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The ComixTalk 2009 Roundtable

It's the end of the year and what better time to talk webcomics with a great group of interesting creators and commentators.  For this year's roundtable we talked about favorite and new webcomics from 2009; iPhones and iTablets; developments in the business of comics; developments in the subject matter of comics; webcomic awards; and predictions for 2010!  I'm joined by Gary Tyrrell, Delos Woodruff, Shaenon Garrity, Fesworks, Derik Badman, Larry Cruz, Brigid Alverson and Johanna Draper Carlson.

Let me introduce our panelists:  

  • Gary Tyrrell is a man of opinions, which he will gladly share with you. He is also a fan of webcomics, of which he consumes six or seven dozen on a regular basis. These two tendencies collide Monday through Friday at Fleen, where he is the editor, head writer, and general dogsbody.
  • Delos Woodruff writes about comics at The Art Patient.  He can often be found digging around in the webcomic back forty for items of interest. When not doing that, he stays busy working his day job and chasing after his three wonderful children in upstate New York.
  • Shaenon Garrity is the creator (or co-creator) of Skin HorseNarbonic, Smithson, and Lil Mel. She's also written about comics at numerous sites ranging from Comixology to ComixTalk.
  • Fesworks currently co-hosts the Webcomics Beacon podcast.  He's also worked on several webcomics, including The Crossover Wars, a multi-webcomic event and is the curator of the Jenny Everywhere Shifter archive.
  • Derik A. Badman writes about webcomics and is the creator of Things Change, The Metamorphoses Comic and Maroon, A Webcomic in 52 Parts.
  • Brigid Alverson writes about manga at MangaBlog and webcomics at Paperless Comics. She is the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog and writes a regular webcomics column for Robot 6. She also is a freelance journalist for Publishers Weekly Comics Week and SLJTeen newsletters. She lives in Melrose, Massachusetts, where she works as assistant to the mayor when not hanging out with her husband and two teenage daughters. 
  • Larry "El Santo" Cruz writes about comics at The Webcomic Overlook.
  • Johanna Draper Carlson has been reviewing comics of all kinds online since 1992. She has also written for a range of magazines, half of which no longer publish, and served as DC Comics' webmaster back when they thought online should be a profit center instead of a marketing expense. Follow her at Comics Worth Reading, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

I guess I always start off with this question.  What were your five favorite webcomics from 2009 -- defined as comics published on the web (regardless of where else it was published). Not necessarily the "best" but the ones that really stuck with you for some reason.

Tyrrell: My top five probably changes day-to-day; for right now this instant I'm giving the nod to Achewood, Octopus Pie, Hark A Vagrant, Digger, and The Abominable Charles Christopher.

Badman: Aidan Koch's comics on Flickr; Jason Overby's comics on Flickr; numerous wonderful comics from the Belgian site GrandPapier such as Sacha Georg's Surface, A La Plage by Pascal Matthey and G Rom's Elements; and all the stuff Blaise Larmee puts up.

Woodruff: Dovecote Crest, Kukuburi, Bear Nuts, Tune and I'm late to the party with getting into Dinosaur Comics. It's hard to pick just five and I'd feel better if I was mentioning five relative unknowns. Is that weird?

Fesworks: One would have to be The Ten Doctors, for sure. While it's been going for a while, I totally got into the series. It's a fan comic of the television show Doctor Who, bringing all 10 doctors and many of his companions together. The best fan comic of any subject I've seen. It finished this year as well.

A  guilty pleasure I'd add to this list is the NSFW comic Oglaf, with the bulk of it's current archive from this year. Oglaf does everything wrong, the right way. I'm also throwing in Union of Heroes (available in German and English), Which is a nicely done superhero photocomic that I got into. Union of Heroes also pointed me towards comics that are multi-lingual, and THAT is something I hope becomes more and more likely in the coming years.

Hark A Vagrant by Kate BeatonGarrity: I don't feel like I read a lot of webcomics, and yet I have too many favorites to narrow the list down to five. Girl Genius continues to be ten tons of fun. Kate Beaton's history comics (Hark A Vagrant) are just about the funniest things I've ever read. Dylan Meconis's Family Man makes my jaw drop. I love Erika Moen's diary comic, DAR.  Oh, and Danielle Corsetto's Girls with Slingshots is a great strip, really well done.

Alverson:  Unshelved is a a comfortable habit, like a glass of warm milk. A glass of warm, sarcastic milk, that is.  Xkcd is required reading in our house, as I'm an MIT dropout married to a physicist. Sometimes I roll my eyes, but when Randall Munroe nails it, he  really nails it.  Hark a Vagrant makes me laugh so hard it endangers my health and alienates all those around me. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage -- geekiness and hilarity unite!  Family Man is so good, it's hard to believe it's a webcomic.

Xerexes: I really enjoyed the science and history stuff this year, especially xkcd, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, and Hark a Vagrant.  I'd add Bryant Paul Johnson's Teaching Baby Paranoia which continued to impress me with his art and just plain cleverness.  I also liked a lot of steampunk-flavored titles including Girl Genius, and Freak Angels.

Badman: Interesting that almost all the comics listed (except mine) are long serials or long non-serial series (like xkcd or Dinosaur Comics). Are webcomics still primarily working on the newpaper strip, mainstream comic model? I guess serialization is the key, instant constant gratification.

Cruz: This is always a tough question for me.  It’s like trying to figure out what your favorite pizza topping is.  My colleagues seem to have answered with absolutely fabulous recommendations, so I’m going to tip my hat to some less heralded favorites: Daisy Owl, Sin Titulo, Gun Show, Gastrophobia, and the one comic that has most rapidly taken the spot on my must-see shortlist, The Meek.

Draper Carlson: My favorite webcomic is always Sinfest. I read it daily online and was thrilled to get the Dark Horse reprint this year so I can read it offline as well. I also enjoy DAR for Erika Moen's openness and lack of fear. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, is a favorite because I can't see anyone else in another medium taking a change on it, but it's so creative in its use of computer pioneers to parody "scientific" attitudes and self-importance. Plus, it promotes how important Lovelace was to the foundation of the field, and I'm all for activities that battle the sexism of some of the technology-minded. My Milk Toof is charming and uses custom sculpture and photos, which I find refreshing to the medium. And Lucy Knisley's ArtJournal is simply lovely, especially in its use of color, and very thought-provoking and deep in its observations. (Since cheap color is one of the benefits of working online, I applaud those who take advantage of it.) 


I wanted to follow up on Brigid Alverson's comment about Family Man -- is there still a perception that "webcomics" are inferior to more traditional forms of comics?

Family Man by Dylan MeconisBadman: I think there's a certain amount of that prejudice "If it's so great, why didn't someone publish it." But the same prejudice can apply to minicomics (and was often applied to self-published comics in the 80-90s when there was a glut of such). D.I.Y. will always look inferior to people who put a lot of store in the editorial power of publishers.

Alverson: Well, first of all, although we all know better, a lot of people think webcomics are weaker as a medium because there are so many bad ones. There are a lot of good ones, too, of course, and those are the only ones I look at, but since anyone, regardless of talent, can publish a webcomic, the Internet is flooded with amateurish comics that any self-respecting editor would have kicked to the curb. The result is that to the casual observer, webcomics may very well look like a weaker medium.

But I had something else in mind when I made that comment. Simply put, you work harder when you get paid. That’s just human nature. When you sign a contract with a publisher, you generally get an advance and some assurance that you will be paid for your work. When you draw a webcomic and put it up on the web, you have no such assurance. It’s good business to do your best work in a paid venue and put less effort into something with no guaranteed payoff. Dylan Meconis puts a huge amount of work into Family Man. She thinks through the page layouts, she draws in the details, and she researches everything. She isn’t tossing half-finished sketches onto the web (something a lot of better-known artists have been known to do), and she hasn’t stopped updating because something better came along. She draws as if she were being paid to do it, and what’s more her production values, website, everything about it, is also professional quality.

Draper Carlson: For me, I would phrase it differently. The perception is that media with gatekeepers are superior to media where anyone can participate easily. If you can impress a gatekeeper, that is, convince a publisher or someone else to take a chance on you, then the idea is that you've passed an important hurdle. So yes, people think that big-company edited comics are better than most webcomics, but I think people also think that edited comics are better than many self-published comics. 

Note that I don't necessarily believe this, I'm just explaining the rationale I see behind the attitude. Me, I've seen webcomics better than any print comic -- but they're few and far between, just like the the most exceptional work in any other medium.


Were there any comics that debuted on the web in 2009 that really stood out for you?

Badman: Jesse Moynihan's Forming started in January and has been a crazy ride for 12 months now.

Woodruff: Space Avalanche always evades my expectations, which I like.

EndtownCruz: LaMorte Sisters, the 2009 Zuda Comics instant winner, was pretty much a hit with everyone that read the first 8 pages.  It’s hard to quantify why.  I think we know how the team behind Black Cherry Bombshells works.  And we’re all sort of kinda excited to see that with better art.  Plus: vampire women.  Vampires are totes cool!

Fesworks: Comics I've been pleasently surprised with and hooked on this year include The Intrepid Girlbot, a silent comic featuring a robot with image issues; The Paul Reveres, a new twist on Paul Revere's ride... ala battle of the bands; and Tiny Kitten Teeth, a webcomic visual throwback to the like of the old Golden Books.

Alverson: I liked Warren Pleece's Montague Terrace a lot, even though I had to read every comic twice to figure out what was going on. Dan Hess's Weesh is an all-ages gag strip with a bit of a bite to it, kid-friendly but delivering plenty of laughs for grownups as well.  I loved Sydney Padua's Lovelace and Babbage comics, although there are only a few stories. I hope she keeps this going. And I'm keeping an eye on Schmuck.

Garrity: I'm really enjoying Endtown, by Aaron Neathery, which debuted on Modern Tales in March.  If you're not reading it, you've totally got to get on the ball.  It's a daily strip set in a weird and imaginative postapocalyptic future, starring a guy and his rhinoceros girlfriend (some really bad stuff happened to the gene pool back when society collapsed).  I've known Aaron for a long time, and I've always been in awe of his cartooning chops.  Also, we're both doing strips with cranky talking vehicles.