Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Hotspot: The Insularity of the Webcomics Community

As I write this, I feel compelled to admit I'm in a somewhat furious state right now, and I'm breaking my self-imposed rule of not writing when in a state of anything other than moderate calmness.

But this is my blog of sorts, damnit. Once in a while, I'm going to pull an Eric Burns and write what I damn well like on it.

That important confession out of the way, I shall proceed to start my first Hotspot, which I think can be classed as 'Polemically Moot Sessions". I'm sure that must be gramatically incorrect, and neither is it important right now. And no, the acronyms are not a coincidence.

A few months ago, I shared an observation of mine about the webcomics community in general to another person who shall remain unnamed. (unless they don't mind going public, then by all means, go ahead) The exchange in question was brief and the circumstances that led to it were a direct result of this blog, but what is important that in that exchange, I made the observation that:

The Webcomics Community is Deeply Insular.

This should come as no surprise. With the vast reach of the Internet, it's only natural people would confine their interactions in a limited scope, and stay where they feel comfortable and established.

An example of what this insularity is the little grouping of webcomic communities we currently have. My personal breakdown of the webcomic groups, in no particular order, they are:

  • The Keen Family

    • Keenspot
    • Keenspace

  • The Modern Tales Family

    • Modern Tales
    • Graphic Smash
    • Girl-a-matic
    • Serializer
    • WebcomicsNation
    • Talkaboutcomics
    • Graphic Novel Review

  • Drumbrella
  • Drunk Duck
  • PV Comics
  • Wirepop
  • Buzzcomix
  • TWC

  • The Independents

I'm sure I'm missing out a few collectives, but these are the ones that first came to my head at first thought.

"The Independents" are the webcomics that don't belong to collectives, and are usually self-hosted. Some of them have their own domains, and the big guns of webcomics (PvP, Penny Arcade, Megatokyo etc) form this loose association of non-associated comics. Dizzy yet?

Anyways, in the majority of cases (not all) the people who make these communities are deeply insular. That is, there's not much mixing. Most webcomickers (or webcomic fans) will stay in their respective circles for most of their webcomicking life.

The thing about this is that one person who may be well-known in one circle may be virtually unknown in another. For example, I don't expect everyone in Keenspace or Drunk Duck (No disrespect intended, and I said everyone, not anyone) to know who Barb Lien-Cooper, Steve Bryant, Joe Azabel, Derek Kirk Kim or Xavier Xerexes is. Heck, at one point I didn't even know WHAT Modern Tales or Graphic Smash was until one of the comics I read moved there. (And eventually, when T Campbell recruited me, but that's another story.)

Similarly, I don't expect anyone from the Comixpedia or Drunk Duck or PV comics to know who Mr. Bob from Keenspace is (Incidentally, Bob Oosterwijk has his own... erm... worshipful following now, and is one of the few people to has his own theme song). Nor I do not expect anyone who isn't in Keenspace to know why "customer" is a considered deadly insult.

Back to the topic, on realising the existence of this insularity and my own inclusion, I have tried my best to break out of it. In a typical month, I go through as many different sources of webcomic information as I probably can. Most of them are web-zines and news/creator blogs, The forefront of which is Eric Burn's excellent Websnark, Comixpedia and Sequential Tart. Other sources like Silver Bullet Comics and The Webcomics Examiner, Joey Manley's blog also deserve mentions, although those are more periodical things that I read every once in a while but not regularly.

I trawl various forums, and lurk in many more. I read people's posts, discussions. Sometimes I contribute to them.

I also started the Webcomic Finds blog in an attempt to break out of the reading cycle of the same few comics over and over, and try and explore more comics that I wouldn't read otherwise. I liked to think that unlike the sedantary others, I was a traveller, exploring new frontiers, going where few people have bother to explore. (Sorry for paraphrasing TSG. You'll forgive me, I'm sure)

And in all honesty, for all my attempts, I am still insular. I may know quite a bit about webcomics by doing what I do, but I will never know enough of it. And travel the web though I may, the comics I read will still be only webcomics. I will know little of print comics. I will know little of newspaper syndication, the manga-movment or the indie and mini-comics rebellion.

My 'travels' are still contained within a limited sphere, although the sphere changes shape and expands I'm still stuck on the goddamned same planet.

And thus I have no right to look down my nose at the 'sedantries', and pride myself that I'm more well-travelled, less squestered, more open-minded than they are. I'm not going to stop 'travelling', but I'm going to stop thinking I know more just because I do.

Why am I saying all this? Because I have to be responsible for my mistakes.

I'm learning the valuable lesson that it's easy to start a meme, and much harder to stop it later. On my forum trawls, I'm beginning to see my own words, mouthed by someone else, being thrown at other people, in the form of an insult.

The meme has spread. And this hurts me deeply. I can make observations. And with all my heart I believe those observations are accurate. My intention was to use this observation to improve things. Maybe integrate communities and spread awareness. I never intended it to be a form of derision.

People have a right to do what they want to do with their lives. And 'travellers' and 'outsider observers' have no right to feel superior just because opinions differ. In Alex Garland's novel The Beach the main character felt he was superior to the people who never travelled. But he was wrong in the end. And so was I.

So, the next time someone tells you you're insular prat who stays closeted in your own zone, even though if you're not, then you know who to blame for planting the idea there in someone else's head the first place. (Or maybe it's just arrogant of me to assume they wouldn't have thought of it on their own. Well, I'm at least responsible for speeding up the process and helping it spread.)

No doubt I'll regret this when I wake up in the morning.

Ah well, a little bit of spice won't do this blog too much harm. I'll just go get the fire extinguisher ready.


  1. I'm sure you're not the first to suggest there are islands of creativity in the web-comics world. Traveling between those islands is the fun part of all of this, isn't it?

  2. Aye, it is.

    It's only when people use that fact to stereotype everyone within those communities when it depresses me.

    I know I'm not the first to observe this, but I do know I am partially responsible in this case at least, for bringing this to someone's consciousness, and who later used it in a way that made me regret doing so.

  3. Yeah, I threw it at the Spacers. But my decision to do so didn't come fully formed out of the nothing.

    "Insular" suggests a willfull ignorance. And in the case in which I used it, it wasnt just the willfull ignorance I was responding to, it was also the abundantly appearant opinion that anyone who wasn't willfully ignorant are bad people out to oppress all of them fun loving kids. True, it wasn't the majority, but it was enough to make it a problem.

    Ping, I wont lie to you. I have a massively growing dislike of the "community". The deeper I look into it, the more I'm seeing the same shrillness, dogma, and "tall poppy" attitudes everywhere I go. It makes me want hang it all up and get out.

    So yeah, I took your innocent statement and used it as a dueling glove. Sorry to upset you.

  4. I imagine I'll get over it.

    I think the thing that upset me the most was that it felt like my innocent little statement resulted in you getting a skewed view of all the people who posted on the Keenspace forums as "The Spacers" and not as separate individuals. And they are seperate individuals. A lot of them (including a few involved in the argument) I wouldn't consider 'insular' at all. And thus I worry because they've all been tarred with the same brush.

    Similarly, some of them had a problem not viewing WCE as the work of a collection of seperate individuals, but rather, as a borg-like collective of 'elite-snobs', and judging WCE based on the interactions of one person. Which is as RPin brought up, unfair.

    Although there's this old axiom about other people perceiving you by the people you associate with. There's more merit to it than people give it credit for. Realistically, it's too much to hope for that people won't judge what you represent by your own personality. This is why to gain any amount of credibility you have to be careful, because it's does not reflect on just you, but also those who associate with you as well.

    Bah I'm blathering now.

    I believe that everyone starts out insular. How insular they are at any state of time depends on how they are interacted with. They can either be drawn out to be more adventurous, or they can withdraw into their own little demesnes.

    I can't remember exactly how I discovered Comixpedia. But do I remember when I first discovered it, it was an real eye-opener because I never imagined there was so much in webcomics outside of Keenspot and Keenspace.

    So when I first realised the existence of this insularity I thought I could change things for others if I threw myself into trying to solve the problem. Writing tutorials, posting news that people ought to know about, writing a review blog... whatever I thought could help bridge the gap and get people to mix more.

    But I don't believe telling them that they're insular and self-asorbed is going to change things. More likely it's cause them to withdraw defensively into their shells and insulate themselves further. People need to realise this on their own, and come out on their own to explore. They need to be drawn out.

    I'll be frank and admit I'm at one of my lowest points concerning the communities. Sometimes I just feel so tired and discouraged at trying to make things better. Months down the line, and I'm wondering if I ever made any difference anyway.

    And so it leads me to think, what am I doing all this for?

    And even worse, is it worth it?

  5. And rereading that comment...

    God damn, that's really depressing.

  6. And so it leads me to think, what am I doing all this for?You're doing this for us insular comics fans, of course :-)

    Don't get discouraged. Everyone I've spoken to who knows of your blog thinks you're doing valuable work; not just in bridging the 'gap', but in publicising some of the more marginalised talent out there that otherwise wouldn't get a look in.

    And while, ideally, everyone should be as worldy and knowledgable as possible, I think what's often overlooked is that insularity does serve a purpose. It's the insular fans that make it possible for webcomic creators to make a living. Speaking personally, I know I don't have the cash to support all the people I'd like to. I have to prioritise, and so I end up mainly buying /donating to a small group, who may not be the absolute best, but who I feel I have a sense of community with.

    Bit rambly, sorry. Hopefully you take my point.

  7. Ping, I think you're being entirely too hard on yourself right now. I mean, if nothing else, you've introduced several people (myself included) to comics we'd have otherwise never seen (I know I've added two or three comics to my read list just based on your reviews of them).

    And the things you do to try to help people? I know if you hadn't been a part of the community when Adam and I arrived, we'd still be floundering about in the dark, wondering how in the hell we're supposed to put together a functional website. Virtually everything I've seen you do for the community--this blog, your tutorials, your work with the Keenspace Gear, your work in the Help Forum--is all geared towards making people feel as welcome and as comfortable as possible. You've done your damnedest to make sure new people don't feel isolated or outside of the group, and I think the world of webcomics is better for having you in it.


  8. Ping, you basically put words to a feeling I've been having for a while when you introduced the concept to me. There was no skewed view that you created. But even you must have noticed the "With us or against us" attitude crop up. That's "insular" turning into "group-think", and that's something I've seen on most of the "community" boards to some degree.

    So dont sweat it, you didnt create anything that wasnt already there.

    The web makes you cynical, and discouraged if you aint already. People are tiresome in their raw form. And the web is as raw as people get.

    And if I'm to be seen as a elitist snob because I believe our art has worth and is to be respected and not treated as a foolish persuit, then a snob I am.

  9. First off, I know how you feel. While only one person's repeated "you had me, and you lost me" back to me, I've seen lots of people use it to attack people. It wasn't ever meant as an attack. If anything, it's a lament.

    Secondly... I think what you're doing on Webcomic Finds does more to bridge the communities than most efforts I've seen. You're treating it all as one big cosm of webcomics, and if you need to crest the mountains and row across the channels to get from one "insular" community to another, that's not just exploring... that's trailblazing, and thank you for doing it.

  10. everything Cricket said.


  11. Xerexes here - Ping don't get discouraged - this blog is one of the more innovative ideas to connect dots across webcomics. I've been talking about webcomics (as opposed to really doing any comics) for 2 years NOW and I am still finding islands (sometimes small continents) of webcomics out there on their own. They bubble up anew all the time too.

    People are cliquish by nature I think - some more rabidly then others unfortunately. And not everyone is in webcomics as a reader or a creator for the same reasons.

    Communities, like human nature, are flawed and always will be. Good webcomics, however, - I think they're worth my time to find and read regardless of where they come from.

  12. Whoa now. I have no intention of giving up yet. I'm just in a slightly depressive state thinking about whether I could change anything. And like Willie said, the web can be discouraging at times.

    Maybe I'm a little afraid of the things I say being used in ways that would appall me. I mean look at How Not To Run A Comic. It started off as a joke, then became an educational parody. And it became a means to bash people if their comic shared any similarity with any of the strips contained or broke any of the rules, never mind if the creator made it work in their context.

    In retrospect I realise no matter how carefully I may chose my words, misunderstandings will still happen. I'll still stick to being careful with my words, but I won't take it as a personal affront anymore.

    And I guess I forgot the important thing (and you guys just reminded me) it's not whether I do change anything, it's whether I try to do it or not.

    Cricket: I think you give me too much credit for the Keenspace help thing. I only did what I did because no one else was around to do it. If I hadn't been there, someone else would have most likely taken the initiative instead of me. I'm no saint.

    Willie: Group-thinking bothers me as well. I remember when this guy called Pockybot jumped in the forums to gripe because Scott Kurtz cut his guest week short and that guy's submissions was one of them. He has this tirade against Scott ("Is my guest art not good enough for you, Kurtz?! etc) and guess what happened? Some of the posters jumped right in and agreed without even thinking. (they went: "Yeah. I hate Kurtz too. PvP sucks"). It really reminded me of 'lemmings'.

    All that said, a few people happening to agree doesn't necessarily mean 'group-think'. Sometimes.

    Now I guess I should get back to as Eric says: "trailblazing". Elsie Hooper must be really tired of waiting for me now.

  13. Ping, I don't know how many times you've told me not to discount my own abilities and actions, and yet you turn around and do the same thing. You say you "only did what [you] did because no one else was around to do it." So? You still took it up, you still did it. And do it. Most people would've said "let someone else worry about it, it's not my concern." And whether or not someone else would have taken the initiativeis irrelevant: YOU took it, and that's that. I mean, maybe we can't do everything, but we have to do what we can do. And you do just that--whatever you can, whenever you can. And that says a lot.

  14. Gianna here, from 'the noob'.

    Years ago I spoke with a guy down the pub who was really into chilli food, of all things. He told me that he was part of an internet community of other spicy food enthousiasts, posted on forums, etc. As you can imagine it wasn't the most thrilling conversation ever, that far. Then he added that it was a great community, to shame for all the board warrioring, the politics, the drama. I thought it was fantastic. Here we had the great Habanero vs Jalapeno Internet Forum World War, and I had the privilege of hearing about it from one of the men at the front lines, who spoke about it very, very seriously, without realising even for a moment how incredibly surreal and stupid it all looked from the outside.

    I am sorry to say, forum wars between webcomickers (or insular communities of webcomickers if you prefer) look just as surreal and stupid if you take a step back.

    Don't let the fact that someone used your words to flame someone else take the wind off your sails, it's all rather silly honestly, just keep doing what you're doing and leave the flamewars to people who are bored at the office/school. I love webcomic finds, I'd hate it if you pulled it because of this disappointment.

    Merry xmas! (or as some of my readers say, Marry Xmas!)


  15. I don't know about the whole insular thing, mostly because I don't visit forums that often. Or the ones I do visit often are smaller web comics that aren't well known.

    But I thought of a few possible other communities.
    Dayfree Press (although now that I think about it, it's members tend to be semi-close to dumbrella members...or at least mention them fairly often.
    Furry Comic Communities (I can't think of any off the top of my head, but the insular thing does seem to imply, since I very very rarely see Furry comics mention...say Dumbrella or Keen Family. And vice versa.

  16. I'm glad for your comments on insularity, myself. A "chaos cricket" who commented on Websnark linked this site, and I like what I see.

    I find that having something you said be used as an insult is a very distressing thing. Still, you can't do a lot about it. People suck, and will do things that suck. That's why I've always preferred individuals; without that "clique" mentality, persons are generally more clearheaded and sane.