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Captain Nihilist Responds To the State of The Webcomics Union

Just yesterday, Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content released his State of the Webcomics Union.

This is the democratic response.

Most of the stuff written was of the “Rah Rah Webcomics” variety like you see below:

• There are a lot more of us, and we’re a lot bigger now.

• The level of art has gotten a lot better. Part of this is old hands getting better at drawing, part of it is people with actual training in the visual arts getting into the medium. I’m glad I started QC when I did, I’d be hell of intimidated trying to start off now with my ‘03 art skills. On the flipside of this, some of the very most popular comics have the most basic art (XKCD, Cyanide & Happiness, etc.) so maybe it doesn’t matter so much?

• There seems to be less “drama” going around. I think this is mainly because the more popular creators have wised up to smaller folks tryin’ to troll them, and a lot of the old-school internet jerks have pretty much wrecked their reputations by bein’ internet jerks. I hope this trend continues, I do not miss “flame wars” and “rude folks” at all.

• The sky is still the limit. We’re nowhere near saturation as far as potential audience goes. Back in 2003 I thought there would NEVER EVER be another webcomic anywhere near as popular as Penny Arcade. Now we’ve got XKCD and Cyanide & Happiness who are either as big or bigger. Anybody who thinks we’re all competing for some fixed amount of potential readers is completely mistaken. It’s not a zero-sum game, which is great because it means there’s plenty of room for everybody, new folks and old hands alike, to grow!

As another blogger once pointed out, I’m not really that in tune with the “webcomic community,” so I have no idea whether he above is true or not. Jeph has been around longer, so maybe he knows the score. However, one point ruffled me a little:

• The idea of critical analysis of webcomics has largely died out. Sure, people still blog about webcomics and “review” them and stuff, but it’s become a tiny, tiny niche sector. I think this is mainly because there’s not a whole lot of point to reviewing something anybody can go look at for free and make up their own mind about! Is this a good thing? I have no idea.

OK, I’ve only been running this site for a little over 2 years now. I have no idea if there was some sort of Golden Age of Webcomic Criticism that I missed out on. Maybe there was a fantastic era where webcomic critics were served the finest wine at convention and given the choice cuts of meats, but are now forced to live in tiny little hovels ever since the bottom of the webcomic criticism bubble burst and are now forced to toil in a tiny, tiny niche sector. Frankly, when I started blogging, I had the impression that Eric Burns of Websnark was pretty much the only game in town. Sure, his output is pretty much nil lately. But I think it’s a bit of stretch to say that webcomic criticism has largely died out because Websnark is, for the most part, dead.

But “a tiny, tiny nice sector”?

Here’s a quick rundown of a few I’m familiar with.

The idea that “there’s not a whole lot of point to reviewing something anybody can go look at for free and make up their own mind about” is pretty much a fallacy. Let’s move to another genre: network TV. Over the last year, the two most visited features over at the EW.com and The AV Club were the Lost recaps and analysis. Should I have to remind you that Lost is on network TV, something you don’t have to ever have to pay for? (Episodes of Lost are also freely available online. Why read some blog about what someone has to say about, oh, the “Jughead” episode when you can check it out for free online and make your own mind about it?)

And, if you really want to get down to brass tacks, money is never really a factor in why you supposedly reviews, either. Think of book reviews. What do you think is a bigger motivator in purchasing a book: the money you spend on it, or whether or not you’re going to invest your precious time in reading it? Paperbacks are $7 — a mere pittance, given the size of some book lovers’ libraries I’ve seen. And if you don’t want to pay, most books are also available at your local library for free. There’s even a “New Books” section! How about that!

Consumer report reviews of cars and computers and other capital items can indeed save you money, but entertainment reviews are different. Money is hardly a factor. What you really want to know is: do I want to spend my time reading something I don’t like? Does this book get better after 3 chapters? Is there a good pay off at the end? Will I be satisfied mentally?

And the value of time is something that webcomics cannot get away from, expecially if their archives have just crossed the 1,000 mark. Sure, like Jeph said, it’s free … but would YOU want to stick around if you weren’t won over be either the clunky first 100 pages or the relatively banal last 100 pages? Maybe there’s a great story somewhere in the middle. Wouldn’t it be great is someone out there told you that was the case?

That’s the theoretical. I know, though, that’s not the REAL reason you come by to read reviews. It’s closely tied to why I write them. I write reviews because, well, I love reading webcomics. And because I love reading them, I want to share with as many people why I liked certain comics. I also want to tell people what they should stay from, and I await to hear whether others have different opinions. I imagine you like reading them because they might give you a different perspective from what you’re used to. Because, frankly, you also love webcomics, and you love discussing them.

This is, incidentally, why the Lost recaps are so well visited. People want to talk (or type) about something they love. The review is an anchor point, a conglomeration of discussion points to ponder over. The rest is up to the reader.

If Jeph is right — that he’s seeing less webcomic criticism online while business is booming — then here’s my conclusion: people are less enthusiastic about webcomics than ever before. Fewer webcomic blogs mean, to me, that fewer people care enough to blog about them. In an environment where bloggers will post reviews about anything and everything that interests them — movies, video games, music, books — a decline in people blogging about webcomics means, to me, that fewer people care… which invalidates all the shiny, happy webcomics world that Jeph Jacques gleefully discusses in the rest of his “State of the Webcomics Union.”

IF it were true.

I think there are enough webcomic reviewers and critics out there to prove Jeph Jacques wrong.