Why Do Online Comics?

I’m finally getting around to reading Art Spiegelman’s Maus. As I do, I find myself thinking about why this work would be considered worthy of a Pulitzer Prize. I don’t mean to say that it isn’t; I just want to understand what sets it apart in that special way. By analyzing it this way, my hope is to find something to aspire to through my own work, to find another reason to continue to create comics.

There was a discussion regarding an art gallery in New York City recently on NPR. The main commentator kept coming back to the notion of art “meaning something” – that is, it should evoke an emotional response. It should have depth, it should have character, and it should speak to the soul of the creator and the observer.

Regardless of what you think any particular artwork should do or be, I think most would agree that art carries tremendous potential within itself. The question, then, is what to do with that potential, that power you hold in your pen, your brush, your mouse. I’ve recently been involved in discussions with people who feel that unless online comics artists use their work collectively to send some sort of political message or call for change in the world, their creations will, at best, be ignored and, at worst, be considered irrelevant and wasteful.

We live in trying times. Certainly, there is merit in using one’s talents to try to evoke discussion and, perhaps, incite change in the world. I don’t know that I would find it any more important, however, than a story that takes my heart and mind somewhere else for a while, helping me to escape reality, if only temporarily. I don’t know how you would even begin to compare the benefit of one sort of work versus another. My inclination as a reader is to want a nice balance of both.

That being said, the discussion has led me to make my voice known. Until now I’ve just been writing articles on how I feel about topics the world is facing, or philosophizing about them with friends at the coffee bar. Now I’m thinking about what I can do with my comics to make a difference, make my voice heard as I want it to be.

I’m reading Maus, and it is making me feel. I’m thinking of my grandfather fighting in World War 2. I’m discussing what constitutes a war “worth fighting for” with my peers, and we are learning a great deal from each other. I’m also going home, turning on the internet, and reading Goats, Skinny Panda, and Achewood, and laughing out loud at them for a few minutes, thus escaping the world around me just long enough to make it bearable again.

Iain Hamp