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.