New York Times Article on Webcomics

The New York Times has an article on webcomics entitled Comics Escape a Paper Box, and Electronic Questions Pop Out (free registration required).

The article starts by refering to Scott Mccloud’s Understanding comics and Reinventing comics and Gary Groth’s (The comics journal, Fantagraphics) rebuttal to it. It continues by mentioning ways to find webcomics, the Webcartoonist Choice Awards and a number of webcomics who won awards this year. The article also has a paragraph dedicated to the trouble of making money from webcomics.

Unfortunately, the writer focuses almost exclusively on what she perceives as the negative aspects of online comics and the idea of infinite canvases. Few, if any, advantages are mentioned.

But when it comes to the content of Web comics, Mr. Groth was right. The comics that use digital technology to break out of their frozen boxes are really more like animated cartoons. And those that don’t are just like the old, pre-digital ones, without the allure of the printed page and with a few added headaches for reader and creator alike.




  1. Is every article in the New York Times written like that? It reads like they ran it through a random sentence generator to polish it up.

    All these “Pow! Biff! Comics on the Internet?!” cranky pieces of reporting on webcomics only say to me that newspapers are scared that the end is nearing. “Without the allure of the printed page?” I say! These 10-megapixel digital photographs lack the charm of daguerreotype! Bring me the Mercury vapours and tinctures of Iodine!

  2. Darn those comics that “require scrolling”. Damn that scrolling to hell. That will be the death of webcomics… and the internet!

  3. I might have had more to comment on but I refused to read the article beyond where I had to scroll (plus it wasn’t animated and gave me a “few added headaches”). I’ll wait and see if it gets printed in the newspaper and read it then. It’s much easier to juggle a 3 foot wide stack of unbound folded paper. =)

  4. Hint for future reference, Sarah and Gary:

    Animation- Reader is not controlling their progress through the images. They are passive participants. TV is the same.

    Comics- Reader controls their progress through the images. They are active participants. Books are the same.

    Thus “The Discovery Of Spoons” is verging on animation about as much as my nutsack is verging on being a bag of Doritos.

  5. I get the feeling I’m going to have the minority view, here. 🙂

    I say we freakin’ NEED this. It’s about damn time somebody OUTSIDE of webcomics offered a perspective that wasn’t, “Whoa! There are comics on the INTERWEB now! Pow! Bam! CLICK!”

    Kris, I disagree sharply that this article falls into that category. Sarah Boxer seems preoccupied with the 2001 Groth-McCloud debate, which is a bit on the ancient side, but she’s looking for a perspective on webcomics similar to her own– outside and skeptical– and the pickings are therefore slim. Also, THE NEW YORK TIMES has *no* comics section– asserting that they’re just covering their asses is therefore meaningless.

    Read the article, CAREFULLY. It’s obvious she’s got a lot of respect for the art in COPPER and DIGGER, and appeals to the WCCAs as an authority for the writing in NARBONIC. However, she mentions problems with the interface that a lot of new readers go through. Problems that you and I, who have read webcomics every day for years, have all but forgotten. Problems we BETTER DAMN REMEMBER IF WE WANT THE WEBCOMICS AUDIENCE TO GET MUCH BIGGER THAN IT IS.

    William G, I’m honestly startled to see you nitpicking this one, because one of the points you made that I liked the best during your critical days was that we devoted comics fans exercise disproportionate power over the medium, which can turn the common person off of comics. We disagree about how far this has gone on the Web, but I agree that it’s a serious problem. The notion that you’ve got to scroll and THEN click with every installment is not the friendliest notion to that common person.

    It’s true that by the advanced, Marshall-McLuhan theory, THE DISCOVERY OF SPOONS is not animation, but in the simplest terms– click, and the pictures move into or out of your vision as if they are alive. That’s the entymological ROOT of “animation.”

    Is it a perfect piece? Hell, no. The idea that “it’s not an infinite canvas if you pay for it” seems a bit disingenuous, and I can’t believe the TIMES doesn’t have the budget to spot her a few subscription dollars. (You have to pay for the archives of print comic strips, too, only we call those “Andrews and McMeel paperbacks.”) She could have stood to conduct ONE interview with someone working on those strips she mentions and ASK them the question directly. And her criterion for a webcomics’ “success” seems to be a comic that would please not only herself as a reader, but also Groth AND McCloud circa 2001, and that’s a rare comic indeed. (Incidentally, both McCloud and Groth have modified their opinions in the last four years.)

    But these flaws don’t negate all her points. The comments I’ve seen so far (including Xaviar’s) seem to be very automatically defensive. I know it’s not easy when Mom tells us our tie’s on crooked, but we still ought to fix that before we go to school.

    I won’t be “fixing” DIGGER. I’m not that kind of editor. In my experience, artists who come into comics with the page firmly in mind do their best work if they’re allowed to conform to that page. Ursula’s made no secret of her print ambitions. Not to mention it’s about 200 pages too late to bring it up. Where this criticism is valuable is in the design of new comics, comics that can reach beyond the established “webcomics audience” and bring in new readers. We owe it to ourselves to be as accessible as we can.

  6. T. I pretty much agree with all of your points. But yeah, I was nitpicking, but it’s a nit that I feel always needs to be picked.

    Call me a filthy McLuhanite if you must. 😉

  7. For the record, Sarah Boxer asked for, and received, free subscriptions to all the MT sites while writing this article. Complaining about having to subscribe to read some of the comics is certainly fair game, though: it *is* an inconvenience to the reader. Just like, you know, paying for the Times is an inconvenience.

    I thought this one was better than the WaPo article. Sure, it’s critical and nitpicky, but many of the criticisms she raises are criticisms you can see people from “within” the “webcomics community” raise from time to time. It doesn’t sting quite so much when we criticize ourselves. But we’re going to have to develop tougher skins anyway: this kind of attention from the outside is going to become more and more frequent, not less.

    And that’s a Good Thing.

    And she mentioned WebcomicsNation! Whoooooooooooooot!!!!!!!!


  8. But if she had a sub to serializer, why does she make it sound like Pup doesn’t have any infinite canvas comics? It makes it seem like she choose only to mention things that fit a preconceived idea. In fact the very general idea that “The comics that use digital technology to break out of their frozen boxes are really more like animated cartoons. ” seems to come solely from her having read Spoons.

  9. You can’t count on the mainstream press to understand what they’re writing about, or to cut very deeply, when it comes to arts and entertainment. That’s not what they *do*. I learned this lesson as an early eighties punk rock kid, when all the articles about the subject would carelessly lump, say, The Clash (social message, solid music-making, tight, poetic, meaningful lyrics) and The Plasmatics (ex porn star with a chain saw, an old TV set, and a mohawk) together. The mainstream doesn’t pay attention to the details. That’s just the way it goes.

    What the mainstream does do is define, generally, what’s noteworthy, and what isn’t. Punk (or what they thought was punk) was noteworthy in the early eighties, to the mainstream media — and even though they didn’t understand it, the fact that they began devoting their time to it, no matter how sensationalistically or emptily, eventually led to it becoming more important to more people than it would have been otherwise. For example, I discovered the Clash at the age of sixteen through a Tom Snyder “Tomorrow Show” broadcast (which also featured, um, The Plasmatics and, um, Adam and the Ants, I think).

    If webcomics is becoming one of those “things to pay attention to” within mainstream press circles — even if that attention is kind of inattentive — we may be in for a very interesting next few years.


  10. I guess this is one of those things where one has to look at the bright sides (attention) and accept (and weep silently) the bad ones.

  11. T — like I said in my own essay over on the ‘snark, to me it’s not her conclusions — it’s almost criminal lack of contemporary research done for the article.

    At least two of her conclusions echo things I’ve said, for the record. So clearly I’m not attacking the idea of someone saying our tie’s crooked. However, when we’re told our tie is out of style when the person in question clearly hasn’t looked at Men’s ties in eight years, you question any other fashion points they may raise.

    And how can you possibly discuss whether or not webcomics have been financially successful without even siting examples of the different webcomics that have tried different approaches. Or for that matter, mentioned those different approaches. The answer is, “when you don’t actually know anything about them.”

    Boxer phoned this in. We sure as heck need to be saying her tie is crooked.

  12. And the funny thing about that is that I consider “Spoons” to be pretty conservative with its use of animation–no internal panel animation, no moving figures. Nothing but simple fades in and out to build the pages, which, once built, are static. While I agree that comics using animation do walk a fine line, I really thought that with “Spoons,” we stayed pretty unambiguously on the comics side of the line.

  13. I agree with Websnark this morning. It’s not a “Pow! Bam!” piece like I suggested before, but it is horribly researched and, once again, a little down on webcomics. If webcomics have problems, it’s not because animation might be entering the picture occasionally.

    We do not need reports about webcomics in which they are described as lacking “the allure of the printed page,” anymore than we need articles about new marriages lacking the allure of the two being the same race.

    Webcomics need mainstream coverage. I’m just tired of nothing being a homerun. So far, webcomics are nothing but this little awkward thing that doesn’t have much of a future, or a place where real artists slum it on the internet.

  14. The problem with comparing “Webcomics” to “alluring printed comics”, is that many webcomics are or will be available in print. With many of them, the idea is to have them printed, but they are put online to advertise and/or develop readership. Also a way to get the most recent strip/pages to viewers.

    Basically I got from this article that webcomics are inconvenient, not as nice to read as paper, clunkily trying to use new media and many are needing subscriptions. What the hell fantasy world is this in comparison too? Does the NY Times not need a subscription? Does the paperboy show up at my door with it for free, opened to the comic page with his thumb on my favorite comic? I’m picking on paper, because books still cannot compete by delivering a daily comic… daily.

    If we are comparing print to digital, then why not compare the same comic, it’s printed form and its web provided form. Rather than try to pidgeonhole webcomics in general as trying to be some new religion.

    It’s a friggin liberty that I get to view the beautiful “Copper” online at no cost to me and not wait for it to be put into a book, at which time I’ll still have the option to purchase it and flip through it’s “alluring” pages.

    This is not good times for webcomics. I no longer produce a “webcomic”. I now produce a full color online brochure for a comic book that I am producing. =)


  15. “Rather than try to pidgeonhole webcomics in general as trying to be some new religion.”

    It’s not?

  16. I do agree that a lot of the assumptions Boxer brings to the table are not useful. And “the allure of the printed page” brings to mind horrible images of comic book fanboys humping their Mylar-bagged comic books in their mom’s basements.

    Mainstream attention breeds more mainstream attention, though, and, eventually, better mainstream attention. I’d bet anything that the existence of this article was a direct result of the Washington Post article’s existence. An editor at the Times read the WaPo article, and put Boxer on the case. And this article, in turn, will cause more editors to assign webcomics articles to their reporters. It just works that way. Example: I worked at for two years before we ever got any mentions in the press. Then one day a reporter from Wired called. Two days after his article appeared, a reporter from The Wall Street Journal called. Within three months, we’d been covered in every rag from Playboy to the Silicon Valley Investor. And the press never stopped coming after that.

    That’s the kind of chain reaction I’m hoping we can see here. And the more articles there are, the better they will become, as the reporters educate themselves (by reading the previous articles, among other things), and as the competition to really tell the story heats up.

    Here’s hoping.

    It’s interesting to note that the Wired article on came after we won a “streaming media industry” award at the Realnetworks Conference. This article is ripe with references to the WCCA. Those internal-insider-whatever awards things *do* serve a function beyond just patting each other on the back, sometimes …


  17. I’m gonna prove my total lack of coolness as a suave artist type, and say that my reaction was basically “OH MY GOD, the New York Times mentioned “Digger”! I GOTTA CALL MY MOM!”


    Err, yes. Anyway. Digger does work better as a print comic than it does as a webcomic, frankly, both in terms of visuals and writing. I don’t think she’s wrong there, nor is it a criticism that hasn’t been made before. And so far as I’m concerned, having somebody in the NYTimes call my stuff “a graphically powerful strip” is a helluva lot better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. It IS too late to change Digger–my publisher would weep, for one thing–but I think it’s a perfectly valid criticism, and if I were starting a new strip today, I’d seriously consider a more horizontal format.

  18. I think I’m in general agreement with T. Campbell. This article is very good. Of course it’s not perfect, but I’m having a lot of trouble figuring out what people are complaining about here. There seems to be the idea (coming from “websnark” and “Airsick Moth”) that the article has an “almost criminal lack of contemporary research done for the article. … Boxer phoned this in” and “it is horribly researched.” Those are strong words, and you two are completely wrong.

    By my count, Sarah Boxer’s sources are two 200+ page books (Understanding and Reinventing Comics), three lenghty Comics Journal articles, and at least 14 webcomics and webcomics sites. That’s not “horribly researched.” Yeah, her oldest source is “Understanding” which is from 1993, but Reinventing and everything else is from 2000 and beyond. For all of the comics she discusses, she’s looking at their most recent stuff. That’s not an “almost criminal lack of contemporary research.”

    For the record, the webcomics and comic sites I counted were:

    OnlineComics. net
    Web Cartoonists Choice Awards
    Modern Tales
    Alpha Shade
    Perry Bible Fellowship
    Count Your Sheep
    The Discovery of Spoons

    And of course those are just the ones she chose to write about. She likely looked at quite a few more comics that she chose not to write about. So, in conclusion, having about 20 sources for a newspaper article is not a “criminal” or “horrible” level of research.

    And if that’s not the case, then what are you two complaining about? That somebody wrote an article about comics and they didn’t mention you or your favorites?

  19. Yeah, first thing I did was e-mail my Mom too, with much the same message!

    As to the format comment: while it may be a true criticism, it’s still a trivial criticism. That little bit of scrolling is no big deal.

    But what do I know–I’m causing comics to “lose themselves,” after all. =)

  20. What is this “comic windows dot com,” by the way? I’ve never heard of it, and the link doesn’t work … anybody know what she was trying to link to? Maybe comic window dot com, or comic widows dot com or …? Given the context, I’m guessing it’s some sort of portal similar to But who knows.


  21. According to NetSol, is an unregistered domain. If you were to go right now and register that domain, and redirect it to your own site, you would retroactively nab yourself a link in the New York Times!

    Counting down … 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 ….


  22. I was kind of surprised to see this article appear just a few days after the G4 TV WCCA segment. The WCCA’s definately seemed to be a starting point for picking comics to review. I have to wonder if that started the media ball rolling….

    Then again, maybe I’m just patting myself on the back. ;D

  23. It is recognition well deserved, for all the comics mentioned in the piece.

  24. See, I begin to understand how these articles are written. Someone watches AotS!, sees you on there. They visit the WCCA website, and look at all the comics you mentioned on the program. But that’s it. She probably felt like she was going out on a real investigative limb by hunting down Webcomics Nation.

    In other words, if I paid for a Super Bowl ad about Zortic, Starslip Crisis, and Showtime’s long-defunct animated web series failure WhirlGirl, we would see a few articles in prominent papers like: “hmm! What are webcomics! Well, it looks like webcomics are Zortic, SsC, WhirlGirl, and that’s it.” And if those comics aren’t very good to the reporter, or if she was viewing the sites on a 386 at 640×480, well, then all webcomics are awkward and amateur and not worth anyone’s time.

  25. You know, I think we’re getting very, very close to the real chain of events.

    Because she didn’t “hunt down” Webcomics Nation.

    She emailed Tom Hart asking how she could get access to serializer (to read “Pup,” which she mentioned having learned about via the WCCA’s). When I sent her a password to serializer, I, um, kind of mentioned Webcomics Nation too.

    You know.

    Just because.

    Using exactly the same language to describe WCN that ended up in her article.

    So the way she found out about Webcomics Nation goes:

    AotS -> WCCA’s -> Pup -> Tom Hart -> me

    Me? I’m loving it … (grin).


  26. Here’s the thing. Ms. Boxer is a print cartoonist. If you go to this page, you can check out her book of comics and read her biography, which confirms that she’s the same Sarah Boxer who works as a critic/reporter for the New York Times and states that she published her first comic at eleven. So what we have is someone who enjoys comics and literary criticism, which is pretty much The Comics Journal’s target audience. And if she wasn’t already fond of TCJ before, when it gave her book a favorable review several years ago, it may have made her a convert. Or, at least, a subscriber.

    So, perhaps, there’s a bit of a bias on Ms. Boxer’s part. Why else would she bring up that old Groth vs. McCloud feud, anyhow? That’s ancient news, man. Why not discuss the profitable webcomics, which a simple Google search for “webcomics” would have turned up? Comics like Penny-Arcade, which has grown so popular that they’re able to hold yearly fundraisers and send thousands of dollars worth of toys and games to local children’s hospitals.

    I don’t think she wanted to see the better aspects of webcomics, frankly, because she’s all about the print.

  27. I have no problem with that article whatsoever. I wonder tho, would you call a financial success to be followed as example a guy who personally called anyone that bought over US$ 500,00 worth of products in a public pledge to save his company from bankrupcy?

  28. Read that as “I have no problem with that article whatsoever. I wonder tho, would you call a financial success to be followed as example a guy who personally called anyone that bought over US$ 500,00 worth of products to thank them in a public pledge to save his company from bankrupcy?

  29. To recap: Penny-Arcade holds fundraisers to help sick little kids, Fantagraphics holds fundraisers to keep from going out of business.

  30. Well, I guess I should be grateful that i have my inspiration for my next “Essence” comic now.

  31. It’s been some week. I don’t think you’d be out of material even if the article never was.

  32. That’s the problem with that piece really. As soon as I saw her point out Spoons as her example of too much animation as to not be a webcomic I just laughed. It seems like writing an article about videogame violence and using Mario SuperKart Racers as your example of when a game really crosses the line of good taste. You just wanna go “huh?”

    Also, nothing personal against Mr. Groth (I’ve never met him and currently don’t subscribe to his magazine although I have in the past) but who care what he thinks about webcomics? He said his antiweb piece several years ago and I haven’t heard him make a useful public comment on the subject since.

  33. Ping Teo wrote an essay about this that I pretty much agreed with. I tend to think all publicity is good publicity but I do wish this writer had talked to/quoted folks relevant to the here and now of webcomics (I don’t put Gary Groth in that category, sorry..)

    I especially liked Ping’s musing on the transition from cave painting comics to print comics…!

  34. It occurs to me, the problem with people lining up in opposition to each other over this by taking sides with either the It’s poorly researched argument or the It’s an everyman reaction argument is that neither argument addresses the point of the other so neither is a rebuttal of the other.

    “Less filling!”

    “Tastes great!”

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