The Essence of Webcomics by Ping Teo

I think I can summarize it in one sentence:

Webcomics should be free.

Now, when you read that above sentence, I bet the first thing you thought of the Micropayment/Subscription VS Advertising/Merchandising debate. You’re probably thinking: "Whoa! What’s this, Ping? Don’t you have a pay comic yourself?"

That’s right. I do. But don’t forget I also have a couple of free comics too, so I do have practical experience in both camps. So instead of making theoretical generalizations, I’d like to think I’m able to be frank about this issue.

But back to the topic; I said "Webcomics should be free". The question here is: "Webcomics should be free… to do what?"

[The question, as illustrated by Ping Teo.]

My answer: "Anything and everything."

I’m not talking about just accessibility or style or content here. I really AM talking about everything.

Webcomics should be free… to be made by anyone. Whether male or female. Professional or amateur. Expert or Beginner. Regardless of geographical location or political leanings or age. You draw a comic, you’re a comic creator. Not necessarily a good or professional one, but one nevertheless.

Webcomics should be free… to experiment. Infinite Canvas. Animation. Interactivity. They should be also free not to experiment as well. It should be perfectly fine to have a traditional newspaper strip-style comic as it should to have a comic that makes you scroll down forever. Just because you can doesn’t mean you must, you know?

Webcomics should be free… to be drawn or coloured in whatever art style or medium. One medium, one tool, or one style is not superior to another. Seriously, inking with a sable brush and india ink does not make you "man enough" or "a real man". Inking with Illustrator doesn’t necessarily mean that your art always looks the same and lacks expressiveness. It just means that the person churning out static digital art didn’t know how to make it expressive. Just because you draw in manga style doesn’t mean you’re any better or worse than anyone who draws in American comic book style or indie style or whatever.

In a nutshell, you can draw your comics with your pinkie toe dipped in blood for all I care. If it looks good, it’s good. If it’s bad, all your expensive bristol board or your fancy Intuos tablets or your magic G-pens in the world will not change that. Learn to walk before you go out and buy fancy trainers.

Webcomics should be free… to have every kind of content. Not only every kind of content, but every kind of content presented to whatever levels of explicitness required. They should be free to say "fuck" or depict gratuitous violence or depict life-like detail of taboo parts of anatomy. They should be free to chose to NOT do any of these things and be family-friendly. Freedom is the choice to say either "Yes" or "No", not just one or the other.

Webcomics should be free… to adopt under any kind of distribution model the CREATOR of said comic wants. Free vs. Pay vs. Whatever Else. It’s your own damn comic; you decide what to do with it. The audience decides whether they want to read it or not. You take the risk of success or failure, but it’s your choice. End of story. It’s perfectly fine to not like or use a distribution model because you don’t think it works. It’s NOT perfectly fine to insist that the distribution model you believe in is the only way to go.

The last point is one that really disturbs me. I’ve heard many many arguments as to why webcomics should be free to view. While there were fairly good points made for and against, what really worried me was the way those points were made, particularly from the Free camp. They were made as though only one way to succeed existed.

You see, I’ve always been one to observe patterns in things. I couldn’t help but be reminded of another discussion as I sat and listened. To be precise, at one point, people were of the opinion that the only way to succeed in comics was to get syndicated in newspapers or get picked up by a comic book company. The webcomics movement proved that it was not the ONLY way, yet paradoxically here we are insisting that this one distribution model is the only one that will work on the net.

I’m not saying that it doesn’t. I think it’s pretty much been proven already that it can work already.

I’m not saying that the pay model works or doesn’t either. Personally, I think it could work, but the current payment infrastructure is too crippling in the face of other online competition. Pay comics would need to move out of the "Paypal Only" restriction first before they can make any real headway. Not everyone has a credit card, after all.

But what I’m saying is that comic creators should be allowed the chance to experiment with whatever different crazy distribution models they can think of, because you never know whether something else could work. I bet a few years ago, you wouldn’t have thought that you could get a year’s salary from donations either.

Most of all, Webcomics should be free… of Dogmatism.

I think the greatest power of webcomics as a whole is variety. We can cater for everyone because everyone can join in with anything. If you kill variety, then everyone becomes a success-inspired clone of each other. Which I suppose eventually results in material so predictable and boring that we then become extinct at some point in the future.

We need variety. We need variety because times change, and if the "one proven way" stops being effective, then we will have something else to fall back on. But for "something else" to be discovered, we need it to be OK to vary from convention.

You wanna know something? On the internet, the stakes are lower. It’s perfectly OK to experiment. It’s perfectly OK to experiment and fail. But if we ostracize someone because they fail, then there is no point in experimentation. We might as well memorize the blockbuster movie formula, make comics based on that, and hope to goddess that it works.

Trying something different is an admirable goal. Most people would agree to that. The thing to remember is that this applies to all levels. Style, Substance, Distribution. Yes, it churns out failures, but it also gives us the fresh discoveries that rejuvenates the form.

It’s OK to be different. It’s OK for others not the be the same. It might not work, but it should be OK to try anyway.

Like they say… webcomics are free, after all. Let’s not restrict ourselves to one school of thought.

Wednesday White


  1. “They should be also free not to experiment as well.”

    Thanks. That’s not said enough. Web comics are more than just a new way to visualize comics. No matter how you approach it – it will always come down to telling a story.

  2. So you’re saying, there’s no way one can experiment and tell a story at the same time?

  3. Erm… I may be mistaken, but I think he just means that whether you experiment or don’t, the main objective is that you tell a story/joke (or pass on the message) doing it.

    Personally I think experimentation can enhance or distract a comic, depending how it’s done. It must be said a lot of the “WOW” moments in comics (Like Scott McCloud’s freefall infinite canvas scene, or the animated lightning flash in Killroy and Tina) were achieved therough experimentation, but it’s also notable that one of my favourite moments in comics is Adis Ramos’ “Beat The Day” Count Your Sheep strip, which was put forward in an extremely traditional manner.

    I guess he’s trying to say for those not too concerned about exploring the medium, sometimes simple is enough.

  4. No. I’m implying that the story is the first priority in web comics for me as a reader. I enjoy experimenting and reading experimental comics, however, I also enjoy “traditional” and “consistant” comics that tell a good story. It saddens me when those comics are given grief for not being experimental enough.

    Comics that experiment AND tell a good story at the same time are real treat.

  5. “Personally I think experimentation can enhance or distract a comic, depending how it’s done.”

    Yes! Except you said it better than I did. 😀

  6. I see. One problem I still got with that message is the difinition of experimentation as a deliberate effort in producing innovation. I for one think it’s entirely possible that an artist can pursue no more than traditional means of crafting a comic and still deal with experimentation.

  7. I think it’s fully possible to innovate without being “experimental.” You don’t need to incorporate experimentation in the form — be it expanded canvas, animated in some form, flash based or what have you — to break free of expectations and create something new in the execution.

    Sometimes, experimental techniques greatly enhance a comic’s story, joke or what have you. Sometimes… they don’t. Sometimes they’re just ways for the artist to learn and add the tools to his toolset. That’s fine, but the comic that’s produced as part of that experiment will often be substandard as a comic.

    Or junk like that.

Comments are closed.