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Joe Zabel Article on Webcomics Community

The Webcomics Examiner has a new article up called "A Shrinkage of the Center".  Joe Zabel was nice enough to ask me for comments on the idea of the piece but of course I've been too swamped to sit down and extract some rational thoughts from my brain  to respond properly.

Maybe the difficulty I had with articulaing a response was in how that article framed its questions.  I've never been part of "the comics community" or fandom generally.  I recognize that there is a tribal aspect to comic book fandom - much more so than any other type of comics readership.  I don't think webcomics has every really had that aspect to it.  Largely because unlike comic books webcomics have not coalesced around a specific genre and I doubt that webcomics ever will (or just as importantly get tightly linked to a genre in the larger public mind).

The other way to think of community is more about the creators and whether they share ideas, etc.  My perception on this is that there has never been one community of webcomic creators.  There used to be far fewer webcomics creators and so perhaps it was easier to look in on all of the various groups of people, but I just don't recall a moment in time when everyone was unified or together or something.

The fact of the matter is that it's easier to compare webcomics to literature or music than comic books to sort out what's going on.  Nobody expects every author or musician to be in the words or music community.  Instead there are communities built around common interests like genre, experience, age, whatever.  A lot of creators will pay attention to multiple communities - but some will burrow into just one and some will ignore everything at all.

That doesn't mean that a general interest site for webcomics like Comixpedia is flawed - it just means it's a bit unrealistic to expect us all to feel like we're part of one webcomics community.  I know I've used the term "webcomics community" myself, but obviously there are different ways to use the word community.  A community can be a very tight-knit group of individuals like a single street or it can be a more diverse group like an entire city.  As webcomics grow in size an scope it can't help but become more like an entire city.

If we're talking about "webcomics community" it's better to understand that there are all kinds of communities out there and that at a place like Comixpedia we're engaged in some intra-community discussion, but also inter-community discussion.  We're all "of webcomics" but different communities essentially have different customs and speak different languages to some extent. 

Interesting article;

Interesting article; interesting response.

Having been involved in webcomics for only around a year and a half now (first as Senior Editor over at Midnite Comics, now running my own site at Broken Voice Comics), I'd have to agree with those who have concluded that - if there ever was such a thing as a single "webcomics community" - it's pretty difficult to see where it is today.

There are a few sites (identified in the articles and including, obviously, Comixpedia) which have their own regular contributors but how many of those contributors really feel a sense of "community" with each other? How many support or even know each other's work? How many will even bother to follow the above link to my site in this post? I'm not necessarily arguing they should (although all visitors are, of course, welcome!) but I would argue that - in a real community - that is the sort of thing that would be happening. Often. As a matter of course.

In another thread on Comixpedia recently, it was noted how rare it is for the larger, more established creators to promote newer works by other creators on their sites these days (except when the artist is known to them personally). Again, I'm not arguing that any established creator should feel obliged to give a "leg up" to the newcomers but - if webcomics were in any real sense a "community" - that would pretty much be the norm.

The same is true of webcomic readers. Many of the readers listed at OnlineComics.net (or any of the other listings sites mentioned in the article) have tens or even hundreds of webcomics listed as their "favourites". And yet how many of those readers have ever posted feedback to the creators of those comics? A handful at best. This is, of course, no different to the small percentage of viewers who would normally bother to post their reaction to a tv show or a movie but, especially given the ease with which feedback can be posted on a webcomic, I would suggest that - in a community - responses could be expected from more than the very small number of "usual suspects" we tend to see.

The problem is probably that, with webcomics being such a democratic medium (or, yes, more accurately delivery mechanism), any sense of "community" there may once have been has long since fallen victim the vast range of styles, genres, interests, views and motivations of the different creators/readers.

Perhaps, in time, that diversity will result in a whole bunch of more "specialised" communities but - for now - as with any medium, I can see the creators and I can see the fans ... but I can't see a community.
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Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Website: www.brokenvoice.co.uk
Contact: edit_bvc@yahoo.co.uk

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

I can't agree with that exactly...

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

A lot of this just depends on how you understand the words Joe is using (or me for that matter).  Despite my above statement (or maybe it's because of those circumstances) I do think there's a lot of cross-pollination in webcomics but artistically, experimentally and just plain personally.

I also still see a lot of plugging back and forth as well as cross-over activity even if it's from different people than in the past. 

I suppose it depends on what your threshold for a "community" is really.  I think people have wildly different expectations of what a community means and is supposed to do..

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Xaviar Xerexes 

I am a Modern Major Generality.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

Thanks for the plug and the

Joe Zabel's picture

Thanks for the plug and the feedback, Xaviar! I agree that the basic concept of "webcomics community" is unwieldy; but I was trying to use that as a vehicle to talk about some other things that are quite tangible and obvious-- like the warring camps that break out into "drama" periodically.

As the editor of a site devoted to general discussions of all webcomics, I have a practical interest in understanding where these kinds of discussions take place, and where these discussions are going. Specifically, I have a situation of running a webzine that has had a steady increase in traffic (2006 is shaping up as our best year); but I've had a great deal of difficulty finding authors to write for us. So I'm constantly looking for blogs and message boards where potential Examiner critics may be hanging out.

It's also a practical editorial consideration, I'm sure for both of us, to understand what kinds of discussions are really relevant in this changing webcomics world. I'm guessing that it's not about infinite canvas for the newer artists, and it's not about daily updates either. Of course it's never about one idea, or one small list of ideas; but there's such a thing as a zeitgeist, a common purpose that touches many artists, and as critics we want to understand that.

I agree that webcomics are not cohesive in the way that American print comics are. And that fact itself prompts a question: with so many webcartoonists aspiring to cross over into the print medium, are they in for a rude awakening? Will they find that there's only so much room in print for the kinds of comics genres that flourish on the web?