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Webcomics are still a part of "popular culture"

Today, I went to an exposition about Romanesque art. I love going to these events as I'm an enthusiast of history of art and that stuff.
Anyway, the place had leaflets announcing upcoming events; one of these leaflets featured Roy Liechenstein's famous picture "Wham" for an upcoming exposition about Pop Art. I was curious and got one, to read about this interesting exposition and entertain myself in the bus.
"Pop Art is a 20th century art movement that utilized the imagery and techniques of consumerism and popular culture ... Pop Art favored figural imagery and the reproduction of everyday objects, such as ... comic strips."

Comics are part of popular culture. Comics are everyday objects, apparently as banal as a can of soup. Or, at least, that was the perception of comics in the United States around the half of the XXth century.

Ocassionally, some exceptional works were praised because of their beautiful art and/or its expressivity; anyway, the most outstanding comics of the XXth century, such as the daily strips "Wash Tubbs" by Roy Crane, George Herrimann's "Krazy Kat" or the fabulous "Spirit" by Will Eisner (oh, yes, I love older daily strips) were just a part of popular culture, and as such, nothing more but products to be consumed and disposed of rapidly, light years away from "the beauty arts" such as painting or sculpture, as banal as a Coke.

Or, at least, that was the situation on the last century on the US. And how it is now? Did this perception change on all these decades?

In my opinion, comics (and especially webcomics) are still part of popular culture, even if there's a growing number of creators considering comics more as a way of expression rather than a mere facility. This "comic as a piece of art" awareness has grown bigger on other parts of the world, like Europe, where creators have widened their point of views about comics, where comic conventions and new releases are usually commented on the cultural section of the newspapers, where libraries feature specialized sections for comics together with novels, poetry books and biographies.

But, still, even in Europe, comics are perceived by a grat majority of the society as just another artifact of popular culture, like fast food, sports events or TV reality shows. And it shows!

At the time I type this, the most popular webcomic around is Penny Arcade, a comic strip that narrates the antics (?) of two gamers. Not surprisingly, videogames have also became an icon of popular culture on these last decades. And the number of webcomics featuring either gamers or the characters of the same videogames they play or played has grown enormously, for the despair of some columnists. And, while it's true that there's a large number of artists trying to use comics as a means of expression, far beyond fashions and fads, the truth is that the number of banal webcomics out there outnumber them easily. Despite dreams and theories, at this moment, webcomics are part of the popular culture of the early XXIth century, and it's unlikely that they will become a "higher art" on the short/medium future.

With this, I don't want to satanize popular culture. Nor I want to say that we, webcartoonsits, are condemned to be "vaudevilians" for the rest of our lives. I just wanted to remember that, unlike some people tend to think, comics, and by extension webcomics, are still part of the popular culture, at least, for a while.

I don't think that you can make a statement like, "All webcomics are pop culture", since web comics are so diverse it's impossible to make sweeping generalizations like that. Penny Arcade is not Pennie and Aggie is not Cat and Girl is not A Softer World is not Dinosaur Comics is not Errant Story is not Electric Sheep Comix is not Demonology 101 is not (etc., etc., ad naseum). Some comics are pop culture, some aren't. Whatever.

Webcomics are still a part of "popular culture"

m_estrugo's picture

Today, I went to an exposition about Romanesque art. I love going to these events as I'm an enthusiast of history of art and that stuff.
Anyway, the place had leaflets announcing upcoming events; one of these leaflets featured Roy Liechenstein's famous picture "Wham" for an upcoming exposition about Pop Art. I was curious and got one, to read about this interesting exposition and entertain myself in the bus.
"Pop Art is a 20th century art movement that utilized the imagery and techniques of consumerism and popular culture ... Pop Art favored figural imagery and the reproduction of everyday objects, such as ... comic strips."

Comics are part of popular culture. Comics are everyday objects, apparently as banal as a can of soup. Or, at least, that was the perception of comics in the United States around the half of the XXth century.

Ocassionally, some exceptional works were praised because of their beautiful art and/or its expressivity; anyway, the most outstanding comics of the XXth century, such as the daily strips "Wash Tubbs" by Roy Crane, George Herrimann's "Krazy Kat" or the fabulous "Spirit" by Will Eisner (oh, yes, I love older daily strips) were just a part of popular culture, and as such, nothing more but products to be consumed and disposed of rapidly, light years away from "the beauty arts" such as painting or sculpture, as banal as a Coke.

Or, at least, that was the situation on the last century on the US. And how it is now? Did this perception change on all these decades?

In my opinion, comics (and especially webcomics) are still part of popular culture, even if there's a growing number of creators considering comics more as a way of expression rather than a mere facility. This "comic as a piece of art" awareness has grown bigger on other parts of the world, like Europe, where creators have widened their point of views about comics, where comic conventions and new releases are usually commented on the cultural section of the newspapers, where libraries feature specialized sections for comics together with novels, poetry books and biographies.

But, still, even in Europe, comics are perceived by a grat majority of the society as just another artifact of popular culture, like fast food, sports events or TV reality shows. And it shows!

At the time I type this, the most popular webcomic around is Penny Arcade, a comic strip that narrates the antics (?) of two gamers. Not surprisingly, videogames have also became an icon of popular culture on these last decades. And the number of webcomics featuring either gamers or the characters of the same videogames they play or played has grown enormously, for the despair of some columnists. And, while it's true that there's a large number of artists trying to use comics as a means of expression, far beyond fashions and fads, the truth is that the number of banal webcomics out there outnumber them easily. Despite dreams and theories, at this moment, webcomics are part of the popular culture of the early XXIth century, and it's unlikely that they will become a "higher art" on the short/medium future.

With this, I don't want to satanize popular culture. Nor I want to say that we, webcartoonsits, are condemned to be "vaudevilians" for the rest of our lives. I just wanted to remember that, unlike some people tend to think, comics, and by extension webcomics, are still part of the popular culture, at least, for a while.


We'd like to be popular culture. We've got the second half down, it's the first that gives most of us trouble.

And what's wrong with being popular culture? Popular culture is what people like. Popular culture influences people. Popular culture is where the real art of our civilization comes from. In 200 years, the Beatles and Stephen King will be remebered the way Mozart and Charles Dickens are today. And comics will increasingly be part of that, partially due to the ubiquity of web comics. Calling something 'popular culture' is really just saying that it is widely successful as art.

You mention Penny Arcade derisively. It's not my favorite web comic, but what's wrong with it? It is well crafted, it is funny, it exerts a small but real influence of the the computer game industry. It is nothing to look down on.

It is true that there are many, many bad web comics, but to me this is the very thing that is wonderful about web comics. Anyone who can afford a computer and some server space, and who has certain rudimentary technical skills and a desire to make comics can have a web comic. And no matter how bad you are, at least a few people will read you. It's a truly democratic medium.

Quote:
Nor I want to say that we, webcartoonsits, are condemned to be "vaudevilians" for the rest of our lives

Vaudeville was awesome and webcomics would be lucky if they were seen to have half the worth of good ole' Vaudeville.

http://ribaldyouth.com/mp3/EdisonVaudevilleCompanyBillyMurrayStevePorterByronGHarlan-AnAmateurMinstrelRehearsal.mp3

http://ribaldyouth.com/mp3/EDIS-SRP-0191-01.mp3

http://ribaldyouth.com/mp3/EDIS-SRP-0203-16.mp3

I dunno. People that are into comics give them their proper respect and people that aren't... don't know enough about them to do so. Kind of like the people that say that looove abstract art and think that the most important thing about the abstract paintings they say they like is how they're "emotional". I suggest not getting riled up about a blurb you read that defines a particular old art movement and realize that plenty of things in pop culture(re: movies/music etc) get respect when they deserve it even if they are "pop culture".

Roy Liechenstein and Andy Warhol are part of popular culture. The Mona Lisa is part of popular culture. Anything that's popular is part of popular culture. But as a comics reader, I couldn't care less what is popular-- I want to know what is GOOD. And popularity is often the worst predictor of the quality I'm after.

This is particularly so on the web, because to be popular, a comic has to be a series that updates several times a week. I'm not interested in those kinds of series. I'm interested in longer works that have a story to them, a beginning, a middle, and and end. I like stuff that has good artwork and good writing. Very rarely are works of this kind popular on the web, because of the whole updating thing.

Does that make me some kind of high-art snob? I don't think so!

--JZ