Through the Looking Back Glass by Erik Melander
To solo or not to solo is not a question that many webcomics creators even bother to ask themselves. Most webcomics seem to be solo efforts by a single creator handling both the art and the writing. If this is in fact true it is no surprise, as both webcomics and small press print comics are generally thought of as a means for a creator to develop his or her own ideas without interference or outside pressure to craft a certain type of comic. It is in fact one of the wonderful things about comics, that the medium has such respect for the the lone creator speaking his or her voice through a comic.
Having said that, however, there's no question collaboration has played an important part in webcomics.
Most recently this April, we saw the end of the six year old webcomic, Fans!. Fans! is perhaps one of the best known collaborative efforts in webcomics. It was written by T Campbell, but drawn with a number of different artists. Campbell has had good luck in finding artists to collaborate with, including Gisele Legace, who he has collaborated with on two webcomics, including the more recent Penny & Aggie.
But a quick look in the Talk About Comics forums for collaborators reveals that there are a lot of writers looking for artists. A great deal more than artists looking for writers. That an artist might choose first and foremost to work on his or her own creation comes as little surprise simply because so many webcomics go from idea to publication so quickly. An artist with an idea has few barriers to quickly turn that idea into a webcomic. A writer on the other hand has more trouble crafting a webcomic that requires anything more than a minimalist style of art. None of this is to say that the best webcomics are actually created in this manner.
There are a number of ways to collaborate. Pairing a writer with an artist is perhaps the most common and obvious means to collaborate in comics. There are also many, many examples of collaboration in the writing of a webcomic. More interesting perhaps is collaboration in the art of a webcomic. The combination or incorporation of multiple artists on a work can be achieved in many ways, ranging from actual shared work on individual panels to the hand off from artist to artist over the life of an ongoing serialized work.
There has already been a number of interesting collaboration-related news items in 2005. In February, Jerzy Drozd and Sara Turner announced that they were creating a joint imprint for their comic projects, "Make Like A Tree Comics". Drozd and Turner were already collaborating on their webcomic, The Replacements, which is featured on Graphic Smash. What is interesting about Drozdâ€™s and Turner's collaborations is that they are both artists and not a classical writer and artist collaborative team. A similar setup seems to be what Patrick Farley and Justine Shaw have engaged in with their forthcoming work, The Mother of All Bombs. Two artists collaborating certainly has interesting possibilities, especially when one talks about the kind of serialized publishing that is so common on the Internet. One wonders if the potential for increased output alone might make it worth engaging in such a partnership.
A different kind of collaboration, which is not really a collaboration on a comic, is Hope Larson and Kean Soo's joint venture The Secret Friends Society. Instead of working on the same comic, Soo and Larson have each published a comic on the site. Again, the obvious benefit for the site is more updates, but also just as importantly may be the chance to mix and match fan bases at a single location.
One of the most fascinating collaborative attempts, Whispered Apologies was announced just recently. Behind the project are two well-known webcomic creators, Ryan North of Dinosaur comics and Joey Comeau of A Softer World. With Whispered Apologies the idea is that the readers will provide the pictures and North and Comeau will provide the words.
Whispered Apologies is a collaborative comic strip! You design a comic, pictures but no words, and send it in. Then Ryan and Joey and friends will add dialogue and narration to make your comic illustrative of wacky adventures or even quiet moments of reflection and self-awareness.
While the value of collaboration from an artistic standpoint has been debated in other forums, there should be no doubt that the act of collaboration is well-suited to be tailored to online publishing. Whether by increasing output, pooling resources or by combining existing readerships, collaborations have the possibility to offer definite benefits to the participants. Strength in numbers.
Erik Melander has read comics his whole life. Vir Bonus is his own attempt at creating one.