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Is the Stereotype Dead?

Before we begin this discussion, I should clarify just what I mean by "stereotype". I do not intend for stereotype to mean racial stereotypes, or even cultural stereotypes. What I plan to evaluate is the character stereotypes that exist in so many webcomics - characters like the hardcore gamer, the amnesia-suffering loner hero anime character, the "frisky" furry or anthro character, etc...

We've all seen them before, and in the rapidly-expanding universe of webcomics, will characters so familiar actually help a young comic? We need to weigh the pros and cons first. Let's just go with the short list...


1 Familiarity - The fact that we've seen these characters before can generate an attraction to the overall comic. There is a comfort zone generated by what is familiar. Why else would we have all wasted money on seeing all three Star Wars prequel movies?

2 Ease - This applies mostly for the cartoonist. They have the advantage of writing characters that basically write themselves. Stereotypes tend to be one-dimensional (It's their nature.) and it doesn't take much creativity to work with them. It can be appealing for a cartoonist to take the easy way out.


1 Familiarity - It's a double-edged sword. While some readers may like the sense of the familiar, many more will just avoid the comic entirely, electing to go find something more creative and original. If you've seen it once, you've seen it a thousand times. How many more "crazy guy and straight man on a couch" gamer comics does the world really need?

Ease - Also can hurt the creator. Peers and readers will see the creator as taking the easy way out, rather than developing something better. It can be seen as wasted potential, and bad products can sink potentially good creators.

Limited Use - Stereotypes are found in many humor or cookie-cutter American manga comics. They don't have a place in more developed, ongoing stories or even "highbrow" humor strips. You'll find stereotyopes in plenty of gamer strips, but you don't see them in strips like Achewood, or the Perry Bible Fellowship. (Note: I choose not to single out any comics that try to coast on stereotypes simply because I do not want to start a pointless flame war.) If the creator relies too much on stereotypes, they may not be able to create a truly great strip.

The overall question remains; can stereotypes actually help a fledgling comic gain readership? In the short run, it might be able to get a few additional readers, but in the long run, that reader base may not grow due to the limits of the comic's writing. If the writing relies on cookie-cutter, shallow characters, then there is little room for growth and development, which can destroy a comic. Stereotypes tend to hurt comics more than help them.

Original, well-developed characters seem to have more of an appeal now; it could be this way simply because there is a glut of comics relying on stereotypical characters. It could be that webcomic readers are just more appreciative of good writing. Deep, witty, and thoughtful writing challenges the creator and the reader, and though that kind of mental stimualtion may turn off many ADD-I-Need-To-Click-Now-Now-Now readers, it can generate a loyal fanbase. PvP, Dr. McNinja, and Questionable Content, though while wildly different comics, all aim for a more clever approach, and have solid reader bases that will stay with those comics during the good runs and the bad runs. There are few comics that rely on stereotypes that will experience that kind of success.

The stereotypical character may one day rise again; there may be some creator who comes along and does something brilliant with an entire cast of stereotypes. But, in today's webcomic world, they just don't seem to do much good for a comic. In my opinion, I like it this way. I like to see more original, daring comics that try to do something new, or at least try to do something fresh with an old genre. I don't want to see more comics with stereotypical characters anymore, but that's just me.


You Raise a Good Point, But...

Sean C's picture

I notice that, more often than not, when cliched characters are done well, they are often used in a parody or satirical strip; it's just something I've noticed over the last couple years.

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Hmm well, you also need to

jfreedan's picture

Hmm well, you also need to consider there is only so many personality traits a character can have--and this limit is determined by us real people.

Every kind of character personality you can imagine has already been done before.

What is different is the situations the characters are placed in, and the level of importance placed on them in the story.

To explain what I mean...take the 'Boy Scout' archetype, a character like Superman (well, the Golden Age one).

Good is good, bad is bad, and there's no grey line.

Boy Scout is very cliche in an adventure comic; but what about in a comic about tentacle monsters and the women who love them? I direct you to 'Chick Boy' from (warning! hentai parody comic!)

It's a cliched character, but I find it hella entertaining to see him twist and squirm when taken into a setting that character is horribly uncomfortable in-- and then watch him adapt to find some balance with the setting.

So, I don't see anything wrong with cliched characters themselves. I think how they are used is what makes the difference.


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  Well Personally I dont

DumokDuvalles's picture


 Well Personally I dont use that many stereotypes in My comic so much as to give me a basis for Making up the character.

I have a lecherous Jerk as the Main "Heroic" character, and His all female crew, I try to keep the characters consistant, but For the most part they are evolving into their own personalities and quirks.

Yes Jaren is lecherous, and an arrogant Jackass, but He doesnt really have any of the more "endearing" qualities. He actually cares about his crew and He is being pulled into some really serious stuff.

I guess I said that to say this, Sterotypes are a great starting point, but the characters are eventually going to either grow and develop, or the comic goes into the same old rut.

that's my two cents.Â


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