The Comixpedia End of 2005 Roundtable
A freewheeling discussion about the wide world of webcomics with Eric Burns, Wednesday White, Phil Kahn, Giland Pellaeon, Bob Stevenson, Ping Teo, Daku, Karl Kuras, Doctor Setebos and William G, moderated by Xaviar Xerexes.
You may have noticed that in 2005, the "webcomics blogosphere" took off like never before. There were almost as many people writing about webcomics as making them (okay not really, but there were a whole lot more blog posts about webcomics this year.) We gathered together several popular bloggers for an online roundtable discussion on webcomics here at the tail end of 2005.
We talked about webcomics and creators, art and commerce and of course, webcomics drama. Plus some predictions for the year ahead.
We were joined by both Eric Burns and Wednesday White from the godfather of webcomics blogs, Websnark. (Burns and White also write regularly for Comixpedia.) Websnark started in late 2004 and among its many contributions has added an entire lexicon to webcomics with such terms as "Cerebus Syndrome", "Tasty, Tasty Biscuit" and "Charlie Brown's Football". Also joining us were Phil Kahn from I'm Just Saying and Giland Pellaeon from Webcomicker, two of the more entertaining and informative webcomic-focused blogs to start up this year. We were also joined by Bob Stevenson of Journey Into History and Ping Teo of Webcomic Finds (Teo also writes regularly for Comixpedia.), which are more review-oriented blogs. 2005 also saw the debut of webcomics-focused podcasts. Daku of the podcast, Digital Strips, and Karl Kuras of Gigcast joined us. Finally, we had two of webcomics more outspoken personalities onboard: Doctor Setebos of The Evil Network and William G of The William G Blog.
I asked the questions and did my best to keep up with our panel.
Xaviar Xerexes: What were your favorite five webcomics in 2005 and why? What was your favorite new find of 2005? What was your absolute favorite moment in webcomics this year?
Daku: Skipping past the obvious top five in no particular order, it would be Least I Could Do, Devil's Panties, Comedity, Questionable Content, and Inverloch. The later question is harder, but I'll have to go with Inverloch. I was simply stunned by the artwork and loved the story.
Eric Burns: Alphabetically (to be as fair as possible) I'd have to say Achewood, Daily Dinosaur Comics, Goats, Narbonic, PvP and Questionable Content. Achewood is the strip that soaks into my brain. I can quote bits of it to other folks who know Todd, and it's like we're all oï¿½n the same level. Achewood is our jazz music, and already it's causing the world to break down and form rock and roll. Daily Dinosaur Comics is wholly remarkable -- it's a testament to the twin powers of creativity and writing. Ryan North gets it, on every possible level. Goats is doing the "storyline that changes everything" as right as any comic strip I've ever seen do it. Rosenberg's managing to keep the funny while changing the entire playing field and keeping me glued to my seat. Do you have any clue how hard that is?
No, seriously, do you? I have no means of quantifying it.
Anyway. Narbonic is the single best comic strip being produced in the world today. It most exemplifies the tradition of the Newspaper Comic Strip of any comic I know of, it proves the power of continuity while remaining accessible for the casual reader, and it's damn funny in all those hip post modern ways too. Shaenon Garrity just groks comics. PvP, on the other hand, understands webcomics as well as anyone ever has. Scott Kurtz paces for the web as well as anyone out there, his characters grow and evolve, his situations provide the requisite comedy, and oh yeah, he's funny. I mean, Dude. Finally, Questionable Content is in the process of executing a backstory that's been hinted at for years, and it's being absolutely riveting in the process.
If I had a sixth, it would be Something Positive, but this wasn't the groundbreaking year that last year was for S*P. However, I will give S*P the "absolute favorite moment" tag, at the moment where we have learned that Fred has Alzheimer's, but Monette doesn't know, but she is still sobbing as she says she loves him, having seen what real parental love is for the first time in her life. That moment was a heart punch. Milholland also gets the nod for "favorite new find." It's weird to say, but Midnight Macabre is, for my money, a better strip than Something Positive. It didn't make the top five because it updated sporadically -- I don't blame Milholland for that, but it was hard to give it the nod over strips that really blew me out of the water day in and day out all year long. After that, I'd say The Devil's Panties, as this was the year I really got into it.
The other "moment in webcomics" that blew my mind was the Hurricane Katrina webcomics charity events -- both the Blank Label organized one and WLP's adult event. It's one thing to say "we should help some folks." It's another to suddenly get hundreds of people on board, producing their brains out.Yes, I had six top five strips plus several also mentions. Wanna make something of it?
Wednesday White: I don't work that way. Assigning hierarchial value to apples and oranges isn't something that makes any sense to me at all. Do I like pomegranates more than flannel? How do I determine that? I can tell you that I think Achewood's characterization beats anyone else's that I've seen this year, but I don't think that that makes Achewood a better strip than other things I've enjoyed. Questionable Content is remarkable to me for its rapid development on pretty much every level. Everything Lea Hernandez does absolutely floors me, so the rebirth of Near-Life Experience and the launch of Ironclad Petal were beyond delightful. Penny Arcade is an entrenched part of my household communications, but I also accept that I am utterly pedestrian. I could stare at the linework in Wapsi Square for days, trying to figure out how to even approximate it myself. But I can't pull out Five Things I Like Best because that concept doesn't make sense to me at all. It feels forced.
Phil Kahn: I hate answering this question. I don't like picking favorites, or establishing what's better than what, or saying there's any sort of "The Best," on such broad terms. But a few of my favorite webcomics this year have been The Last Days of FOXHOUND (most gripping fancomic I've ever read), Dominic Deegan (every day is part of the greater wonderful saga), Belphegor (biting political commentary and the smartest poop jokes around), Rob and Elliot (consistently side-splitting), and Something Positive (I mean, c'mon). During the WCCA's, Shaenon Garrity let people read the entire Narbonic archives for free, so that easily was my favorite new find of the year.
The Webcomics Telethons for Hurricane Relief were also my favorite Webcomics events, and the most important things we've done as a community. I don't feel as proud of anything I've done in webcomics as I have with simply participating in these efforts.
William G: Funnily enough, my favorites this year didn't change much from 2004: Dinosaur Comics, Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life, and Perry Bible Fellowship were my most regular reads. This year I added to that top five list two new comics that made me say "Where have you been all of my life?" with Narbonic, and Digger.
Doctor Setebos: Penny Arcade, because the art and the humor have both improved this year, and their business acumen has become more mature as their fanbase has increased to mega rock star proportions. Perry Bible Fellowship because it absoluely does not fail to make me laugh, ever. Sheldon, for the same reason. Gossamer Commons because Eric Burns rocks greatly. And Wapsi Square because Paul Taylor is a genius at mixing fantastic, serious storylines with great stress-breaking humor. His pacing is extraordinary.
My favorite new find was Wapsi Square. My favorite webcomics moment had to be when Pete Abrams admitted that Sluggy was crap. I want his "I'm sorry" letter to his fans etched in stone. A close second was when Chris Crosby actually missed an update. I think that will send far-reaching shockwaves throughout the webcomics community.
Xaviar Xerexes: I think it was pretty honest of Abrams to post that open letter about the "Unmoving Oceans" storyline. And since Abrams clearly likes that storyline he's not just going to shelf it and go in a different direction with Sluggy. But if it was up to me he would. I wish he would put it aside, work on it offline and publish it all at once. I love Sluggy, but I feel like I need to start my own "Had Me and Lost Me" list because I'm not enjoying it right now. Compare Sluggy this year to Narbonic. Sluggy used to be able to do what Narbonic does without fail: weave characters, plot and humor in a storyline with immense payoff and yet still deliver in each day's installment a reason to read the webcomic.
Bob Stevenson: I can't narrow the field. There's too much interesting work going on. For me, the hunt for new neatness is my favorite. My new find is Bunny. It opens up some nice direction for comics and the web (T Campbell seems to have recognized the potential with his Search Engine Funnies). Bunny started in 2004, but I discovered it this year. Also, Five Bucks to Friday . I don't understand why this oï¿½ne's not more popular.
My favorite moment would be The Daily Grind. If we can't get money out of viewers, we'll beat it out of each other. Darkly entertaining.
Ping Teo: You know, it's really hard to pick just a top five, particularly when you write a blog all about your favorite webcomics. Probably Digger, No Rest For The Wicked, Darken, Nahast and LinT. I have a soft spot for fantasy tampered with humor and horror, and those comics satisfy that craving.
Favorite moment? Probably when someone took my idea for a webcomics tabloid and ran with it in regards to the webcomic documentary flamewar. Ok, it was short-lived, but I will never forget the moment when I saw the headlines screaming about "Penny-Arcade's Secret Debacle" or something like that. *snickers*
Gilead Pellaeon: It's really not possible to choose a top five in terms of quality, because as Wednesday said comics range so wildly that they can't really be compared. So my top five is more of a list of the comics which provided me with the most enjoyment over the course of the year, which is really the greatest achievement of a comic anyways (to provide enjoyment for its fans). So here they are, in no particular order: Count Your Sheep, Penny Arcade, Starslip Crisis, Questionable Content, and Melonpool. These are the comics which I was most likely to tell my friends "Oh wow, you have got to go read this..." Count Your Sheep has only gotten better as Adrian Ramos made the switch from ink and paper to digital drawing. Penny Arcade seems obligatory on a list like this, but I thought this year they had a lot better jokes than last year, and the artwork has continued to improve as well. Starslip Crisis was a newcomer but I don't consider it a "find" due to it's popularity, and in it Kris Straub has taken the artistic stylings and humor of Checkerboard Nightmare and given them a world to flex in, with great results. Everyone already knows why Questionable Content is oï¿½n the list. It's just plain good. And lastly with Melonpool not oï¿½nly did we see some interesting storylines but we saw perhaps the single most dramatic reboot in the history of webcomics. We're talking the deletion of NINE YEARS of archives.
As for best new find, I'm going to have to award that oï¿½ne to Mousewax, which I found through The Daily Grind. Consistently funny, consistently updated, consistently quality work. It's a wonder to me that Brandon Lewis doesn't have more readers.
Best moment of the year, hands down, goes to the Hurricane Relief Telethon, with second place handed to the San Diego Comicon Webcomic Panels (that's right, a webcomic event that didn't take place oï¿½nLINE! *shock!*). The telethon just showed that webcomics creators can put aside their silly little squabbles and truly produce something great. And the Webcomic Panels were some of the most informative, entertaining, and all around useful panels probably EVER at the San Diego Comicon, and I think everyone there would agree with me.
Xaviar Xerexes: Who were the most influential people in webcomics this year?
Daku: For this year I would name Brad Guigar and Jack Thompson. I know Brad and Jack couldn't be further apart, but they put webcomics in the spotlight like no one else. Brad is one of the six founding members of Blank Label Comics, the creation of which started an avalanche of collectives, and he distinguished himself as a PR juggernaut this year. He got coverage from Slashdot, Editor & Post, The Comics Reporter, Comixpedia, and probably every single blog that cares about webcomics. And he didn't stop there, but he also led the Webcomic Telethon event. And Jack Thompson. This over-inflated clown of a lawyer did more to get people to notice webcomics then Scott McCloud has done in 10 years. It all started with VG Cats, then a little lashing back from Ryan Estrada and Tim Buckley, and then it escalated to an all out verbal war with Penny Arcade. The whole violent game fiasco exploded on the gaming scene with coverage from Slashdot, Digg, BoingBoing, nearly every gaming magazine, and more then a few major news sites.
William G: Obviously, my main man Joey Manley. He finally launched that Webcomics Nation service he's been promising for seventeen years, and it's a fine bit of coding. And with the huge number of people jumping into it, I think others agree with me. Eric Burns. Eric has sort of become the Roger Ebert of webcomics. Everyone looks to his opinions as the yardstick to base their own upon. And he's at the point where his deviating from the format to pimp his own work causes fans to complain. Which is stupid of them. But it does show how important his occasional snarking of Something Positive has become to folks.
Karl Kuras: I'd say the most influential would be the Blank Label founders for their break away from Keenspot, Gabe and Tycho for organizing their fan base so well and Owen Dunne for getting a development deal with Fox for You Damn Kid.
Bob Stevenson: It's not Scott McCloud anymore. Cat Garza deserves the title of least likely influential person not because his work doesn't deserve recognition, but because of his strange path to influence. Can we pick someone involved in the roundtable? Eric Burns was incredibly influential despite having cut down on the webcomic copy. His is a measured voice of reason that we need to hear from more often than he's able, a force of great good in webcomics. The short list for third is blurry and long - Joey Manley, Phil Foglio, William George, Tycho and Gabe, Scott Kurtz, T Campbell... They're influence, though, is in vastly different circles and too difficult to compare.
Doctor Setebos: Definitely Joey Manley is at the top of my list. He's got his fingers in several successful webcomics ventures that he has lovingly crafted from the ground up, and everything that man touches turns into webcomic gold. Another would have to be Eric Burns, because if there's another webcomics critic in our community that is MORE likable than Eric, I have yet to hear of it. To have someone who can so eloquently critique a webcomic, piecing apart its intricate nuances, is a rare thing in our current age. And Eric is well-respected by most corners of the community.
T Campbell is also high on my list as he has his fingers in probably more webcomics projects than Manley. Sometimes I think they're competing against each other (drama!). But honestly, with the History of online Comics book, Graphics Smash, Penny & Aggie, Oh No Robot, and other projects on his plate, T Campbell is a busy name in webcomics.
William G: T Campbell is a smooth player. Running around behind the scenes like the power behind the throne. You don't really notice him because he isn't loud and noisy about the fact that he never seems to sleep, eat, or go to the toilet. But then "BAM" there he is, in front of you with something new and important... like some crazy Edison with ninja skills. Sneaky bastard.
Daku: T Campbell was so close to being on my list, but I don't think his impact will truly be felt until next year with the release of his book and if OhNoRobot takes off. Eric's another story all together and I can't wait to read his response, it just might take me all day. Eric is the only person in the medium who can convince me to sit down and read 5000 words without my ADD kicking in.
Eric Burns: Dude -- I'm sitting right here. I mean... I...Well, okay.Top three? Ryan North, Joey Manley and Scott Kurtz. Ryan North I think absolutely transformed the world of webcomics. Daily Dinosaur Comics was a depth charge in peoples' expectations, and this was the year it exploded. I'm always excited when someone brings monumental writing skills to the party. Other folks (most notably David Lynch) have tried the "static art" style before, but North out and out transcended it, and inspired lots and lots of people to follow in his footsteps. Joey Manley is, in many ways, the visionary from inside the webcomics community (as opposed to someone like Scott McCloud, who came from the outside) who most drives its evolution as an art form. He's the one who provides places for far more esoteric comic strips to find themselves. Look over Serializer.net, and consider how many if any of those would ever be found on Keenspot. And now, with Webcomicsnation, he's poised to give the world the turnkey webcomics publishing solution that others have tried. It's so simple... well, I can use it.
Finally, Scott Kurtz has -- here's a word that will probably bug him -- matured into the role of elder Webcomics statesman, in a way most of the other webcomics iconoclasts haven't. Oh, he's still in the thick of any number of arguments all around himself. He's still Scott Kurtz, after all. But he's also the one who's both pushing the publishing envelope and signing on to the newest trends. When Blank Label Comics launched, he was right there, giving it a strong blessing (and a hell of a lot of free publicity). It would be easy for someone in Kurtz's position to want to keep movements like that down, but instead he got excited -- and predicted the financial benefits that Blank Label (and the other collectives) have shown. In a lot of ways, if Joey Manley was the figure most influential on the artistic growth of the medium, Scott Kurtz was at the vanguard of webcomics's financial and commercial growth.T misses my list this year, but he's poised to be the biggest story of next year. Other honorable mentions include Kris Straub and Shaenon Garrity.
Wednesday White: And, again, I'm not really seeing it. The movement exists in such small, tight, relatively isolated pockets that we can really only evaluate top-down impact within those limited circles. We don't communicate well. The closest we get are the people behind various services, and, of those, only Webcomics Nation is genuinely far enough along to be a big deal *this* year instead of *next* year. I therefore default to Joey Manley, but I don't feel comfortable about it.Bluntly, I do not feel that we are ready for these sorts of questions yet, and that this state of affairs will persist for some time.
Phil Kahn: I agree with Wednesday. We really aren't yet in a spot where we can say who's influencing the whole of us (save the folks who've been influencing since the beginning). If I had to pick names, one would be Eric Burns (and Weds) for pioneering the whole Webcomics Criticism thing. Straub and Guigar for being the driving forces behind Blank Label, the Telethon, and other such events. Other than they, I can't really think of anyone who is an influence.
Gilead Pellaeon: I think it's important to realize that there's really two questions buried in this one question: "Which person was most influential in the actual webcomics community" and "which person was most influential in illuminating webcomics to the world at large". People seem to be answering both sides of the question without acknowledging that there are two sides. Sure the formation of Blank Label Comics had a huge and far reaching impact within the world of webcomics, but beyond that? Zilch. on the other hand, Count Your Sheep gets mentioned in the freaking New York Times as a pretty decent comic and it doesn't so much as make a blip on the radar of the webcomic community. In terms of influence within the webcomic world, it's got to be the Blank Label comics guys first for taking the word "webcomic collective" and really making it mean something and second for organizing the Webcomic Hurricane Relief Telethon, the single greatest event of the year.
In terms of influence outside the webcomic world? Honestly it probably is old Fred Gallagher at Megatokyo. By appealing to the larger market of anime fandom and being published by no less than Dark Horse Comics (which ain't no Lulu), he consistently introduces the most non-webcomic people into the world of webcomics. Like him or hate him, he has real influence beyond our little world.
Ping Teo: Just so I make Eric burn at the ears again, I think Websnark has been the single most influential bit of written commentary this year. It's something like the Time magazine of webcomics if you will. He's been starting discussions which in turn start projects... like the Webcomics Encyclopedia thing. Now that's influential.