Beyond Journal Comics: Life-like Webcomics
If thereâ€™s a favorite pastime among the literary criticism set, itâ€™s probably defining terms.
Well, maybe tearing down some piece of sub-standard work, closely followed by defining terms.
In anticipation of this monthâ€™s theme, which is a "beyond journal comics" look at webcomics that build from reality, we thought weâ€™d open a discussion of what might be included in this genre.
First up is the king of the "my life" perspective, the journal comic. The journal comic is a very popular subgenre, probably because it has a certain amount of simplicity to it. Just document your day or your week. This doesnâ€™t mean that itâ€™s easy, as comickers often struggle with the material of their lives to condense something readable and interesting from it all. Facing the blank page is probably the most common topic of journal entries. But the raw material is at hand â€“ no plots to track, no fictional backgrounds to create, no baby books full of possible names for new characters. As discussed last month, many comickers start out basing their comics on a semi-autobiographical representation of their lives in college, but eventually give up and throw in extra elements.
We could debate whether illustrated blogs should be considered part of the journal comic subgenre or its own subgenre, but we might get lost in semantics and thatâ€™s never a good place to be without an excellent map.
Autobiography is a deeper look by the comic creator at her own life. We are differentiating the journal comic (and illustrated blog) from the autobiography by focusing on the level of detail. On any given day, a journal comic might cover what the author had for breakfast or discuss the vagaries of a dead-end job. The autobiographical comic looks at the bigger picture. For our purposes, the autobiographical comic is the story of a person, narrated by that person. It can be a complete life or some portion of personal history, excerpting an important event or chronicling some portion of the narratorâ€™s life. Conclusions may be drawn ("this is how I became an artist") and the daily details are abridged.
The biographical comic is the history of a personâ€™s life, or some portion of it, as documented by someone other than the subject. In a biographical comic, the author is narrating portions of a personâ€™s life or providing some sort of overview of that personâ€™s life and work. Biographical comics donâ€™t seem to be terribly popular online. Where are the Speigelman and the Sacco of the online crowd? In print we have a whole series of illustrated works like Introducing Kafka and Introducing Camus, but there doesnâ€™t seem to be any equivalent online. The nearest we might come is Teaching Baby Paranoia where Bryant Paul Johnson brings reality, biography and creativity together to create frisson and doubt. Of course, one has to believe Johnson's webcomic contain true tales.
Rounding out our discussion of terms, beyond autobiographical and biographical work, there is realism. Itâ€™s existed forever of course, but realism officially came to life as a literary movement in the nineteenth century. Proponents of realism attempted to represent people and society in ways that seemed true to life, rather than romanticized.
Within realism is the slice of life work, wherein some part of a person or characterâ€™s life is narrated, but very little happens and no conclusions are drawn. Slice of life stories are like portraits and consist of moments or a series of moment that may or may not mean anything. There are many moments within journal comics and illustrated blogs that definitely fall within the slice of life category, but there donâ€™t seem to be any devoted to that type of portrayal.
The vast majority of webcomics look at the trivial moments of daily life without delving into deeper issues. Whereas many print creators are examining their personal histories, seeking some understanding of the past or making an effort to tell a good story, webcomickers are not doing that kind of work. Any of these types of comics can also narrate the "life" of an object. Where are the webcomic versions of The Evolution of Useful Things (by Henry Petroski) or meditation on particular critters, ala Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World (by Mark Kurlansky)? These stories could be framed humorously as an autobiography or with serious intent to provide societal context in a biography. Instead we get ruminations on bad cooking and boring jobs.
Hereâ€™s to hoping that these journaling artists decide to take it to the next level.