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Through the Looking Back Glass by Erik Melander

Last month this column focused on two events where well known, mainstream, creators commented on webcomics and webcomic artists. For this column, the aim is to try to do the opposite and gauge the reaction of webcomic creators to two big events from the mainstream print comic world.

Why is this interesting? Last month's column had a quote from well known print comic writer Warren Ellis, where he responded to the fact that quite a few posters on the buzzComics forum did not know who he was.

I really like the idea of a new movement of comics creators who know absolutely nothing of print comics and who could care less.

But is this true? Are webcomic creators ignorant of what goes on in print comics?

On January 3, 2005, Will Eisner (Wikipedia entry) died of complications from a quadruple bypass surgery. Eisner is a legend in comic circles and was, among other things, the man who coined the term Graphic Novel and after whom the most prestigious award for comics is named. Naturally, his death got a lot of attention, not only in comic circles, but also from mainstream news sources such as The Chicago Tribune and The New York Times.

The news of Eisner's death, naturally also made the headlines in the webcomic world. A lot of blogs commented on it of course. But blogs are a poor measure of response simply because not everyone has them or reads them. Message boards, on the other hand, offer anyone the chance to comment. And true enough, most of the major webcomic-oriented message boards have a thread covering Eisner's death. Drunkduck, buzzForums, Keenspace, Keenspot, Flight, and Talk About Comics. But even though there were posts on the message boards, there were relatively few replies.

This lack of replies makes it difficult to draw any far reaching conclusions as to the webcomic community's knowledge of and reaction to Eisner's death. Sure, most probably learned of it because it was so widely reported, but what do they know of Eisner to begin with? In the Keenspace forum thread, Srdjan Achimovich, creator of among other things mcDuffies, writes:

Actually, another famous artist from first half of 20th century that I didn't even know was still alive...

And in the same thread Zhan D'vega, creator of Ai-Yai-Yai!, writes:

Wow... I just learned of Will Eisner's existence yesterday.

But there are certainly many comments from people who are well familiar with Eisner and his body of work. And some, like Steve Troop, creator of Melonpool, shared accounts of their own meetings with Eisner.

The second event was the news that the LA times dropped Garfield from their comic section. This news may not have gathered the number of responses that Eisner's death did, but at least both Keenspace and Flight have reasonably long threads about it. Other comments came from Penny Arcade and Eric Burns. What is interesting with the comments is that although many express a considerate amount of loathing for Garfield (no surprises there), a surprisingly large number of people also cite Garfield as an inspiration, even one of the reasons why they started to draw comics.

The question remains, what can be derived from the response that these two events garnered? The news of Eisner's death seemed to receive a relatively muted response even though it penetrated most webcomic forums. Garfield being dropped by one paper caused a fair amount of discussion at a couple of places. Really none of this allows us to make any far reaching conclusions on the opinion of webcomics towards print comics. What could be said is that webcomics are a very diverse group. Yes, it may sound like the most obvious statement ever made, but the fact is that both I and many other have a tendency to speak of webcomics as a homogenous group. Eisner's death got comments that varied between "Who is he?" and "He is the pinnacle of comics". Garfield gathered posts sporting the kind of hatred usually reserved for pedophiles, as well as comments explaining the importance of Davis' creation for their own interests in creating comics.

But what about the original questions about a movement of webcomic creators that couldn't care less about print comics? The two cases we have studied here do not, as mentioned, allow any concrete conclusions, but it certainly seems plausible that a large part of webcomic creators care little for mainstream comics. This has its disadvantages. I'm reminded of a painting Eisner did in 2000 featuring the spirits of Gil Kane, Jack Kirby and Harvey Kurtzman watching over a young cartoonist. If the webcomics community really cuts itself off from its rightful heritage to print comics, it also separates itself from the knowledge that is available in the work of Eisner and his collegues.

As an end to this column I'll leave you with two quotes about Eisner, made by webcomic artists.

Man, he was pushing the boundaries back in the forties. Those old Spirit strips are still amazing. --Steve Hogan, Acid Keg


For some one less influenced by the comic book industry, I have to admit that I know very little of Will Eisner in comparison but I've always found that the things he said always seemed to make bloody good sense.

And such people are all too rare. I dare say he'll be missed. -- Ping Teo, The Jaded

Erik Melander has read comics his whole life. Vir Bonus is his own attempt at creating one.

Re: Through the Looking Back Glass by Erik Melander

Much as I hate to bite the hand that feeds me...

Erik, you mention several times in this piece that two samples really aren't enough on which to base a valid study. So why not get more? Surely there have been enough comics-shaking events in 2004, and the forum archives from 2004 are still reachable enough, that you could conduct a study with ten or twelve examples.

Don't apologize for the piece's inadequacies. Fix them. I certainly feel you're capable of doing so.

Re: Through the Looking Back Glass by Erik Melander

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

T

I just want to point out that the explicit point of this column (discussed in the initial edition last month) is to pull together highlights of the LAST MONTH and as much as possible extrapolate a theme or idea(s) to hopefully provide some context. It's a bit unfair to expect that Erik would, in the context of a column about the most recent events in webcomicland would exhaustively research a feature piece and gather materials far and wide from previous years. You have to remember the incredibly tight timeframe in which Erik has to write these columns - it runs in the first week and attempts to capture events of the month that just passed -

From my perspective Erik has written two very interesting columns so far and I have received consistently good feedback to date.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

Re: Through the Looking Back Glass by Erik Melander

Erik Melander's picture

As mentioned by Xerxes making a more extensive study would be somewhat outside the scope of the column, although the looming deadline might be a more concrete problem. Expanding the study into a feature would also carry with it the need to examine the method used more thouroughly than I've done in the column.
While good enough for an opinion piece like this, are messageboards a good enough "snapshot" of opinion to get definite results from? The drunkduck thread on Eisner has 9 responses and (as of writing this) 99 views, the buzzForum thread 7 responses and 183 views.
Since we have no way of knowing the opinion of those who didn't post the conclusions have to be drawn from the responses found in the threads (which in the case of Eisner's death and Garfield were suprisingly diverse). Adding additional cases could quite possibly shed more light, but even so I'm not sure of how definite answers it would yield in the end.
Howeber, making a more in depth study is an interesting premise that I'll have to ponder some more.