Webcomics Are From Uranus: No, They Don't All Just Say "I draw this comic for myself" Because That's a Cool Artist Thing to Say
With Return of the King still gallivanting in theaters, everyone knows J. R. R. Tolkien these days (except, evidently, my spell check). So it won't be big news to bring up why it was that the good professor wrote the books in the first place. He wrote a story that he himself wanted to read but had been unable to find.
Tolkien was not a writer of fiction by deliberation, but stumbled into it.
When poking around the Internet, I get the feeling that a lot of people who create webcomics are in the same boat as Tolkien. These are all people who have accidentally landed into comics, and who â€“ more importantly â€“ are also creating the kind of stories and works that they want to read and have not been able to find elsewhere.
It seems a very difficult thing to get into comics at all. As a child, I knew they existed and saw the Archies in the grocery store, but I got my comics out of the newspaper and my illustrated stories in picture books. With print comics existing for the most part only in specialty stores, it is remarkably hard for your layman to get in without any help from someone who's already a fan of comics.
Not so for online comics, which are link-able AND search-able. It's hard to avoid them! So people who know nothing of comics find comics, read them, and start their own. Maybe they already drew, but not comics. Or wrote, but had never seen a comic before. In any case, you have a vast amount of people untainted by ideas of what constitutes a comic.
Sure, you'll find a certain amount of repetition of ideas amongst those who decide to draw and write their own comics and post them on the Internet. School dramas and comedies, gamers sitting around playing games, whimsical manga-esque adventures, etc. These, for the most part, are "teething comics" created by authors who have never done anything of this kind before. But those who have already wet their feet tend to produce comics of startling variety.
Just take a glance at the supposed successful comics. Is there another comic out there like Penny Arcade, PVP, MegaTokyo, Sluggy Freelance (aside from their imitators, of course)? Look at collectives like KeenSpot, the Modern Tales sites, PV Comics, Drunk Duck â€“ the variety is especially noticeable here, despite these comics being collected for a common reader or subscriber.
What's the cause of this variety of form, style, and substance? Freedom to do whatever you want is at the root of it, but more and more I suspect another cause. Comics hadn't previously covered a lot of ground, not in the way that literature has, or even the comparatively aged movie form. Along with the versatility of the form, the inherent duplicity, there is so much to be done in the comic medium that is innovative. And with all this room to maneuver, there is certainly a lot of uncovered ground.
It's this uncovered ground that I blame for the variety. If something is not there and someone wants it, they make it. Like Tolkien writing his histories as fiction because he wanted to read it, webcomic artists and writers are creating comics that have not yet been done not simply for innovation's sake, but because they want to read it themselves.