I've always though that the majority of webcomics were gamer comics. Amateurish gamer comics. Even more broadly comics that center on geek culture. I don't think I am alone in this. The gamer comic horde has been the subject of numerous diatribes, rants, and snarky cynical comics. I have come to realize that I am wrong. Dead wrong.
That's not to say some of the most successful comics or geek comics. It is impossible to deny the reach or influence of Penny Arcade, Ctrl+Alt+Del, 8-Bit Theater, VG Cats or even broader geek comics like PvP, User Friendly etc. But the up and coming generation of comics, the comics still on the free hosting sites created young and developing artists, are no longer based on this concept. Manga is the new gamer comic. They don't have the same readership yet, but they have the numbers, and the readers will surely follow as manga readers and comics in general become more at home on the net.
This is probably a good moment to define terms here. What is manga and what is a gamer comic? For the purposes of this article, I am going to consider gamer comics to be not just the "classic" gamer strip, but rather gamer strips, game based sprite comics, and video gamed themed strips in general. Manga as a style is so universal now it would probably be easier to count strips without manga influenced art than not. So I am going to talk about strips that define themselves as manga in a genre sense. They are not just done in a style influenced by Japanese comics, but have a similar feel, pacing, and subject matter. Or they self identify their genre as manga.
Over at Webcomics Nation, there are fourteen self-labeled "gaming comics" in the directory. If we throw in "geek culture" comics, we are looking at thirty titles. There are thirty-eight superhero comics on Webcomicsnation. Thatâ€™s right, superhero comics. The ugly step child of webcomicdom. There are 40 manga comics. And that is only comics that identify themselves chiefly as manga. Comics that are heavily influenced by manga themes are even more common, and in more categories. Over at Comics Genesis only 14 comics can be reached when clicking on the gaming tab on their front page. This is compared to 52 when you click on Manga. Over at Smack Jeeves Dan Leiber gave me some very detailed and very illustrative information regarding the breakdown. Smack Jeeves hosts 5,500 comics, some of which are updating still and some of which don't, of course. According to Dan, there are about 50 traditional, two guys on a couch gaming comics, 100 fan comics, 50 or so "screenie" comics (comics created using stills from games), and 1100 sprite comics. That's roughly 24% of the comics on Smack Jeeves. Over 2000 comics self identify as manga styled, or almost 30%. That's allot. Given there is some overlap in the fan comics; you are still looking at a considerable advantage for manga. For the purposes of this article I am going to ignore Drunk Duck's numbers because I could not get any good information from them in the time frame I was writing this article and I couldn't figure out a good way to use the search function to pull up something illustrative. No offense to drunk duckers.
Based on this cursory review, I think there is real evidence to suggest that the gamer comic is no longer the median comic on the web. Manga is asserting its place here as it has in the print market. The question then are why is this happening and what this means for webcomics?
I don't really have answers there. I can speculate. I suspect that the biggest reason for the change is that webcomic creators and readers now draw from the general set of comics fans, rather than comics fans on the internet. 7 or 8 years ago not everyone was online. Not so now. Another reason may be there was a bubble. There is a limit to the number of comics that can be supported in any genre, and supply just grew to fast for demand. Maybe the creators of gaming comics ended up being more interested in gaming than comics and dropped out. I don't really have any evidence to support any of this right now.
As to the effects, I am really not qualified to speculate that at this point. I might interview some more educated parties for a future article.
Additional thoughts: First I'd like to thank Dan Leiber for giving me a whole lot of information on how this issue was affecting the demographics of Smack Jeeves. And I'd like to pimp two comics I bumped into researching this story. Mario's Day Job over at Smack Jeeves is a bit rough around the edges, but if you like gamer fan comics it has moments of true brilliance. Over at Webcomics Nation Swedish Fish is cute. Not New Cute or Smurf cute, but good cute. Try it.