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Great Webcomic Minds Chat a Lot -- A Session on Webcomic Awards

What happens when you put a half-dozen of webcomics' brightest and most vocal brains in a vegematic set on "inquisinate"?

Well, we put Chris Crosby, Joey Manley, Mark Mekkes, Chris Morrisson, BoxJam, and Scott McCloud in a chat room together with an inquisitive Damonk, to see what would happen. The result was a frothy milkshake of a chat interview that focused on awards for webcomics and their value or worth in the webcomics community.

If you're into grey matter milkshakes, or some cool, refreshing idea-sharing, than read on to see what these pureed brains had to say...

[Prelims]
damonk: Five more minutes, and I'm starting this puppy.
Chris Crosby: None of these problems would be happening if all of our communication was moon-based.
Mark Mekkes: It's not?
* joeymanley moons ChrisCrosby
damonk: Is that the same moon that crosby was offering Morrisson earlier?
damonk: Are you SURE you want to live there, Morrisson?
Chris Morrisson: I've had enough moon in my life so far.
damonk: Heehee!
damonk: Okay, you guys ready to go through with this?
Mark Mekkes: Sure.
Scott McCloud: Ready.
damonk: Joey, have you put your pants back up yet?
BoxJam: I am if Crosby says OK.
Chris Morrisson: I'm always ready to not shut up.
damonk: I don't want everyone distracted by your crater regions.
Chris Crosby: Joey hates Kurtz, apparently.
Joey Manley: I am not wearing pants. I have, however, settled my robe around me.
Chris Crosby: OK
damonk: Fair enough then.
Joey Manley: Kurtz and I have agreed to be each other's archnemeses.
Joey Manley: It's a friendly arrangement.
Chris Crosby: Good luck with that!

[Introductions and a Big First Question]
damonk: First off, the intro formality:
damonk: I'd like each and every one of you to chime in with a nice brief introduction -- tell us who you are, what webcomic or business you are responsible for, how long you've been in the (web)comics 'business', and, finally, toss out the name of a webcomic that most recently caught your attentions. Mark, we'll start off with you, followed by Scott, Boxjam, Chris C., Joey, and finally, Chris M.

Mark Mekkes: Okay, I'm Mark Mekkes, I've been doing the comic Zortic for a little over three years.
Mark Mekkes: And, of course, I've been the chairman of the Web Cartoonists' Choice Awards for three years, too.
Scott McCloud: I'm Scott McCloud.
Scott McCloud: Um, long time print comics artist...
Scott McCloud: ...nearly as long time webcomics artist.
damonk: Cool.
Scott McCloud: Don't know how well I can summarize it.
BoxJam: I'm BoxJam, been doing BoxJam's Doodle since April 99, and the webcomic that most recently caught my attention is Martin's Misdirection.
Chris Crosby: I'm Chris Crosby, cartoonist of SUPEROSITY and co-CEO and co-founder of Keenspot Entertainment.
Chris Crosby: I recently found a strip called EL GOONISH SHIVE that is nice.
damonk: And now our robed scalliwag, Joey?
Joey Manley: I'm Joey Manley, runner of numerous webcomics-themed websites, the most well-known of which is Modern Tales.
damonk: And finally, Chris Morrisson.
Chris Morrisson: Chris Morrison, author, artist, and editor-in-chief of The Polymer City Chronicles, the first newspaper with the comics on the frontpage. PCC is heading into its fifth year of circulation in January 2004, but I've been doing webcomics since 1994, starting with The Plastic Valley Report at Gamezero.com. My most recent webcomic find that I see as having much potential is Cascade Failure.

damonk: Okay, now that we're all best buddies and stuff, let's start with a question for Mark.
Mark Mekkes: Okay.
damonk: But all of you can chime in at anytime, cool?
Chris Crosby: Oh, and if I may, I forgot to say that I've been drawing SUPEROSITY for over four years and running Keenspot for over three. I always forget something.
damonk: Phew!
damonk: Good thing you said so! ^^
damonk: Mark, webcomics are certainly a presence now on the web. From their origins in the early 90s to their boom in 1999-2000 to now, we've seen a lot of evolution push the medium fast and hard. Heck, we even have a dedicated newspublication now. But of course, webcomics creators run the gamut from 'young kid who likes to doodle' to 'print pro trying on a new canvas'.
damonk: My question to you, then, is this: why did you think that webcomics were already ready for an awards event when you chose to start up the WCCA?
Mark Mekkes: I'm not sure that it was, but I did know that any award process would take time to develop and grow.
Mark Mekkes: The CCA's certainly weren't at their full potential that first year or even their second year.
BoxJam: Big dittos from Glenview.
Mark Mekkes: I think they're only now starting to show their potential.

damonk: But why start then?
Mark Mekkes: Because every area of the Entertainment business has some kind of award system.
damonk: Was there something specific about the webcomics community of then that made you think that they/we were ready?
Chris Crosby: I don't think movies are ready for an awards event yet. Movies SUCK.
Mark Mekkes: If we were to develop as an independent entity, it would be necessary to start evolving something.
BoxJam: Yeah, just like webcomics may not have been ready, but the only way to get them ready was by throwing up the flagpole to see if they could swim or drown - same thing with awards.
damonk: Fair enough.
Joey Manley: I don't think anything is ever *ready* until you try it and see if it flies. The world wasn't officially *ready* for Modern Tales until, like, the day after we launched.

damonk: To everyone else, the obvious follow-up question: do you agree or disagree with Mark? Do you feel that webcomics were ready then for an award? Do you think they deserve one now?
Chris Crosby: The world still isn't ready for Keenspot! That's why we're planning to relocate to the moon!
Scott McCloud: I think Joey is right.
Scott McCloud: I think you need to try it first, then you adapt as needed.
Joey Manley: Awards are supposed to help define and strengthen the artistic achievement in a field (that's the only purpose I can see for them). If any field needs such a thing, it's webcomics!
Chris Morrisson: I agree with the sentiment, but I belive the execution is flawed. This isn't a slight against anyone involved, but the bugs really need to be worked out in the nomination process if we're going to see more new faces and less of the ones everyone already has burned into their retinas.
Chris Crosby: I don't quite know what the word "ready" means in this case, but hell yeah.
Joey Manley: I have some hard things to say about the nomination process... perhaps later.
BoxJam: CMorrison, I don't think I agree.
Scott McCloud: We had some new faces this year, at least.

damonk: do you feel that the three years since its inception, that the awards ARE adapting?
Chris Crosby: C'mon, A BEAUTIFUL MIND won the Best Picture Oscar. It's never gonna get much better than this.
BoxJam: Yeah, Scott.
damonk: And don't worry, i'll be asking specific qestions about the nomination process after. ^^
Chris Morrisson: Oh, I'm SURE that someone's gonna disagree, Box. I get a lot of that on a lot of matters.
BoxJam: I think the individual awards that used to characterize webcomics were incestuous and were the same names over and over, but I don't see that with the WCCAs.

[the WCCA – is it evolving?]
damonk: But do you feel that the event IS evolving since its beginning?
Chris Crosby: NOWHERE GIRL won Outstanding Comic, and that's the webcomic that was probably most critically-acclaimed this year, so the WCCA seems to be fancifying itself.
damonk: Nice point, Crosby.
damonk: Anyone else?
Joey Manley: On evolution: I was convinced that fan faves like MegaTokyo would blow quiet masterpieces like Nowhere Girl out of the water this year. I was wrong. This is good.
Joey Manley: Ha! Chris and I were typing at the same time. WE'RE THE SAME PERSON!!!
damonk: Do you moon with the same apparatus?
Scott McCloud: Shaw, Brosgol, Kirk-Kim... A lot of good work was recognized.
Joey Manley: You've never seen us both in the same room together, have you?
BoxJam: Some nominations/awards are frustrating, of course, but what the hell can you do? The whole world doesn't see things the same as we, the wisest 8.
damonk: Hehehe
damonk: you certainly CAN be a WISEguy, Bjam.

[Subjectivity, and Juries vs. Open-Vote Process]
Chris Crosby: I'm shocked that HOUND'S HOME and SCARY-GO-ROUND aren't completely SWEEPING the awards like a wildfire, but I guess I shouldn't be because those are my favorite strips.
damonk: That brings up an interesting point, Chris.
damonk: Since awards are very much a subjective thing, how can we accurately guage the best of the best when there are so many darn webcomics out there?
Joey Manley: A knowledgeable panel of judges should announce the nominations.
Joey Manley: There, I said it.
damonk: So you're admitting that you're a fan of a juried system?
Chris Crosby: The WebCartoonist's Choice Awards seem to have the right idea, in that they're set up pretty much just like the Oscars, it seems.
BoxJam: As soon as we agree on who's knowledgeable, I'm on board.
damonk: Now, I know that Scott is more a fan of a democratic system...
Chris Morrisson: I'm of a mixed mind on awards in general. I think that good comics should be recognized, but on the same token, the format is still so young, I think a lot of artists get discouraged very quickly and give up the pencil when they don't see themselves.
Mark Mekkes: But the only way to be close to subjective is to increase the number of judges.
Joey Manley: Chris: the Oscars require that individuals voting make their living from motion pictures. That's not possible here, but overlooking that fact and pretending it doesn't exist doesn't make the WCCA's like the Oscars.
Scott McCloud: I'm suggesting that any working webcomics artist should be involved in both nominating and final voting.
damonk: Wow, you've all touched on a bunch of good topics right there.
damonk: Maybe we should try to take them on one at a time?
Scott McCloud: You could have a separate "juried" category, though.

["Who Juries the Jury?"]
damonk: Let's start with the pros and cons of a juried system:
damonk: Joey, why do you think a juried system would be better?
damonk: (and then, Scott, why do you think that a juried system is NOT the way to go?)
Joey Manley: I think that a juried system would be a great way to go for SOME award program. I'm not saying the WCCA should change.
Chris Crosby: They're sort of like a mix between the Oscars and the MTV Movie Awards, which is cool, because MTV Movie Awards is way better than the Oscars.
damonk: Right.
Joey Manley: Let's face it, an award, any award, is essentially elitist in nature. This is better than that. That is better than this.
Joey Manley: Or else there shouldn't be awards.
damonk: And this, by the way, is not a discussion on how to change the WCCA, but just a discussion on awards for webcomics in general.
Chris Crosby: The WCCA won't be PERFECT until there's a nationally-televised awards ceremony based around it.
Joey Manley: A juried system acknowledges that some people know more about what is good than others (a controversial position I'm perfectly happy to defend).
BoxJam: Well, with a jury of 1, we see what happens - April's Choice, Mr. Chuck Show's Award, Superosity's Award, etc, etc
Joey Manley: The jury has read more, and has read with informed eyes. Ideally.
damonk: Kinda like the Republic ideal... a society ruled by Philosopher Kings?
Joey Manley: Unideally, you get a clique giving awards to its friends.
Mark Mekkes: Boxjam makes a good point though, who should qualify as a judge?
Joey Manley: There would probably be quite a bit of that going on in a juried system (see Eisner Awards).
Joey Manley: The judges should be elected.
Scott McCloud: Who juries the jury?
Mark Mekkes: Obviously Joey and Crosby are knowledged, but they already have venues to reward their favorites.
damonk: A good question, Scott.
Joey Manley: Last year's winners could be the jury.
Chris Crosby: If the jury is anything like the one we use to choose new Keenspot strips, it'd be pretty damn screwed up. :)
Scott McCloud: the selection of jurors is necessarily subject to the same imperfections as the current awards.
Chris Morrisson: Having everyone who reads or everyone who authors a strip taking part in the voting is an awesome fantasy; the only problem I see is this: with as many webcomics that are out there, and as many different, obscure favorites as there are among readers, I see a wide, WIDE range of comics getting one or two nominations while the usual suspects remain at the top of the heap since they have the widest reaching readerbase. I truly believe that.
* joeymanley agrees with CMorrison.

[an Edjumacated Jury?]
damonk: one question to ask that's related to this:
damonk: Many webtoonists confess to not reading more than say 20 or so comics, though. Would such a person, if he was a winner one year, be good to have on a jury?
BoxJam: (Mekkes - are the nominations public/going-to-be for this year?)
Mark Mekkes: (Yes, they are accessible now through the list of finalists.)
Joey Manley: Let's face it, with a very few exceptions, everybody who reads webcomics makes them. This is a good thing. But it doesn't lead to a highly professional "academy" of knowledgeable voters.
damonk: Would the jury members have to fulfill certain obligations?
BoxJam: I disagree, Joey, although you're a great guy - most of my readers, I think, don't make comics.
Chris Crosby: "Everybody who reads webcomic makes them"? That doesn't seem possible.
* joeymanley could be wrong...
Chris Morrisson: As I see it, this is what I think needs to happen: the awards need to be like the Oscars. A movie doesn't win Best Picture three years in a row...neither should webcomics. Once they win, they can be eligible for other nominations, but then they're removed from subsequent awards.
Mark Mekkes: But that lowers the value of the awards.
BoxJam: CMorrison, great point -- it's easy to focus on one year in movies, not so in comics.
Joey Manley: How about this alternate formulation (which is bound to cause much distress to be aimed at me): many who make webcomics are fans, plain and simple.
BoxJam: I'll cede that previous point, Joey, I don't have many readers who aren't big comic fans already.

[Comic Strips vs. Serials/Graphic novels – Different Judging Criteriae?]
(and) [Should Winners be Eligible the Next Year?]
damonk: Hmm... could one of the problems with a webcomics award be that a comic strip or series lasts more than a year?
BoxJam: The Rubens don't always capture who had the best year (yes, I'm biased toward daily strips)
Joey Manley: BJ brings up another good point, from the side: do daily strips and online graphic novels even belong in the same awards system?
Mark Mekkes: Good question.
Joey Manley: I wouldn't take Mort Walker's word on the relative merits of Love & Rockets or Hicksville.
Chris Crosby: Sure. The Emmys reward both sitcoms and TV movies and six-hour mini-series events.
BoxJam: Joey, you have made me laugh heartily.
Chris Morrisson: Sure, they can last more than a year, but I still believe, in one form or another, that award winners should step aside, and give new blood a chance to be noticed. My way is flawed, sure, but my position on the inequity of it still stands.
Joey Manley: Chris: but the same people don't vote in every category.
BoxJam: I agree, Cmorrison.
Joey Manley: If I'm not mistaken, only a small handful of categories are open to everybody to vote in. Some are qualified to vote in some categories, others in others.
Chris Crosby: Mort Walker is hip and happening and can dig it.

damonk: One suggestion I have heard bandied about a lot is the "no consecutive winners" rule.
damonk: Does this seem like a valid compromise to some?
Chris Morrisson: I agree with that suggestion.
BoxJam: The 'no consecutive winners' seems to be self-enforcing thus far.
damonk: That you could win every other year, if you were that good?
damonk: True, it seems to have turned out that way so far, Bjam.
Joey Manley: I don't know. There are still enough Wildy Popular Strips to dominate every category even with "no consecutive winners" in place. Like I said, though, that doesn't seem to have happened this year.

damonk: Now with print comics, we still see THOUSANDS of titles each year... and Alan Moore wins all the time.
BoxJam: Moore made an ass of himself, though.
damonk: And others, of course...
Chris Morrisson: *yawn* Tell me about it. That's why I quit reading comics.
damonk: So this is a problem that is not limited to webcomics, perhaps?
Joey Manley: If somebody's good enough to win, why not let them? I know that some people who were nominated in the fantasy category last year were irritated with Carson for declining the nomination.
damonk: Are print comics also problematized by the "big fish" getting all the attention?
Chris Crosby: Very few problems are limited to webcomics.
Joey Manley: Damned if you do, damned if you
don't thing.
Chris Morrisson: Absolutely not. It's widespread in any industry driven by ego.
BoxJam: Clearly, there are too many humans. Trying to be one of the final few of 6 BILLION? Get Real!
damonk: Which is pretty much any entertainment-based industry, right?

Re: Great Webcomic Minds Chat a Lot -- A Session on Webcomic Awa

Great chat session. A lot of really good ideas there. About the last comment: I disagree. I love Tycho and Gabe to death (they happen to be personal, IRL friends of mine) but I don't think they really belong on a webcomic panel anymore. Penny Arcade is not really a webcomic. It's more of a commentary. Kind of like a blog with a cartoon tacked onto it. There is a reason that Tycho's newspost is before the comic. You really wouldn't understand the comic if you didn't read the newspost sometimes. I think that chat session had just the right amount of brilliance. Good for you, damonk.

Re: Great Webcomic Minds Chat a Lot -- A Session on Webcomic Awa

Maybe awards should be limited to the groups they belong in. Like, awards for the KeenSpot comics, Modern Tales, KeenSpace, ect. That way, it is easier to look at all of them rather than scrambling to figure out nominations over the entire world wide web.
But, another thing I found about the WCCA is that there wasn't too much, news wise, to tell people to start the nomination process. The first year was, even though it was experimental, fairly quiet if you ask me.

Re: Great Webcomic Minds Chat a Lot -- A Session on Webcomic Awa

Chris Crosby's picture

There are very few things that I'm interested in less than webcomic awards, but I thought my BATMAN FOREVER-related comments added an incredibly large amount of class to the whole thing.

I wouldn't have minded seeing Kurtz and Tycho and Gabe participate.

Re: Great Webcomic Minds Chat a Lot -- A Session on Webcomic Awa

I can be really annoying when I'm drinking.

Web-Comic awards

For a juried system, the jury should read all comics with a certain amount of nominations. They should also set up a rubric for judging each category. That would make the judges more informed than even the Webcomic writers/artists.

If there are too many good comics open for nominations, they can split up the comics and only have everyone read comics that match a certain standard of quality on the rubric.

Readership and popularity, and repeat votes should not be an issue. The issue is quality. If you give attention to the other issues, then you lessen the award. High standards encourage people to work harder. Voting should be confined to the work that was done during the time period the awards recognize, basically that year.

There are so many good comics out there that are hard to find, that need to be found. But perhaps an award system is not the answer. Awards are designed to recognize an elite few. However, people want to read the extremely good many. One solution to this problem might be to have a system like www.onlinecomics.net, holding just about all the comics out there. It would have judging, but would judge each comic individually, not focus on proclaiming the best one. This would show more "extremely good comics." It could also have annual judging, like awards, for more publicity. Could be a juried open-vote, or Web-comic creator only system.

Re: Great Webcomic Minds Chat a Lot -- A Session on Webcomic Awa

It seems to me that the problem with judging webcomics is based on one thing:

There's NO amatuer/professional divide.

Most people do webcomics for free, or virtually for free. Unlike a movie, a CD album or whatever, almost no capital has to be pulled together for producing a webcomic. So you get a mix of people passionately serious about their comics, and others who aren't. You get the 8 year old that just learned MS Paint and the 40 year old graphic artist trying to make a difference.

It's the beauty of webcomics, of course. Virtually free distribution and no editors means that the work goes right from the artist to the reader. And a professional and an amatuer can be equal in quality.

But what this also does is make a whole heap of crap that someone - be it a jury or an open voting system - has to wade through to find something worthwhile.

There's really only one way to solve the dilemma of the amateur/professional divide. Charge for entry.

Something as small as $1 or as large as $10 would at least get rid of anyone who doesn't even take themselves seriously. Of course, people who couldn't raise the funds would complain, and some good comics might not do it because there's money on the line, but it should eliminate a lot of the nonsense that normally gets submitted.

What the people in charge of the award did with the money is up to them, though they should be upfront about it from the start. It could be used as a donation to charity (CBLDF?), or perhaps split between the winners, or kept to keep the awards going.

Re: Great Webcomic Minds Chat a Lot -- A Session on Webcomic Awa

Scott's right kids, we need a forum.

Re: Great Webcomic Minds Chat a Lot -- A Session on Webcomic Awa

You guys would not have wanted me in this chat session. Nor would you have wanted Gabe and Tycho.

It's for the best we weren't invited.