Narcissism, thy name is Webcomic?
You've heard of parents living vicariously through their children, right? Well, living vicariously has now been taken to new extremes. Lo and behold, if you're not satisfied with leeching life from a REAL person, you can now enjoy the satisfaction of pretending to be uber-cool through completely MADE-UP folks.
Wait, wait, wait… you're thinking this is about Role-Playing, right?
You couldn’t be any further from the truth. In this day and age, D&D is passe, MUDs are for geriatric denture-wearers, and chat avatars are like, so five minutes ago, dude, omigawd. No, for the REALLY cool people out there, it's all about starting a webcomic starring you and your friends. I mean, who needs a +5 Vorpal Sword of Extreeme Cheese Cutting when you can control an entire universe with a mini-you inside?
While journal comics are a new breed of autobiography in webcomic format, they're not the first pioneers of online sequential self-insertion. Comic strips featuring the creator as a main character, often surrounded by real-life friends or roommates, are legion, and they've been cluttering up the cyberpanel scene for a while. College life strips abound, and a number of gamer strips tend to be based on creators, as well. More often than not, these 'vanity comics' show you how cool, amazing, and hilarious these main characters and their lives are, and thus, by extension, how cool their real-life counterparts must be.
So what makes journal comics any different?
For one thing, journal comics don’t try to be pretty; the truly good ones show you beauty through the ugliness of truth. The avatars don’t always win, aren’t always funny, don’t always get the girl. But they always FEEL real – chances are that you'll be more likely to identify with a journal comic entry than a vanity comic installment. They're also not made with the intention to get popular: while some artists actually make money off of their journal comic, most don't even expect to have a single regular reader, much less hope for a following of fans eager to worship and PayPal a creator's autobiographical butt to fame and fortune.
Vanity comics are theoretically mostly about entertainment. Sure, as one smart cookie observed once, some strips about 'real people' are indeed very entertaining, and considered top-notch stuff in terms of humour and witty observation taken from life around them. But more often than not, vanity comics are all about trying to show readers just how cool and witty the creator and his or her buddies are. It's not enough that there should be a good joke or bit in the comic, but the avatar has to be the one looking good while delivering the punch. They're online primping, self-pimping, anti-pimpling cream shot off in great jerks of ego. "Look at us! We're funny! We're the shiznit! 23 Skidoo!"
But how much of this is simply role-playing a character that the real-life counterpart would LIKE to be? How much of this is penis posturing – that form of macho overcompensation used as a not-so-clever disguise to mask one's… 'inadequacies'? How much of the avatar is actually BASED on the creator, aside from name and hairstyle or favorite hockey jersey?
The best vanity comics seem to be those that don’t always try to sell the avatars as perfect Adonises. Instead, the characters are odd, eccentric or quirky, flawed. These are traits that readers can more easily identify with – not too many people out there are immaculate in every way, last we heard.
Journal comics seem to be the next step, and many struggling vanity writers, with their mediocre attempts at showing how their college life rocks out, might want to pay attention to this emerging alternative. Instead of trying to impress people with postured mad skillz, journal comic artists are just being honest, whether the truth be funny or no. And they're showing us slices of life, that while far from perfect, are far more interesting than the failed joke about one's buddies dissing the establishment, and stickin' it to the man. People are smarter than you think, and they can smell a fake a mile away.
If Narcissus would have been uglier, or at least less vain, he wouldn't have died so young. Don't let your webcomic make the same mistake.
It's okay to be imperfect, don't cha know. Everyone's doing it.