I figured I oughta write something about webcomics
Submitted by Neal Von Flue on April 18, 2008 - 01:50
I'm not entirely sure of the last time I posted anything about webcomics. To me, there's not much going on of great interest. I'm one of those "formalists" or "icontrashists", you know, the kind of dude who doesn't care much for "classicists" or "conventionalist" goers or whatever. I previously had stated that I thought webcomics were in a sort of cooling or contracting period after the second "big bang" of experimental work that birthed many of the concrete uses the internet has provided us as comic-makers (Screen-shaped pages, serialization, community and fanbase building, online collectives, digital distribution, the destruction of the micropay and subscription models, and thier final successful cumulative bastardization, "the teeshirt shill") In all of that, there isn't many new and artful boundaries to be pushed. To my mind, people are now paving over the trails that were blazed before, readying them for the automobiles soon to come barreling down the highway. The larger print comics companies have been venturing out on the roads, into the suburbs for weekend picnics, trying out models for IP collecting, the re-monetizing of old material, and straight up digital wharehouseing.
All that to say that I think webcomics have cooled. And all of this has made a solid base for comics online, so long as you can stick to the formula. Lots of updates, cult of personality, plenty of merch, etc....But where does it leave guys like me, the formalists who are looking around for work that is inventive. Work that inspires new ways to tell old stories. Where are the comics that are hammering out tools for the next generation to hone and refine? Honestly, outside of B.Shur, I haven't found much. I've had to look outside of webcomics for my webcomics fix. And man, are some guys leaving formalists like me in the dust!
Last year I was intensely proud to be a part of a project with writer Mark Teppo. Many years before, we collaborated on a short fiction piece at the now dormant opi8.com, and later, Mark took what was a short and interesting piece about a noir dream detective, and turned it into the Oneromantic Mosaic of Harry Potemkin, which ran as a serial at Farrago's Wainscot.The piece is nothing short of a massive achievement on Mark's part, a sprawling, extensive, convoluted dream diary made spatial by the use of hyperlinked "Story Nodes" which create an entirely non-linear, yet serialized, reading experience.
Now I know some of you jerks just fell asleep during that last sentence and frankly, I'm glad.
Now, the Potemkin story is done and resides in it's entirety at www.psychobabel.net/, where each story node is meticulously cataloged for your navigation. Or, if you prefer to jump in and learn to swim, you can pick any one of the 12 greater chapters to start with. Or, if you're visually minded, you can choose where to begin the story based on glimpses of the illustrations I made for each chapter. Or, if none of those appeal to you, there's another page which contains many different ways to travel through the story (example: here's a navigation tree of every conversation that includes the character "Nora")
Do you see what I'm getting at here? Right there is 5 user-defined ways to read a single story. And there's a ton more. Not to mention the actual navigation of linked nodes as you read. It's an endless complication, a perfect mirror of a dream, set out before you to race or pace through.
It's what webcomics wanted to try, but never got around to...
And this brings me to another great illustration of how comics have always been the geeky younger virginal cousin of print books. We are always on the scene first (cause we're helping the hot cheerleader with her homework) but we just can't seal the deal.
There's a wealth of great navigational tricks here. There's a story told through Google Maps. There's a story that unfolded across a fictional character's blog and Twitter account. There's a story that was written and published live, (a sort of equivalent to a live-blogged 24 hour comic), there's even the holy Grail of non-linear webcomics, a successful choose your own adventure story. And frankly I'm hard pressed to figure out in what way this one isn't already a comic. And let's not forget, this isn't a bunch of guys trying out new things in their spare time. They were paid to do this. By a big-name publisher. The kind of publisher that puts every one making a living on webcomics today collectively to shame.
Why is it that webcomics could have been so close to making work like this, years ago, yet totally drop the ball when the time was right? I mean, we've had talented people create programs to do just this kind of work, and we ignore them. Does it have something to do with our inherited relationship to print comics, a built-in inferiority complex? Lord knows print comics have been illegitimized by text-based books all of their lives.
At a time when comics and supposed "lowbrow" art is enjoying a zenith of popularity, when we have museum and gallery shows dedicated to the achievements of our past innovations, why is it that we're not keeping our eye on the next horizon? What kind of future successes are we missing, while scrambling to make this medium a success?