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2003: Year in Review From the Mouth of Your Fave Webtoonists, by Kelly J Cooper

2003 was a pretty scary year. Whether you agree with it or not, war is a pretty terrifying thing. We lost another space shuttle, another crew, and – in a bad case of déjà vu – followed a flurry of finger-pointing in the aftermath. The world decided that coughing would kill you and whole economies suffered from tourist-anemia in the wake of SARS (less commonly known as "severe acute respiratory syndrome"). The names Elizabeth Smart and Jessica Lynch were repeated so often that their stories lost all meaning and the word-sounds became aural torture devices. A heat wave in Europe killed thousands and thousands of people. The Recording Industry Association of America tried to sue everybody. Lots of things and places and people got blown up.

On the plus side, some fishermen caught a Colossal Squid – only the second ever whole one to be seen. Martha Stewart got taken down a notch. A new Harry Potter book hit the bookshelves. Liberia got rid of one very big problem and is working on the rest. The U.S. economy appeared to kinda-sorta stop spiraling out of control. In a real stunner, Libya actually accepted blame for the bombing over Lockerbie.

Actually, it's pretty hard to find "good" news in the world. Not necessarily because there's a lack of it (although there is a lack), but because it's tough to define good. Bad or evil or wrong stuff is easier. We can all generally agree that death, human suffering, bullies, and the like are all really awful. But what constitutes good in the eyes of some (e.g. gay rights, cloning) may be things that are anathema to others.

With that conflict in mind, we reached out to various webcomic creators to get an idea of what was good and bad and weird about 2003 in our own little webcomicky corner of the world.

 

1. Best of 2003 (in webcomics, comics, or the rest of the world)

John Allison: All year, American Elf, Achewood, and Wigu have been duking it out to be the best daily strip, and I still can't determine a winner, because they're all different. L'il Mell by Shaenon Garrity and Vera Brosgol was the best non-daily I saw all year. The best comic book I got was Sweatshop by Peter Bagge.

T Campbell: WEBCOMICS: I'm surely biased, but I'm very proud to have discovered Ursula Vernon's DIGGER for Graphic Smash. Of webcomics to which I have no ties, check out Patrick Farley's excellent "The Spiders".

THE COMICS SPHERE: I don't like a lot of the critical darlings on the stands right now, but I did like Brian Michael Bendis' ALIAS. In movies, X2 is the comic-book film to beat.

THE WORLD AT LARGE: It hasn't been a great year for the world. Popularity polls indicate that Dubya might be slipping at last, does that count?

Jim Zubkavich: Fables, Vertigo. Showing people how to take the familiar and craft it into compelling storytelling every month.

Jeffrey Rowland: Best comic: Hard to say. Of the half dozen I read furiously, they are all the best to me. I'll just say Scary Go Round.

Jamie Robertson: Webcomics: Digger

Rest of the World: Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band voted best album of all time by Rolling Stone.

David Wright: Webcomics? Who had time to read webcomics in 2003? This was the year of porn! Between Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera's contest to see who could dress sluttier, and be more provocative, to Paris Hilton's numerous sex tapes, most guys, and let's face it, girls, too, were too busy looking at nudity on the web to look at webcomics! Next year doesn't promise to get much better, as the Olsen Twins are about to turn 18, and web-surfers all over are rubbing their palms in creepy anticipation.

Shaenon Garrity: I was thrilled when the first collection of Derek Kirk Kim's webcomics, Same Difference and Other Stories, came out in print this summer. Derek is one of the most gifted cartoonists working today, on or off the Web; thankfully, the book is introducing his work to a wider audience. Late this year, he started posting new material on his site, smallstoriesonline.com, thus infusing my otherwise empty life with meaning. His work is invariably insightful, beautifully-drawn, and funny as hell; he's a comics treasure.

The Pants Press group continues to blow just about everyone else out of the water. Their "Wary Tales" minicomic, a collection of short fairy-tale stories, is lovely. Dylan Meconis' "Bite Me" has really hit its stride in recent months – it just gets funnier and funnier. And this year both Vera Brosgol and Bill Mudron illustrated my comic Li'l Mell, which leaves me pleased as punch. Oh, and they all have great hats.

Is everyone aware that Roger Langridge, creator of Fred the Clown, is the most underappreciated cartoonist on the planet? In addition to drawing Fred for Modern Tales, he published a complete new graphic novel, The Thirteenth Floor, on Modern Tales Longplay. And it's friggin' awesome.

2. Worst of 2003 (in webcomics, comics, or the rest of the world)

John Allison: DC cancelling Sweatshop after 6 issues.

T Campbell: WEBCOMICS: The glut of gamer comics. I'm not going to name names, and some of them are not without merit, but the genre as a whole is quickly getting as creatively barren and in-jokey as the worst of superhero comic books.

THE COMICS SPHERE: The HULK movie and the associated adaptation. It was oddly appropriate that this movie managed to overthink itself so much and yet, at the same time, be really stupid.

THE WORLD AT LARGE: Well, this Iraqupation isn't exactly making me dance a jig. Runner-up: the spread of easily hackable voting machines, which may be the largest single threat to democracy in the century to date.

Jim Zubkavich: Disappointing Matrix finish makes Attack of the Clones look like a half-decent film.

Jeffrey Rowland: Webcomics: the fact that there are like a hundred thousand of them now. Rest of World: The continued reign of belligerent, self-righteous chaos led by George W. Bush and the resulting death, horror, and ignorant, misguided jingoism.

Jamie Robertson: Any comic devoted to the Michael Jackson debacle, 'cause, you know, it's just too damn pathetic now.

David Wright: "Hitler Kitten on the Moon": What started as the tender story of a kitten with the unfortunate name of Hitler, quickly devolved into your average cliché 'Kitten on the Moon With Space Lawyer Babes' space romp/musical, that we've seen webcomics do hundreds, if not thousands of times before.

Shaenon Garrity: Bad webcomics? Perish the thought.

 

3. Most interesting webcomic event of 2003

John Allison: A lot of webcomics this year put out books that actually sold, that weren't just vanity projects. I'll be fascinated to see next year if publishers start to court web-based creators. If you can sell 2000 books out of your spare room, what could you do with actual distribution?

T Campbell: Keenspot's rapid-fire recruitment of webcartoonists, a severe about-face from their policy of the last two years, when Alan Moore would have had a tough time getting on there without six months of lobbying. Was it a response to the growth of Modern Tales? Hard to say, but either way, some promising talents got rewarded.

Jim Zubkavich: Graphic Smash starts up and is able to create a solid niche for itself.

Jeffrey Rowland: The Dumbrella party on the mound at the San Diego Comic-con. Actually the entire San Diego Comic Con. And both Wigu-cons in Oklahoma.

Jamie Robertson: Maritza's Birthday!

David Wright: Did I mention Paris Hilton?

Shaenon Garrity: Gotta be the launch of BitPass, the first micropayment system to get the thumbs-up from longtime micropayment cheerleader Scott McCloud. There are some very very fine comics available through BitPass now: the Pants Press Wary Tales book, Ethan Persoff's creepy "A Dog and His Elephant," Scott McCloud's "The Right Number," and of course my own comic strip Trunktown, drawn by Tom Hart. I don't believe that webcomics will survive in any worthwhile form unless webcartoonists can be paid for their work, and BitPass presents one possible avenue in that direction.