The book Webcomics: Tool and Techniques for Digital Cartooning by Steven Withrow and John Barber is a comprehensive overview of the state of webcomics. Webcomics: Tools and Techniques for Digital Cartooning is a helluva book. If nothing else, it’s full of a ton of useful information and thoughts on webcomics art and business. It’s got tutorials, round table discussions, theory, and even a big ol’ gallery of webcomics.
But in writing this review, there’s been one thought sticking in my mind: namely, this is a wonderful book… but who is it for?
I was excited enough over this book that I ordered it the day it came out on Amazon, and eagerly awaited its arrival. I’d say that this is indeed the biggest book on the topic of webcomics since Reinventing Comics by Scott McCloud. The book is like one big overall snapshot of the webcomics scene (with the exception of sprite comics, because well hey: copyright issues). It’s split up into four sections: History, Basic Tutorial, Advanced Tutorial, and The Future of the Business. Presented in high quality and vibrant colors, each self contained section does well to cover its subject.
"A New Day for Comics," the history section, is written almost entirely by T Campbell, and reads very much to me like a textbook. Which is great, I say. It’s fantastic for us webtoonists and critics who pontificate about webcomics with regularity, and for all of us seeking the feeling of validation as a medium. And it feels like a nice preview of what we can expect in T’s upcoming book, History of Webcomics. (Which is based in part on the series of such articles published at Comixpedia.) In it, you can find a basic overview of where webcomics were believed to had started, and how they got to where they are today in terms of art, readership and business.
In the tutorial sections, Withrow and Barber have assembled a really diverse array of artists with different styles and methods. "A Strand of Lanterns," the basic tutorial section, features Shaenon K. Garrity, Ursula Vernon, Amy Kim Ganter, John Allison, Kean Soo, and Justine Shaw. And "Stellar Catrography," the advanced tutorial section has Charley Parker, Jenn Manley Lee, Nick Betrozzi, Brendan Cahill, Joe Zabel, Daniel Merlin Goodbrey, and Alexander Danner and Bill Duncan. You get pointers in the fundamentals from Garrity and more experimental approaches from Merlin. You get the flashwork of Parker and the Illustrator techniques of Allison. There’s a lot of information and advice in these pages. And it’s not only useful for creators who want to refine their skills, but for readers and fans who want a better understanding of how many webcomics are actually created.
In the last section on the future of webcomics, "Storms on the Periphery," there is a lot of discussion about a topic well familar to creators and readers of webcomics: how to make any money out of it. Reading this section of the book will feel quite familiar to regular readers of Comixpedia or other webcomic-focused blogs, but it will be new material for some.
But what about the question I posed at the beginning: just who is this book really for? It seems very much that this book is for a more experienced webcomic reader/creator/critic/enthusiast, as it doesn’t really touch on the more popular kinds of webcomics (Gaming, College humor, etc). By filling the majority of the book with interviews with and work from creators who wouldn’t be considered the "mainstream" of webcomics, it sets itself up more in line for the intermediate webcomics reader, the casual enthusiast of webcomics as an art form. Which is fine, really. Because now we have a book for the intermediate audience. That niche is filled. There’s something that’s just perfect for those who have been reading webcomics for a while and are ready for something more.
Now, what we need is a book for the average joe, the guy who’s only familiar with Questionable Content and Mac Hall. We need a book that covers those more common webcomic topics of College/Roommate humor, Music humor, and Gaming humor. With the exceptions of Allison and Garrity, Webcomics: Tools and Techniques for Digital Cartooning deviates away from the more mainstream comics Penny Arcades, the PVPs, the Nothing Nice to Says, and so on. Without strips like those, that appeal to the broader audience, the popularity of webcomics would be nowhere near where we are now (which is still small, but definitely a bigger small). So what we could do for next is a similar book, but focused on the more well known comics, to appeal to the casual webcomics fan and the people who haven’t read webcomics before.
To wrap up, Webcomics is a great book that would do well to the intermediate and experienced webcomics reader, as well as to digital artists who want to learn some new tricks. I wouldn’t recommend it to the casual webcomics reader, but it’s definitely worth the money for anyone who’s looking for more from the medium.
Phil – excellent review – it was right on target. I purchased this book because, as a webcartoonist myself, I wanted to learn more about the production process used by other webcartoonists to create their strips. Several of the strips in the book I wasn’t even aware of, so it did expose me to several new reads.
Thanks, Bob. This wasn’t the most confident review I’ve ever written. While I love the book, I had to sit back and look at it in the eyes of the non-Webcomics-obsessed individual.
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