Do you know something? "Year in Review" columns are a bitch and a half to write.
It’s not that things didn’t happen this year. Tons of things happened this year. Strips started and strips ended. Grand plans were launched and grand plans failed and — every now and again — succeeded. Arguments were launched and flamewars fought and webcomics were turned onto their head nine or ten times.
And sitting here in front of the Smith Corona, I have trouble recalling any of these things.
I think that’s endemic to Webcomics, however. We are, by definition, a medium of immediacy. With the odd rare exception or two, webcartoonists (I don’t use the term "webcomicker," I’m afraid. It sounds… wonky.) produce their strips just shy (or over) their deadlines. In many cases, a webcartoonist finishes a strip, glances at it once more to look for glaring errors, and slaps it onto the web. The present is everything, and the future is a collection of deadlines, but the past? The past is why you have an archive, and let’s talk no more about it.
It’s intoxicating, and it’s one of the areas webcomics have it all over traditional newspaper strips.
I’ve been following Doonesbury and The Boondocks, post-election, for example. And both of them are hitting on the fertile ground for political newspaper strips. They’re touching on Colin Powell’s resignation and Condalezza Rice’s ascension and the whole Red versus Blue thing (remember when "Red versus Blue" was just a Halo cartoon and not the political landscape of America?) and they’re funny and insightful and occasionally bitter and they’re brilliant as always.
And it feels like they’re hopelessly behind the times. Webcomics were doing Election Riffs the day after the results were more or less finalized. Colin Powell was covered sometimes the same day as his resignation. Living on the razor’s edge of the present, webcomics don’t have the same sense of past that clings to topical humor on the funny pages of the Washington Post.
So here I am, trying to talk about what happened in the past year, and my head is full of what’s happening right now, instead. It’s full of Scott Kurtz getting his first newspaper nibbles, and the same with Keensyndicate. It’s full of Penny and Aggie making the attempt for traditional syndication in that same context, and what that signifies for the relative positions of the web and the syndicates today. It’s full of Queen of Wands taking steps to move into its series end and Something Positive taking steps to become solvent on something other than the "Jesus Christ, these people gave me a year’s salary" model. It’s full of what Webcomicsnation is trying to do (and wondering if it will reach the point of launch before something else comes up from behind) and the question of true Critical Work on the art of webcomics beginning to raise its head up out of the muck and look around.
Here’s the thing, though. Everything I’ve said is a review of the past year.
The issues of Syndication versus Online Collectives, of free strips for newspapers, on new financial models versus the traditional content-for-pay model, the resolving of strips and the creation of new online homes for them… that didn’t happen this morning. That’s been happening all year long.
We opened this year with Randy Milholland getting a buttload of cash from his readers because he got pissed off one day and posted a challenge. We end this year with any number of other strips, from Clan of the Cats through The Norm trying variations on the theme. We opened this year with It’s Walky moving into its end after several years and end it with Queen of Wands doing the same. We opened with lots of people getting pissed off at other people over philosophy and minutia in webcomics, and glancing at any given forum on the topic I can see the same thing is happening now.
This doesn’t mean we haven’t hit any number of milestones along the way. We have. Things happened this year. And last year. And the year before. And the year before that.
But as a critic, my attention is focused on today… on what shows up on my web browser today. On what makes me laugh and what makes me cry and what makes me scratch my head and say "why exactly am I reading this, again?" Not on yesterday. Yesterday is just the foundation for today.
And the creators, who are desperately trying to stay ahead of deadlines, who are trying to sell tee shirts and mugs and secure donations and still produce the comic strip they want to… they’re focused on today and tomorrow.
And tomorrow looks really cool. It looks like there’s going to be a ton of new strips to read. It looks like the strips I do read are going to keep going strong. It looks like The Webcomics Examiner and Comixpedia are going to continue to expand their coverage of these strips, and their analysis of the aesthetic. It looks like I’m going to have stuff to blog about.
That’s the year in review. If you want details, read archives. Lots and lots of archives. It’s all right there.
As for me? I’ve got strips to read. It’s three-thirty, and I’m way behind. There’s dozens of comic strips just waiting for me to dig into them. There’s a quarter ton of today to get through before today becomes yesterday.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.