Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Hotspot #11: Uncomplicating Webcomics

Apparently a journalist called Sarah Boxer from the New York Times wrote an article on webcomics.

And apparently it didn't go down very well in the webcomics world.

Eric over at Websnark wrote a strongly worded essay on it. Comixpedia has a raging debate going on as the indignant community rush to defend themselves.

Me? I don't understand how something so simple can be so damn convoluted.

Or to be precise, WHY anyone would even want to make it so damn convoluted.

Reading it over, it's an interesting point of view of an outsider to webcomics. It seems to have dragged a lot of preconcieved notions about 'webcomics' into ther article though. I mean look at this quote from the article:

"But when it comes to the content of Web comics, Mr. Groth was right. The comics that use digital technology to break out of their frozen boxes are really more like animated cartoons. And those that don't are just like the old, pre-digital ones, without the allure of the printed page and with a few added headaches for reader and creator alike."

No shit, Sherlock!You don't say, Holmes! What else is there between those two possiblities? Some super-duper hybrid?!

But seriously... What were they expecting webcomics to be? Taking all the fancy-shmancy theory out of it, in the end of the day they're still comics utilising the internet as a means of distribution.

They're comics on the internet.

In case you need it simplified further,

  1. They are a hybrid of words and art with a message/story/joke.
  2. They don't get to their audience by being printed on paper
  3. They use a network of computers to deliver the content directly to their audience.

Some of them may chose to add effects you can't replicate on paper, true. Sure, some of them utilise different ways of trying to earn money. A large portion of them are free. Some blur the line between comics and cartoons, and frankly, why are we being anal about that again? Comics blur the line between art and writing, after all.

At the end of the day, they're still, they're just, they ARE comics. Distributed by the internet. Nuff said. (Have I reiterated that enough times yet?)

I suppose this is point where I confess I have no idea who this "Gary Groth" guy is, and why he seems relevant to this discussion at all. And before you shoot me that shocked look, this is where I say with a straight face: "And frankly, I don't care unless you can give me a good reason to." (In case you're wondering, I did look him up for the purposes of writing this.) I just wish he wouldn't let his opinion of Scott McCloud jaundice his whole outlook about webcomics.

Yes, Scott McCloud may have been a pioneer in many things, but he is not the King of Webcomic-Land, sorry. Sure, I respect the guy. I agree with some things he says, and disagree with others. But not everyone doing a webcomic is an ardent follower of Scott McCloud, and I really resent this viewpoint that we are all in "Cuckooland" and drunk on experimental McCloud kool-aid or whatever it is they're insisting.

I personally never heard of Scott McCloud until my third year of reading webcomics, and never read "Understanding Comics" until after I started making one of my own. And I've run into plenty of people who make webcomics who go "Scott who?"

And here's another startling confession: I have never read Reinventing Comics. And I don't plan to anytime soon. The closest I got to that was reading "I Can't Stop Thinking", and that's it.

In short:

Scott McCloud DOES NOT EQUAL Webcomics!!!

So stop challenging points in Reinventing Comics already. My God, this whole thing is stupidity times TEN, and watching all this mud-slinging by the supposed "thinkers" of the form is like witnessing the stupidity trying to spread.

Why do these people have to make things so damn complicated?

Why are they acting so damn anal over a form of distribution?

And why can't someone for once, write an effing newspaper article about webcomics by taking them at face value and not mention Reinventing Comics even once?

Reinventing Comics isn't the origin of webcomics. Comics are the origin of webcomics. (Although, that really should have been obvious shouldn't it?)

Maybe that book advocated it, but let me tell you there are people who got into webcomics (and comics) because a news or gaming website somewhere linked a strip that got across the point they wanted to make. There are people who have never read a single issue of Superman or X-men who got hooked on a comic because someone sent them an email saying "Read this about [topic x], it's funny!". There are people who got their first introduction to comics through a Livejournal entry saying "This page just expresses exactly how I feel today".

Maybe those people who never read comics before started reading webcomics because they realised that hey, comics do not have to equal heroes in spandex, which before always got associated with the stereotype of nerdy teenage fanboys that made reading comics 'uncool' and "for kids" or "not for girls" or whatever bullcrap people spout.

Maybe they liked those webcomics because they were easily accessible through the internet. And maybe because it showed them how easy making comics could be, they too wanted to try their hand at it, not because they wanted make some statement on "art". Maybe they made comics and put them on the internet because it was simply the most convenient way to get it to their audience, and not because they wanted to reinvent the form.

A lot of maybes? I know that in one case at least, the person writing this rant got into webcomics this way.

Has it occured to anyone that there is a whole new audience who don't read comics getting into webcomics, and Oops! They bypassed traditional comics on the way? Maybe some will discover print comics on the way. Maybe some won't because they're happy to remain reading comics online.

Newflash: The comics world does not revolve around the (American) print comic industry, nor does it revolve around webcomics either. And frankly, I think it's better that way.

One more thing: Why is it no one expects comics in print to exploit the possibilities of the paper medium? *snorts* Seriously, Where are the 3D paper-pop outs going "POW!" when Batman punches The Joker? You don't expect paper comics to push the form towards the direction of origami just because they're on paper, do you?

While it would be pretty cool of someone did do that, you wouldn't expect every print comic to, so don't expect every webcomic to, because they're the same things... on different media.

Honestly, did people bitch like this about sequential art being presented on paper instead of paintings on stone walls?

"But when it comes to the content of sequential art on paper, Mr. Caveman Ugg was right. The paintings that use the bark of the tree to break out of the constraints of the immovable cave walls are really more like writings. And those that don't are just like the old cave-paintings, without the majesty of the towering stone and with a few added headaches for reader and creator alike (Due to difficulty in getting bark of tree and the durability of the work after being painted on the bark of the tree.)"

Pffft! I really have to draw that one out!


  1. I felt Penny Arcade iterated the very same view rather effectively with this strip...

    But yes, I got "into" webcomics, print comics and graphic novels entirely separately, and some people, I think, should learn that you -can- appreciate both without frantically comparing and analysing them. I think I started actively reading webcomics first, too.

    On a slightly more general note, it would be nice if journalists didn't approach internet trends with the attitude, "Gosh, those wacky kids and their internets. I wonder when they'll grow out of that."

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Maybe someone will like to write about e-books and online newspapers.
    'It's written, it's typed, but is it still a(n) book/article?'
    Oops, if that is the case, Ms Boxer's piece there isn't an actual article. It's hard to get the feeling of black ink stains on my fingers. Plus, there are hyperlinks!

    And how about audio CDs? Can we say then that verges on to music? :P

  4. Good points! If you want another example: I got into webcomics by a forwarded link to a videogame spoof page. It's sheer coincidence that the maintainer of the page drew a webcomic.

    Not only that, but reading webcomics is what caused me to visit my local comic book store. And buy comics!

  5. The honest fact is that I HATE reading stuff on paper.

    1. It's not backlit.

    2. You can't click the panels to go forward, you actually have to turn the pages.

    3. Despite claims to the contrary, paper is not nearly as portable as digital. For example, I can hook into the wifi at the airport, the library, or the coffee shop and have an infinite number of hundred-page-or-so graphic novels at my command. My laptop fits into my bookbag much more snugly, and weighs less, than just one copy of "Locas" (which is the only printed graphic novel I've read all year).

    4. I don't have the physical detritus, the husks, if you will, of my reading experience, cluttering up my house after I'm finished.


  6. The whole thing is pretty damn silly, I think. I mean, the internet is just a medium. What people do with that medium will vary. It's like in music--music is all pretty much the same, when you get down to the mechanics of it. Instruments and melodies and lyrics and rhythms. But out of those basic elements you can get things as diverse as the Beatles and Eminem and Mozart and Hank Williams and all sorts of music from all over the world. The medium--rhythmic expression with instruments and voice--is the same basic thing, but what a person or group does with it varies. Some bands are wild and adventurous, using the studio to create music that could not have been created half a century or a century ago. Webcomics are that way, too: some folks will "push the envelope" and do things with the web that you could never do with print comics. Other people will use the web simply as a convenient place to put their work with no mind to experiment wildly with the digital medium.

    For the record, though, I got into webcomics independently of print comics. I've never been a big fan of standard comic books (not that I dislike them, I just spent my money on other things), but a friend of mine showed me these really bizarre and funny and irreverent comics on the internet (especially College Roomies from Hell and Penny Arcade) that I'd never seen the likes of.

  7. Ping, if you're not an internet geek, and you don't have one to act as your guide, how exactly does one go about finding the "authorities" on webcomics?

    Do you enter "Webcomic authority" into Google and hope Websnark is the first thing you see? Do you hope Penny Arcade uses a hypno-beam that will shoot all relevant information about their position as kings of the shit-pile into your head? Or do you use the only two people (Groth & McCloud)you ever heard of talking about webcomics as your entry point?

    Think now... You, me, and everyone reading this lives and breathes this internet shit. An outsider has to enter into our world from somewhere, and that's where she came from.

    And the simple fact of the matter is that our A-List material is sparse. Webcomics suck in regards to being a good general interest medium. And she has shown us that we currently do not have what it takes to get out of the geek ghetto.

    She caught us with our heads up our own asses, and gave us a thumbs down because of it. And we should be learning from that instead of circling the wagons and bitching about her.

  8. On the topic of Gary Groth, I consider him a man of wise words who has done a lot for the comics industry, sheltering artists and stories that wouldn't find print elsewhere.

    The whole Eric Burns issue was a lot unfair to him, I believe. The person who wrote that article too. I don't know how much an argument 5 years old still holds accuracy, but perhaps if he and Scott McCloud sat down to a table today they'd find out they have more things in common than not.

    Comics and webcomics are finding out they have more in common than they think themselves. I guess that's the core of your post, isn't it?

  9. Ping, if you're not an internet geek, and you don't have one to act as your guide, how exactly does one go about finding the "authorities" on webcomics?

    Oh that's easy. You do same as you do for everything else in journalism.

    If you were going to write a paper on Evolution and you don't know what it is, the first thing you do is look it up in an Encyclopedia and find out what it is in the first place.

    You don't base your stuff solely off what the local Creationist says, especially when you know he doesn't like Darwin.

    Also, I think you misunderstand me. My rant barely touches on Boxer, but more on this whole general attitude of "Holy Crap! Comics on the Internet! It's so different!!!"

    It doesn't matter whether it's an outsider who says it or the insider who brags about it. I think the distinction based just on distribution medium is stupid.

    You know I've ranted how insular (or as you say, heads up their asses etc.) the webcomics community is many times before. But from what I can see, the print comics community seems equally as insular. Which stopped surprising me some time ago.

    RPin got my point. Other than minor differences and restriction levels, there is no real difference between print comics and web comics.

    Not enough to justify this stupid "US" and "THEM" debate.

    Internet shit? Does that make the rest of it Newspaper shit? Comic book shop shit?

    What I see are just comics. Period.

  10. Bah. Blogger messed up the Wiki link (added a < br > where it shouldn't). Here's the working one.

  11. Well, it wasn't a term paper, regardless...

    The attitude exists, and it'll likely exist for a long time, thus it's something we need to learn to work around. But everyone is too busy screaming about the blasphemer to notice the valuable insight the article gave us.

  12. If only Boxer was an outsider... but she has her own comic and a few samples were on the the net too (badly displayed unfortunately). A-list webcomics is sparse? Well, that is because many of the artists are amateurs and uses this medium to improve their skill. Just like so many writers on the net. They put their writings on the net (e.g. this blog), simply because it will easily reach their readers. If they all wait to get published onto paper, some will not be able to in their lifetime.
    Ping is right about people trying to complicate webcomics, and to the life of me I don't understand why. And that is a view of one who does not run print comics or webcomics.

  13. Well, it wasn't a term paper, regardless...

    Well, it was a newspaper article. By the New York Times. One would ferverently hope the standard was above that of a term paper.

    The attitude exists, and it'll likely exist for a long time, thus it's something we need to learn to work around. But everyone is too busy screaming about the blasphemer to notice the valuable insight the article gave us.

    I think it does exist among the print comic audience, as it does with anything that is new. But I think you do many people an injustice by saying they didn't notice it the valuable insight. *coughTCampbellcough*.

    And if I didn't seem particularly impressed, that's because a lot of the stuff she pointed out I thought was rather obvious. They're the same points people make about the difference between web content and paper media.

    Which is why I think people wasting their time trying to woo the print audience. The print audience LIKE print. They're used to print. A lot won't like change, and that's fine.

    Working around those attitudes? How about making ourselves more open to the web audience that don't read comics instead? It sure makes more sense to me.

    But that's a rant for another day.

  14. Working around those attitudes? How about making ourselves more open to the web audience that don't read comics instead? It sure makes more sense to me.
    These are likely the same people.

    To be clear: It was an entertainment op-ed.

  15. LOL at least I have nice Page turners!!

    Alpha Shade

  16. Snoozer: Hey, your page turner was why I voted for you in the website design category. ;)