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Storming the Tower: What I’ve Learned Reading Print Comics

Lauren Davis of the Storming the Tower webcomic blog has a great post she’s written called “What I’ve Learned from Reading Print Comics.” She recounts experiences from being a print comic fan, what advantages the format has over webcomics, and the areas the webcomic community needs to work on to capture the same zeitgeist.

Here are some highlights:

Reading comics should be a social activity. I don’t know why this surprised me, but it did; buying comics is a social activity. You head down to the shop on Wednesday afternoon — roughly the same time each Wednesday — and buy your books. You shoot the shit with other folks who buy their comics at the same time you do. You talk about the books you’re buying, this week’s True Blood, the weather, whatever. You see roughly the same people each week and, over time, you get to know their opinions on this artist or that character. I’m a pretty hermetic person, but even I think it’s kind of nice.

I’ve never found anything that’s quite analogous for webcomics. I have some friends IRL who read webcomics, but we don’t really critique webcomics in the same way print comics readers do. We don’t discuss Hazel’s role in Girls with Slingshots or how Randy Milholland handles other creators’ characters or whether Fans! makes any damn sense half the time. We don’t talk about the direction we’d like to see Questionable Content take or whether the titular character in Bruno is a Mary Sue and whether it matters.

Individual comics have comment sections or bulletin boards, and some of them are a lot of fun. I’ve probably spent more time reading Penny and Aggie’s board than reading the comic itself. But the reading community hasn’t developed a central place where it can discuss the wider ecosystem of webcomics. We have websites and blogs, but we’re not polishing ourselves against one another. With a few glancing exceptions, we’re not forming relationships with one another over our bickering and our shared admiration. We’re not elevating the discourse about webcomics. We’re not creating a central place for criticisms and small experiments and parodies. We’re not providing a social resource for newbies to the webcomics scene. We’re not even providing a scene outside the creative community.

I often tell people that webcomics are awesome because for every “two dudes playing video games on a couch” comic, there is a comic about post-Reformation theologians or karmically-challenged Brooklynites or a grumpy wombat on a mystical quest or the zombie post-apocalypse or an alternate-history Arizona or female professional wrestlers. There are artists who put out clean and polished lines, others who prefer to leave theirs sketchy, and still others who rely primarily on clip art. While traditional print comics wring their hands over girl power and attracting younger readers, webcomickers offer plenty of honest-to-God feminism and teen drama. Webcomics have something for everyone, assuming you know where to look.

But this also means that webcomickers have to identify their target audience, grab ’em by the ears, and pitch and market their little hearts out. DC and Marvel can lure us in with new stories about familiar characters, even if we didn’t grow up with superhero comics. You can bet I’ll pick up Batman Beyond #1 this week, if only because I loved watching the show so much in high school. Webcomickers have to say a lot more than “Hey, remember how awesome Terry McGinnis was?”

Sharing books beats sharing links. An interesting thing happened to me recently. My mom was visiting for a few days this month, and I showed her my copy of The Fart Party. She sat down, read most of the book, then left it on a chair in my living room. Fast forward a few days, and my law school roommate, a corporate litigator whose never expressed any particular interest in comics, is staying with me. I’m trying to get some work done when I suddenly look up and she’s sitting there reading the book she’s found on the chair.

“This is really funny,” she tells me. “Why have I never heard of her before?”

I am speechless.

This is more or less why I bought the Octopus Pie treasury. I’ve been trying to convince my comic and non-comic-reading friends alike of Meredith Gran’s brilliance, but when I send people the link, they assure me that they’ll “get around to it eventually.” As a person who has a lot of comics I plan to “get around to eventually,” I know exactly what that means. I got my copy of There Are No Stars in Brooklyn just two days ago, and I’ve already loaned it out. Giving someone a physical book to read adds a little weight to your recommendation (about two pounds — har, har), and gives your bailee a ticking clock. They have to read your book so they can return it to you. Just make sure you can trust the person you’re loaning it to — those things aren’t cheap.

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About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on June 29, 2010, in The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Its true, we are but individual islands in a massive archapelego known as “Webcomics.” And its true that because many of us are essentially one trick ponies with single stories, etc it means we have to work much harder to draw and keep an audience.

    However, webcomics have done something which has only been acheived recently with the re-rise of the non-fiction graphical novel (I point to Palestine, Persophene* and Pyongyang for example) : getting new people into reading comics.

    I mean take the UK for example. For the majority of young people before 1999 their comic reading ended at roughly age 14 when they grew out of the Beano and the Dandy. For all the celebration of British publications like 2000AD they only really catered for a very very tiny of the population.

    However the explosion in webcomics in 1999 onwards with Megatokyo, Machall, Sluggy Freelance, Real Life etc drew in loads of teenagers and young adults because they were something print comics were not: cool and edgey.

    Since then you’ve had a huge increase in people reading comics purely because they were exposed to webcomics just when the internet was taking off. After this it was only logical that they were going to explore what was in print.

    The internet is the driver in the expansion in people exploring music, film and now comics. Its put us back in love with collecting singles with b-sides all the way to obscure editions of comics and even obscure manga about the first Japanese-American President.

    In short, I know we are a self-critical lot and rightly so as we should improve how we operate all the time but there are also lots of positives and things we can all be very proud of.

    *Spelling mistake I know.

  2. When it first began, I thought Webcomics Dot Com would be the unifying website for the webcomics community. Here are a bunch of creators getting together to talk about what works for them business-wise and sharing some writing tips. Although I don’t remember most of the articles being geared towards the kind of discussions Lauren Davis had in mind, it was a start nonetheless. Obviously, Guigar had something else in mind for Webcomics Dot Com when he put up the pay wall.

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