New Blood and the Pull of the Undertow
The Internet, as we all know, moves fast. Real fast. And as an old fogey, it still astounds me how fast things can evolve around here. In the old days, it would take a fad a few years to develop, a year or two to stick around, and a year to hit the dollar stores. Hell, can anyone else remember "Miami Mice?" Or when disheveled ducks were all the rage?
Here on (in?) the Web, things speed up exponentially. A fad can be born, live, thrive, become ubiquitous, and die in a matter of weeks. "All your base are belong to us." That American Idol guy that can’t sing. The latest Flash thing that’s getting shipped around via e-mail. Icebox. It says something that the hoary old men of Internet comics, the ones with the false teeth and canes yelling at the kids to get off their lawn, have been in business for all of six or seven years, and they’re considered the Ancient Ones. They should be cartooning in small monasteries on isolated Tibetan peaks, with a trail of bloody-knuckled acolytes sprawled up the mountains waiting for an audience.
There’s something wonderful about a medium where "airtime" and print space is essentially free and limitless. I’ve carped no end about the worst possible result of this – unfettered creativity leading to indulgence and a lack of self-editing, sprawling crap spewed across my screen, the very worst of frathouse and high-school humor just flailing around out there waiting for an audience, and usually getting one.
Reviewing the "newest" of the new Webcomics – the up-and-comers and the best and the brightest, the latest generation of a trend that changes generations every fifteen minutes, there’s the usual array of the strong and the weak. The rich and the poor.
And the worst thing about the new crop, the most atrocious thing about the spew of comics that appear like a flurry of zits on a thirteen-year-old aspiring Rob Liefeld’s face, is this:
They’re too damn good.
The Internet is not a medium that allows for laggardliness. It doesn’t let you rest on your laurels and bask in complacency. Doesn’t matter how good you think you are or how big an audience you think you have, the wave could at any moment sweep back out from under you, the undertow yanking your reader base out from under you and dragging you into the under-tide, the dark depths of the Internet ocean, the profound abyss where no light hits and yesterday’s comics dwell.
In space, nobody can hear you scream.
Here in "cyberspace" (a term second in loathsomeness only to "the information superhighway", another fad thankfully short-lived and long dead), everybody CAN hear you scream, but they may well be listening to some other guy yodel instead. Fame can be immediate, and fame can be fleeting. What happened to that Joe Cartoon guy, anyway? How about Radiskull and Devil Doll? And that good comic – you know, that one, by the guy – I stopped reading it a while ago. What’s up with it? Oh, he quit? Drag.
And the constant influx of new talent, the burgeoning of Keenspace, the torrent of talent that crops up every day, makes it almost impossible to keep up with who’s who and what’s worth reading. Imagine what your local comic shop would look like if every fan who wanted could publish their own comics and distribute them for free. Imagine how many titles there would be, clogging every wall, cramming the bins, spilling out onto the floor. You’d be knee-deep in comics, comics up to your knees, comics up to your chin, aswim and gagging on mediocrity, and knowing – KNOWING – that there are greater things than you have ever dreamed of somewhere in this pile, if you can just get a shovel and start digging around into it, but goddamn it here’s the truck and another load is getting dumped in…
…gentle reader, I suggest that there is nothing to complain about when it comes to the best of the newcomers. The problem is, as it has always been, filtering.
As much as the Internet is touted as democratic, it’s coming down to people making your decisions for you. It has always been thus. As much as you might like your local indie bands, more than half of your record collection is major labels. Even if you attend your local bebop poetry night, most of the books in your collection are by recognized authors, significant publishers.
Hate to admit it? So do I. I pride myself on being an independent thinker. I pride myself on making my own decisions and clinging tenaciously to my own ideals of quality and consistency.
But I am still forced to resort to filters. I rely on the Manley filter. I rely on the Crosby/Bluell filter. I rely on the Dumbrella filter. I don’t…have…time to keep up with the new talent. I can’t possibly read the six or seven thousand webcomics that update daily. I can’t conceivably review the dozens of new webcomics that crop up every week.
And so every morning I breeze through four or five Keenspot comics, read Modern Tales and Graphic Smash (no offense to the other MT sister sites, but those are my favorites), run through the Dumbrella comics, and check out some independents. And maybe – just maybe – if there’s some SERIOUS buzz about a new comic, I’ll check it out. But it’s got a lot to beat to make it onto the schedule. A recommendation by an established comics creator towards a new strip is where I get 75% of the new comics I read. (Incidentally, established comics creators, just because a comic is done by a cute girl doesn’t mean it will be good. I know you’re lonely and horny. Please stop wasting my time.)
If you’re going to be read daily by Dalton Wemble, I have to like you better than some really, really, REALLY good comics. I just have no room for you otherwise. There’s only one small wall in my comics shop, and I can’t fit more titles on it without bumping some off.
And as frustrating as THAT is, I can only imagine how the old guard feel. It must be like permanent King Lear pressure, knowing you do good work but there are hundreds of people out there clamoring for your audience share; hitting that "upload" button every night wondering if you’re still on top or if you’ve been coasting, and the fickle wave of fad is about to creep out from under you.
So things remain as they are: media as it always was, a churning froth with a few people making the decisions about who rises and who falls, and a lot of people biting their nails and hoping they can stay afloat. It’s exhilarating to see how many people are still throwing their hat in the ring – it seems that the influx rate is still rising – and it’s disheartening to acknowledge that I have to rely on word of mouth, buzz, and the opinions of a few to help me decide where to direct my attention.
I’m sure there are worthy strips out there that Comixpedia will not be covering in this roundup of some of the best new webcomics. I’m sure, in fact, that the best of them aren’t. But until we can figure out how to make this work, we’re all in the soup: confused, overwhelmed, and with the haunting feeling that we’re missing out on life and not getting everything we deserve.
Well, except for the cute girls.
As I said, the same as it ever was.
Dalton Wemble is a contributing columnist for Comixpedia.