comedian, if your comic sucks, then you suck (or, at least, that’s what you’ll be telling your shrink).
I also like the timeliness. You get a lot of comics that hinge on current events, so some of the web comics carry forth the classic newspaper editorial cartoon just a step further. This goes hand in hand with how focused these strips can be. Check out The Joy of Tech (right). If you’re a Mac user, your probably familiar with it and may even think it’s funny. If you are not, then you probably are incredibly unimpressed and/or it just reinforces the “Mac fanboys are, like, total geeks, jeez” stereotype you have.
Which is what makes this web comics thing so interesting. On the one hand, it’s fun to have a comic where people like you are telling stories that you probably find entertaining, and you can rad these strips with other like-minded folk. On the other hand, it can entrench you so deep in your comfort zone that you find yourself not checking out other comics. I think this actually happened to me. Like, I am a big fan of Penny Arcade. I don’t have any shirts (perhaps the ultimate sign you grok a website), but whenever I go, I tend to laugh outloud at the jokes; I mean, these are jokes that speak to geeks like me like, and since I queue Penny Arcade up for awhile (the aforementioned weeks and even months), I can spend a good amount of time just shuttling through them. It’s actually something I look forward to and it scratches some kind of itch so effectively that I have long stopped even looking for other web comics. Thankfully, I have other friends with more open minds, I guess, who send me links to other comics that, to be honest, I would never have the patience to check out. Take xkcd (below left), for example. Remember when I mentioned a “modicum of skill”? Like this strip is that. It’s the absolute distillation of sequential art and I can barely stand it. Like, I a looking at a page now, but my eye just…it just wants to leave the page and go somewhere else, far far away. But when my friends forward me a particularly good episode/chapter, I really appreciate it and enjoy it.
Which brings me to another point–portability. Being able to forward a comic to another person is awesome. Beyond just comics, there’s just so much stuff out there (books, movies, games, music, etc, etc) that I find myself relying much more on my friends to tell me what’s good. I mean, almost every pick of the week makes me want to pick up a new comic because I trust the guys’ opinion. Same thing with the iFanbase–we’ll talk about different books and invariably someone will chime in, “Hey, you like that, then check this out!” It’s the unexpected “social” aspect of the web–who knew you could spend so much time interacting with so many people when you were by yourself?
My friend Oliver is very much into webcomics – he’s got the RSS Feeds, he’s read a ton and he knows his stuff. Earlier this year he forwards me Freak Angels by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield. He had no real idea (nor would he have cared) that Ellis is a “physical” comic book writer– he just thought I would like this cool new (at the time) web comic. It was a funny collision of our interests–I was like, “Oh, you like Warren Ellis?! Then, dude you have to read…” and he wasn’t interested at all, of course, in the regular comics–no time, no money, etc.
So, there are web comics for everyone and yes, this is good and yes this means that we get a dizzying variety of quality, but I have been noticing some of the traits of the more popular ones (as culled together from checking out the many, many “best web comics of/for/with ____” pages out there):
- They are short. Most of the time these are full on 3 and 4 panel strips. Setup, setup, punch! It’s fun to see how creative people can be with this format–I was surprised.
- It seems like a lot of these are for/about/by nerdy men. I don’t have any figures on it, but jeez, a lot of them seem to be this way, since the stories often revolve around:
- lack of girls
- lack of sex
- work, which often involves computers and a lack of sex and/or girls
- They are loaded with snarky quips, usually deriding whatever is cool to “regular ” people or with some kind of winking at the audience to let you know that they’re being clever
So, nothing wrong with any of these–these strips are serving their audience, right? I definitely found a few that I think I will try to visit more often.
2nd Interlude that actually backs up the rest of the article:
This Penny Arcade strip kind of sums it all up for me. It’s got the timeliness (Obama), it’s got the snarky dig at tech that cool people dislike (Zune) and then it makes fun of the very same people my mocking what they like (iPods, Coldplay, The Killers) and how those very same cool people would be pissed (or, at least a little disappointed) if they found out Obama used a Zune, even if for a second and then, surprise–it’s funny, because, you know, what does owning Zune have to do with being able to govern and wouldn’t it be funny (and yet, somehow imaginable) for a a politician’s crew wanting to make statement about the whole thing? Love it, but then again, I’m feel like I’m right in the middle of their target audience…
Obviously, I am excited to have the opportunity to discover new artists and writers.. I am not sure if I would buy a comic of Questionable Content (right) or Ctrl+Alt+Del but I like the art enough to keep visiting (perhaps because I went through a manga phase when I was in high school). It’s fun to see different creators and it’s nice, honestly, not to pay $3-$4 to check out new talent. Another cool feature that these web comics have is the ability to go all the way back to the very first strip–it’s great to see how the writing and the art have changed over the run of the story (the first Penny Arcade strip is virtually indistinguishable from its current form.
I am interested in seeing these kinds of web comics move to mobile devices. I have an iPhone (big surprise) and there are plenty of comics book apps there, which I will have to check out (it looks like they rely on the iVerse Comic Reader Software, which CBR talked about. I like the idea of getting Penny Arcade and other strips sent to my phone automatically–the screen is a perfect size for that particular type of comic, but I guess I will take one for the iFanbase and try to read a regular comic book on it and get back to you.
So, yay, right? Web comics are a hopeful sign of things to come? Web comics show that an all digital future for comics is something we should be excited about?
Nah, not really. I mean, for the most part, to me, these are separate beasts. I am not convinced, based on my own experience with them, that just because you enjoy printed comics that you’ll necessarily be satisfied with online comics. I am not even sure how to explain it well but it just seems to me that while I think a a year’s worth of web comics collected into a trade is just more satisfying than reading, say, Guardians of the Galaxy or Jonah Hex in thrice-daily chunks. But who knows, maybe you could adjust it. It would definitely change how you related with the story, that’s for sure. You have a different relationship with characters you read about every few days as opposed to once a month.
Still, it’s a big world out there and I can’t help but me inspired by the quality of some of the web comics out there. I wasn’t sure what I was going to find when I ventured outside of my Penny Arcade bubble, and I am glad I did.
How about you? Do you read these things? Which ones? Are there comic books that you buy right now that you think could be effective web comics?
Mike Romo is an actor in LA. His eyes are still burning from a few of the NSFW web comics his friends sent him. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, followed on twitter, and if you have an Xbox, his handle is zensen.