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No More "Webcomics" Suck Stories Please

I just saw a draft article from someone (not intended for Comixpedia I think - just something someone was looking for feedback on) which was basically the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back" for me.

I'm sure you've seen the gist of this proposed article in countless posts for almost as long as there's been comics posted on the web:

  • Webcomics (or most of 'em) are crap;
  • The Webcomics Community (or some sub-set of people making webcomics, reading webcomics, commenting on webcomics, etc) is crap;
  • There's no such thing as webcomics - everything's comics;
  • People in "webcomics" are too focused on "webcomics" and not the "outside" world; and

Well, that probably covers the broad themes of such rants. Let's just think about these points for a second (click "read more" to read on!):

  • Is anyone of the belief that, like any other medium of human expression, that there is not more bad then good in webcomics? That no one in webcomics cannot improve? If so dear readers, let me suggest that like all of comics, quality is a pyramid, with an increasingly smaller number of comics achieving the highest levels of quality. It doesn't mean, however, that there is not value in making any webcomic, nor in trying to improve one's abilities - there is a benefit to everyone from exercising the creative side of the brain. There is also no way to tell in advance who will have the drive and the potential talent to make webcomics lots of people will want to read.
  • Does anyone still believe there is a monolithic "webcomics community" (I believe the draft article actually used the term "hivemind") that includes and represents everyone that makes, reads and/or writes about webcomics? Did I miss the constitutional convention for this nation/state of Webcomics? People come to "webcomics" for all kinds of reasons and they stay connected to (or leave) "webcomics" for even more kinds of reasons. Just because there are countless different motivations and different reasons and different activities one can do that can be grouped together as "webcomics" doesn't mean there's some kind of organization or even a shared set of values. It just means in the gigantic Venn diagram of life there is/are overlap(s) between a lot of us in what we're interested in.

    And for the record - are some people who have an interest in webcomics kind of assholes? Sure, and here's a bit of advice: ignore the assholes. They'll always exist but you have no obligation to pay any attention to them. The vast majority of people I've run across because of some common interest in comics are human, even online, and I've been happy to interact with them.

  • Does anyone still believe that webcomics are not comics? I'm not sure anyone has believed this, but like any other innovation in a medium, acceptance takes time. Ten years ago, no matter what you published on the web, no one invested in any form of print comics could get past their fundamental belief that anything of quality would be in print and not on the web. Today in 2007, I have no doubt from conversations with all kinds of people that comics published on the web are basically judged on their quality and not their format. There are still folks more interested in web-specific things like websites, or the kinds of comics you can only publish in a digital form (like the now classic infinite canvas) but I don't think that's the same as saying webcomics are not comics. It just means that not everyone interested in comics shares 100% of the same interests.
  • Do a lot of people in webcomics focus on webcomics? Actually yes, but properly understood, there's nothing wrong with this. For a lot of people, creators, and readers - their interest is on a single comic or maybe several comics in a particular genre. For a lot of webcomics that focus on a specific topic (like video games, librarians, graduate students) a lot of their readers don't read any other comics. They don't consider themselves fans of comics in anyway - they read a comic because it's about a subject that is of interest to them. For any of these folks why should they pay attention to more webcomics or even all comics?

    And for creators themselves? Creators hopefully pay attention to what they're interested in. If I was going to criticize creators it would be for paying too much attention to any kind of comics and ignoring every other kind of artistic expression not to mention the rest of the world. At the end of the day creators are people too and they need to decide how best to spend their limited amount of time.

There's one more bit that comes up in this type of rant: that people are too "team webcomics" - that is uncritically supportive of webcomics. Let's put aside for a second that there's a long tradition in comics of boosterism ("Team Comics" is a pretty old term - decades - at this point to describe a particular type of writing) and break this down. If there's any point I hope sticks with people from today's post is that there is no monolithic "webcomics" - and so you need to be clear what part of (web)comics you're talking about.

Boosterism for getting people involved in making and reading (web)comics is a good thing. I know some people are unhappy that a crappy webcomic is ever made but I've never understood that. Reading comics can be an enjoyable experience. Making comics is fun. Webcomics are about the easiest way to make and publish a comic there is. People nowadays write their own stuff (blogs), record their own stuff (mp3s and now video) -- is it any surprise that some of them are making comics too? More people comfortable with comics as a means of expression and communication is a good thing both for those individual people but also for comics which still struggles for broader acceptance by North American audiences.

Boosterism expressed as pretending all webcomics are great is not a good thing. But I don't see a lot of this myself. If you want good reviews of webcomics you need to patronize sites that are trying to write honest reviews. Anyone can start a site and throw up a "review" but I'm not going to waste time worrying about that and you shouldn't either. If a website isn't getting any attention (just look at a site's Alexa ranking for an approximate, if flawed bit of data) it's not part of the "conversation" (or really multiple overlapping conversations that different groups of webcomics-interested people are having). If you want to find webcomics you'll enjoy reading you have the same problem everyone has in any medium nowadays - there's too much music, tv, movies, books etc., too. You can look to critics you trust (or at least tolerate) but you can also rely on more automated sites (like top lists, ranking, etc) and on other forms of online-word-of-mouth (links, recommendations, etc). If you look you're going to find some stuff you like. It won't be necessarily the same as what I like, but who cares - the point is whether you like it or not.

So in sum here's my plea. No more "webcomic strawmen" articles where the writer creates this stereotype of all webcomics in order to knock it down. It's lazy, uninformative and a waste of time for the writer and for anyone who reads it. By all means criticize comics but if you do, be prepared to be specific about what you're talking about. Do some research. Think about why you as a person are qualified to offer these criticisms. Offer real suggestions tied to the specific issues you've identified based on the actual research you did.

I'm interested in reading articles about (web)comics - both individual parts of it and about big pieces of it. From now on though let's try and make sure these articles add something to our understanding and not just waste our time.

I had this argument

scarfman's picture

I had this argument about once a year with the same guy back when I still hung out on LambdaMOO regularly, about fanfiction; and he always lost. He wanted to convince me that all fanfiction is crap when I have thirty-five years' experience that not all fanfiction is crap. Chris Jeffrey above has the right of it: webcomics, like internet fanfiction, doesn't have a higher rate of crap than other creative endeavors; it has a higher rate of exposure.

Paul Gadzikowski, paul@arthurkingoftimeandspace.com
Arthur, King of Time and Space New cartoons daily

The last bastion of freedom!

osideris's picture

To all webcomics fans and critics alike:

I'm completely new to the whole genre of webcomics and since I have sunk my teeth into it I have not regretted a single moment of it. Webcomics, just like everything on the web, are free to produce in any format and in any genre the creator chooses. Giving webcomics creators true freedom rarely ever expressed in the print world. More and more creative freedoms are infringed upon by those who hold all the publishing power. Never has it been so easy to publish print comics and never has there been so many people doing it, and unfortunately never has it been so hard to be successful at it. This makes it very competitive for hard-working creators out there. Some creators like me just want to learn by others example and try their hand at something that is not so restrictive or requires so much more time and resources invested to even try. Knowledge, increasing storytelling ability, and exploring the limits of the human imagination are more important to me at this point in time. Webcomics have given me this freedom, through reading them, drawing them and writing plots that continue to boggle my readers has given me a lot of confidence in my ability as a creator. Webcomics, for me have made a tremendous impact, but like anything it is what you make of it. Good or bad, for money or power, to fulfill some philosophical ideal or political scheme; webcomics and their creators can accomplish great things. Just look at what "Broken Saints" has done or the multitude of others that have defied belief and inspired many others like me to try their hand at such a competitive and growing genre.

I think most of the people

Chris Jeffery's picture

I think most of the people who complain about webcomics fail to grasp how the internet works. It makes every comic on the internet available to you with just a few clicks. Of course you're going to see a lot of horrible comics, there's no publishers or editors making sure the comics that make it to your eyes have any semblance of talent. This is simultaneously one of the best and worst things about the medium. While there is no form of quality control in webcomics, you are also free to pick comics which suit your own personal taste, while newspaper comics are limited to a selection of comics with all-ages appeal.

Webcomics don't suck, people who bash them are simply used to having someone sort out the good and bad for them.

Chris Jeffery
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cartridgecomics.com

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Chris Jeffery
Cartridge

Josh Lesnick's Art School Confidential

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

In contrast to the types of webcomics suck articles that set me off to write this post take a look at Josh Lesnick's (creator of Wendy and Girly!) recent critique of the art of several webcomics (all pulled from T Campbell's recent "popular" list based on Alexa data). It's concrete, it has feedback and it's talking about actual individual comics (and cites examples from the archives!). Everyone may not agree with Lesnick's opinions but at least we know what he's looking at and he's talking about specific comics (instead of make generic comments about the whole of "(web)comic-dom").

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Xaviar Xerexes

On second thought, let's not go to Comixpedia. It is a silly place.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

Its fear...

Erg's picture

To criticize webcomics in general, ironically, I'd say this sort of thing is what people really won't do in webcomics because their was SO MUCH drama in the past people are afraid to create it now lest they be crucified. The classic example for me was the william g's critique of penny arcade and pvp. Sure, I completely disagreed with him and thought his ideas were, at heart, bitter elitism, but he laid out exactly what he thought and why. And then was treaty as if he shot a puppy. And then ate it. Raw. Every time specific criticism comes out there is a war. So people won't do it.

Big Difference Actually

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

Oh I think there's a tremendous difference in what Josh wrote here and what you're pointing to. Regardless of Josh's overall feelings towards the state of webcomics art, he managed to be pretty measured in his tone in this post. He also manages to stick to comments tied to things the artist is actually doing.

The other one? Well you already pointed to the biggest problem - it came dripping in attitude and preconceived conclusions that all but ensured something not at all measured in tone and intended not to offer constructive criticism but to piss off people and garner attention for the "critic".

The Internet is not that much different than life - if you want people to listen to what you're saying don't be an a$$ about it. Drama may be unavoidable, but most people can figure out when people are acting in good faith and when they're not.

 

 

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Xaviar Xerexes

On second thought, let's not go to Comixpedia. It is a silly place.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

For the Record

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

For the record, William G was suspended from participation at Comixpedia because of his behavior here. Because of his actions towards me and the site after his suspension he was permanently banned and is not welcome to post or comment here. He is, in fact, the only person I've had to permanently ban in the 4+ years of this site's operation.

If anyone is interested in reading any comments William G has to make about this thread or anything else he has his own websites and you can seek him out there.

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Xaviar Xerexes

On second thought, let's not go to Comixpedia. It is a silly place.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

Maybe...

Erg's picture

Maybe, buut I've seen what seemed like good faith criticism stir up a crap storm. The biggest one was just the example I pointed too, even if it was done in less good faith.

Also a good point

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

People are always going to be sensitive to criticism. Artists almost always are (whether they're good or bad artists).

Even the most measured constructive criticism offered in good faith may be taken badly. But if I was making comics myself I'd suck it up and read something like Josh's post because it's very specific on where things are flawed and how to improve.

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Xaviar Xerexes

On second thought, let's not go to Comixpedia. It is a silly place.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

True.

Erg's picture

I just think the internet in general has a way of turning little criticism into flame wars, if only between fans of artists in question.

What?

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

Randy,

What did we not run? Let me know what you're talking about - I'm sure we'd be happy to post or link to your comments.

In any event, I wasn't thinking about you when writing the post above.

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Xaviar Xerexes

On second thought, let's not go to Comixpedia. It is a silly place.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

Er..

I think he's being funny/sarcastic.

Yeah maybe

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

I didn't even think of that...

 

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Xaviar Xerexes

On second thought, let's not go to Comixpedia. It is a silly place.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

It's okay. One of the

It's okay. One of the mainly problems of the web - no voice infelction.

Oh, I see how it is.

The one time I try to get some sorta mention on this site and not only do you NOT run it, you make a post BASHING it.

This... this is what's wrong with webcomics - ELITEISM!

All you webcomics bigwigs are trying to keep me down.

I see how it is... this is WAR.

 

or something. I need to nap first.

Y'know, there's always going

Unityflow's picture

Y'know, there's always going to be someone willing to take an ill-informed jab at anything. These are all easy criticisms of the state of webcomics, but most of them are applicable to any niche endevour. Try it with music etc.

I tend to find that the sort of people that write articles like the one you are referring to, have little or no talent in creating comics or feel threatened by the new ways in which they are distributed. They feel left out even though they want to be part of the 'scene'.

Hoho, what 'scene'? I just see a bunch of people making comics.

 

 

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