The Theory of Webcomics: What are Webcomics?
Help me Wikipedia, you’re my only hope! What are webcomics?
Oh, okay. They’re comics published on the web. That was easy. What else have we got? Over 18,000 exist, few are self-sustaining, blah blah blah, some are like newspaper comics and some are like graphic novels, yadda yadda yadda, sometimes use sprites, pixels, photos or 3D Poser art. Some are funny, some are not; and they cover a wide variety of genres.
But really, what are webcomics? “Webcomics” is the collective name we’ve given to sequential art that appears online. Scott Kurtz’s PvP is a webcomic, as is Scott McCloud’s Zot!, but so are the reprints available from Marvel Digital Comics and the online For Better or for Worse strips. Same name, wildly different products: Kinda like comparing a 1940s Superman story with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman or Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor. They’re all “comics”, but the similarity stops there.
We’re going to need a little more granularity: Typically, one will use the phrase “webcomics” to refer to creator-owned properties published originally and/or primarily online. Reprinted newspaper strips would still fall under “newspaper comics”, and reprinted superhero material would still be “print comics” or “comic books”. So our narrowed “webcomics” would include DC’s Zuda Comics, but not Marvel Digital or FBoFW. This is still hazy for cases like Diesel Sweeties, which started on the web, and published both on the web and in syndicated papers simultaneously (with different content) for a time; but it will do.
And that’s the definition I’m typically using and tend to focus on when I talk about webcomics. When I talk about how webcomics make money, I’m thinking about how Kurtz or McCloud would make money, not how Marvel would monetize their website. When I talk about “the most popular webcomics,” I don’t mean Dilbert. The collection of comics that are creator-owned, published online, usually maintained by one or two authors and typically full of geeky content are a community and a genre all their own, and deserve the same singular attention that we give to, say, sci-fi novels.
These are the comics that you find on Keenspot [link: http://www.keenspot.com/], Zuda, Blank Label, Dumbrella, Modern Tales, and similar collectives. These are the comics that get their start on Comic Genesis [link: http://www.comicgenesis.com/], Drunk Duck, or Webcomics Nation.
And yes, these are the comics that obey Sturgeon’s Law much more so than any others—after all, the barriers to entry are very low; anyone with a computer and a bunch of free time can create one. (I myself had a short-lived sprite comic, now gone from the web and never to be seen again.) This means they’re often drawn and written by hobbyists with limited time, no editors, and the occasional limited grasp of spelling and/or grammar. Which is, of course, the other reason I like to talk about them: There are some fantastic gems of comics to be found, if you know where to look.
I’m going to be picking apart how these comics exist as an art form and what makes them different; discuss how they make money, why some do so much better than others, and which ones you really should be reading. Though be warned: The only thing that sucks up more of your free time that creating a webcomic is reading them.