Narcissism, thy name is Webcomic?

You’ve heard of parents living vicariously through their children, right? Well, living vicariously has now been taken to new extremes. Lo and behold, if you’re not satisfied with leeching life from a REAL person, you can now enjoy the satisfaction of pretending to be uber-cool through completely MADE-UP folks.

Wait, wait, wait… you’re thinking this is about Role-Playing, right?

You couldn’t be any further from the truth. In this day and age, D&D is passe, MUDs are for geriatric denture-wearers, and chat avatars are like, so five minutes ago, dude, omigawd. No, for the REALLY cool people out there, it’s all about starting a webcomic starring you and your friends. I mean, who needs a +5 Vorpal Sword of Extreeme Cheese Cutting when you can control an entire universe with a mini-you inside?

While journal comics are a new breed of autobiography in webcomic format, they’re not the first pioneers of online sequential self-insertion. Comic strips featuring the creator as a main character, often surrounded by real-life friends or roommates, are legion, and they’ve been cluttering up the cyberpanel scene for a while. College life strips abound, and a number of gamer strips tend to be based on creators, as well. More often than not, these ‘vanity comics’ show you how cool, amazing, and hilarious these main characters and their lives are, and thus, by extension, how cool their real-life counterparts must be.

So what makes journal comics any different?

For one thing, journal comics don’t try to be pretty; the truly good ones show you beauty through the ugliness of truth. The avatars don’t always win, aren’t always funny, don’t always get the girl. But they always FEEL real – chances are that you’ll be more likely to identify with a journal comic entry than a vanity comic installment. They’re also not made with the intention to get popular: while some artists actually make money off of their journal comic, most don’t even expect to have a single regular reader, much less hope for a following of fans eager to worship and PayPal a creator’s autobiographical butt to fame and fortune.

Vanity comics are theoretically mostly about entertainment. Sure, as one smart cookie observed once, some strips about ‘real people’ are indeed very entertaining, and considered top-notch stuff in terms of humour and witty observation taken from life around them. But more often than not, vanity comics are all about trying to show readers just how cool and witty the creator and his or her buddies are. It’s not enough that there should be a good joke or bit in the comic, but the avatar has to be the one looking good while delivering the punch. They’re online primping, self-pimping, anti-pimpling cream shot off in great jerks of ego. "Look at us! We’re funny! We’re the shiznit! 23 Skidoo!"

But how much of this is simply role-playing a character that the real-life counterpart would LIKE to be? How much of this is penis posturing – that form of macho overcompensation used as a not-so-clever disguise to mask one’s… ‘inadequacies’? How much of the avatar is actually BASED on the creator, aside from name and hairstyle or favorite hockey jersey?

The best vanity comics seem to be those that don’t always try to sell the avatars as perfect Adonises. Instead, the characters are odd, eccentric or quirky, flawed. These are traits that readers can more easily identify with – not too many people out there are immaculate in every way, last we heard.

Journal comics seem to be the next step, and many struggling vanity writers, with their mediocre attempts at showing how their college life rocks out, might want to pay attention to this emerging alternative. Instead of trying to impress people with postured mad skillz, journal comic artists are just being honest, whether the truth be funny or no. And they’re showing us slices of life, that while far from perfect, are far more interesting than the failed joke about one’s buddies dissing the establishment, and stickin’ it to the man. People are smarter than you think, and they can smell a fake a mile away.

If Narcissus would have been uglier, or at least less vain, he wouldn’t have died so young. Don’t let your webcomic make the same mistake.

It’s okay to be imperfect, don’t cha know. Everyone’s doing it.


  1. Oh, so you’re saying you’re above all these people drawing themselves in a fabulous webcomic with girlfriends are worse than you, because you put your comic self in a comic and make yourself god of the comic? HUH? Just kidding.

    It sounds really mean when you apply this to the specific group – “Your webcomic sucks because you make yourself too happy in it and too many good things happen to you.” But it’s true for any comic, I think- if it has no balance and is either too happy and blessed all the time, or angsty and sad, it comes off as very one dimensional and without something else to save it (really funny jokes, for one) it can easily be awful. It’s not JUST something that happens to creator-as-main-character comics.

  2. True true but some of the worst examples of “its just too easy for any monkey to post a comic on the web” are those where someone throws a couple up on the screen that are about their so-called “life.” It’s not like its the kiss of death if there’s potential there, it just seems like such an easy format it attracts a lot of uncommitted projects.

  3. I agree. But if you wanted to start your own comic about yourself and your buddies, you’d have to be swimming upstream, simply because of all the awful comics that have been prejudicing people against that sort of thing. You know, the old “Oh, great. Not ANOTHER semi-autobiographical but with cute girls comic!”.

    Same as the “Oh great, not ANOTHER manga comic trying to write japanese humor.”

    When your comic can’t even suck on it’s own merits, you know you’ve got a problem.

  4. It’s gonna suck if you’re gonna go Mary-Sue on your comic, which would be as bad as going Mary-Sue on fanfiction. If a character is too perfect, too clever, too good looking, too cool and always wins, there’s a chance that you’ll end up hating his ass and that it’s not gonna become a tridimensional character.

  5. if it has no balance and is either too happy and blessed all the time, or angsty and sad, it comes off as very one dimensional and without something else to save it “
    Good point but I think that a comic that really impressed with the fact that it is believable is El Goonish Shive. This is not too silly, cynical, serious or focused on one main thing. I can name a million comics that have failed to do this or have set themselves up in a constant wave of cynicism e.g Penny Arcade, or CTRL+ALT+DEL. TYhis seems a pity when there are other more deserving strips or journals out there that need better backing than large and popular comics. Also a webcomic writer can fail because of there inability to take themselve anything less than 100% seriously.
    Still, for every 100 penny arcades(good in concept but copied so many times!) there will be one EGS or Modest Destiny that can boost the credibility of the community simply by creating storylines that, although they are fictional, have a palpable sense of reality. You should give credit where credits due and not just accuse some comics of being poorly written or devised.
    Still I liked most of what you said but you need to lay off just one mini-genre and examine the wholoe foundation and base of comics online.

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