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WHY DO ONLINE COMICS

Issue #9 - The Shape of Creativity

"You can't be creative in a box." - Faith Erin Hicks, of Demonology 101.

I conducted a sort of "pseudo-interview" via e-mail with Faith Erin Hicks a little while back, at the heart of which was the question of what motivates webcomics creators and which of those motivations tends to breed success in the webcomics field. She recently asked her readers whether it was worth it to them for her to continue with her webcomics project, and the result was overwhelmingly positive. I was just going to quote bits and pieces of her response in this column, but what she has to say just seems too important not to share.

Iain - "Why did you start doing comics online, and what has changed between now and then to warrant asking your readers whether or not you should continue?

Faith - "In the beginning, I began to do my comic simply because I wanted very much to be a better artist. I started drawing very late in life (about my first year of university; I'm graduated now), and dealing with the whole 'I have very little natural talent, I just work hard' issue can be a bit daunting. So, while comics such as Dilbert have shown that you don't actually need to know how to draw in order to become a successful comicker, I thought being forced to constantly draw backgrounds and perspective would help stretch my meager artistic skills.

That, and I felt I had an interesting story to tell.

However, after graduating from university, I was accepted into Canada's foremost animation school (Sheridan College), and here my art skills are being honed to a lethal edge (I can now slay ninjas with my pencil ;), so suddenly I found the original reason for attempting the comic was rendered moot.

Thus, that left the issue of 'did I actually have a story to tell?'

A lot of people tell me that the only reason they do online comics is for their own enjoyment, and perhaps, in the beginning when you first start out, that's quite possible. Comicking is a new and exciting medium to the new user, and you just get enjoyment from actually doing the comic.

However, the question that always pops up in my head is 'If we're truly only doing comics for our OWN enjoyment, then why put them online at all?' Seriously, why bother? Why not draw the comic, and keep it to ourselves?

I think creative works, like online comics, feed off outside interest. You can't constantly work on something creative without outside input, otherwise the work becomes intrinsically narcissistic and possibly quite repetitive. Jackson Pollock had that problem: he refused to look for inspiration outside of his own mind, and thus, in his later years, his work began to truly struggle. You can't be creative in a box, and a comic without feedback of any kind (be it one's mother, or half a dozen readers) will eventually stagnate and possibly become repetitive.

Readers and their input are important. If they're honest, most online comic creators will tell you the same thing.

This goes back to what I have stated before regarding the importance of reader feedback, and how it is a tool webcomics really control the market on. If a creator of print comics wanted to poll his readers like this, it would be a far more daunting task without the use of the internet. There was a thread over on the comicon message boards recently spoofing the print comics world by emphasizing its shortcomings compared to doing webcomics.

Faith - "That's the weirdest part. The (message) board (in a print comic) is called a "letters page," but there's some serious lag going on ... people are talking about installments of the series that were posted three or four months ago. No participation by the creators, either."

I rest my case. Until next time, anyway.