The state of the state of webcomics
Webcomics are dead. Right? That’s not a bad thing. Comics are doing great. The little arbitrary wall that was built around ‘things on the Internet’ is just gone. — Dorothy Gambrell, Cat and Girl
I posted a snippet of the above quote to whet your appetite. I’ve been out of the webcomic game for two years, though not completely gone. In fact, I can probably argue successfully that I’ve done more. For the first time in 2015, I went to Emerald City Comic Con and met Brad Guigar, Dave Kellett, Angela Melick, Evan Dahm, Sam Logan, Diana Nock, and the colorist of Girl Genius. (And it kills me I can’t remember his name off hand. We were goggle buddies.) This year I did a 10K run based entirely around a webcomic.
But I can safely say that I stepped away for a much needed sabbatical where I could rethink and refocus what I wanted to talk about. After all, I felt that I’d said everything that needed to be said about webcomics, and I was running out of words. One writer once said that everyone hits a point where you don’t want to ever write anything ever again, and that was me. I hit the wall. Or in the parlance of The Oatmeal, the Blerch beat me.
But, as I mentioned in the previous post, once I beat the Blerch, it was my signal to start writing again. Curiously, though, coming back to all of this, I had a nagging question still pestering me in my mind:
Are webcomics still a thing even?
For years I rallied against using the term “webcomickers.” It was terrible. You don’t call print comic professionals “comickers,” after all, and the term itself is a stabbing pain to my ear. But is even the term “webcomic” falling out of favor?
Do a search for “best webcomics”. You are not going to come up with many results dated in the last two years. The most recent piece is from PCMag.com last year that automatically feels dated. Abominable Charles Christopher? Chainsawsuit? Girl Genius? All good webcomics, true, but I seriously could have published the same list five years ago. I take two years off of blogging, and when I get back it feels like everything’s been frozen in amber. (The again, this is PC Magazine, while probably caters to grandpas these days. These webcomics probably are totally new to the gray-haired audience. Seriously… what are PC’s?)
Go to Wikipedia to check out a list of webcomics. There’s a nice listing of significant webcomics that came out on a per-year basis, along with milestones. Every date is filled out… except 2015 and 2016. Great. No how am I supposed to fill in that missing gap when I wasn’t keeping track of anything? Did… anything significant happen? Or is it so far below the radar no one bothered to fill in the wiki?
A four part series by Brady Dale published in the Observer a year ago was particularly illuminating. Prognosis in general was fairly dire. Here are a few choice quotes from creators who probably don’t want you calling them “webcomickers”:
“Webcomics” is a pretty dated term. I have been a comics professional for 12 years. — John Allison, Bad Machinery
Right now, our comics are no longer our primary income stream. They used to be for many years, but since then our business has had to change and adapt to the shifting tides of the Internet — Dave McElfatrick, Cyanide & Happiness
I wonder if these sentiments are in some way a fallout of comic conventions. Webcomic creators are seated alongside small press publishers and big name creators like Francis Manupul and Kurt Busiek. Meanwhile, former superstar webcomic creators like Ryan North and Brian Clevinger are getting big time gigs at Marvel and DC Comics. Others have moved in to Adventure Time and Steven Universe. Respectibility isn’t just about seeing someone wear a t-shirt bearing your character anymore. It’s making as much of an impact in the entertainment world as your table mates.
And print comics? Despite all the most dire predictions about the death of print (which I’ve heard expressed since the late 80’s), they’ve rebounded spectacularly to 1990’s levels. Likely a lot of it is being buoyed by the current box office, where it seems like a new superhero movie is coming out every single month. Hey, remember when Batman v Superman came out? It seems so long ago now.
Interestingly, these sentiments are being expressed roughly one year after the Stripped documentary made an argument that webcomics are the way of the future for traditional newspaper comic strip artists.
Comic strips probably are on the same death march trajectory as the documentary portrayed. But are webcomics the replacement? The Observer posits that one of the things killing webcomics are social media. No jne’s leaving YouTube, Twitter, or Facebook. And yet, wasn’t social media supposed to be the savior of webcomics? Wasn’t that supposed to be the primary source of publicity outside of t-shirts (which, the Observer points out, probably stopped being an effective from a marketing and profitability standpoint around 2009)?
Another possible setback: we live in a day where society and the Internet has gotten more… prudish, I guess. Early webcomics managed to promote themselves as the more vulgar alternative to the straight-laced comic strips of the print world. Does that even fly anymore? The Penny Arcade guys get slapped down now by the Internet for speaking out of line… which had been their bread and butter for years. Even Rahne Summers stopped womanizing. What once was liberating must now be banished back into the hall of shame.
Then you realize something dire: webcomics’ main competitors weren’t its print counterparts. It’s viral videos, animated GIFs, and Minion memes. The effectivity of a widely distributed single-strip webcomic is less impactful than a Snapchat of a guy walking around in white shoes.
But no one wants to be at Meme Con (which I think does exist). Webcomics exist in that nebulous undefined region between passing fad and real art, with aspiring artists edging toward the latter. But… due to the market reality, most webcomics are not the best in either field. Too good to be a meme, not got enough to be art.
This is basically a long, roundabout way of me rationalizing if calling this site “Webcomic Overlook” makes sense anyone. An outdated term, as John Allison would say. Yet, after dwelling on the notion that perhaps “webcomics” are passé… I’m sticking with it.
Because I’m not made of money and domain names aren’t free.