Why Do Online Comics by Iain Hamp

On a bustling Friday night at the mall recently, I wandered into the Barnes and Noble to see what was new.

My wife and I set a small allowance aside for ourselves, for fun non-necessities we want to purchase now and then. Not surprisingly, most of mine gets spent on comics and graphic novels. I have a fairly set pattern when I go to one of these massive bookstores, and I was following it to a tee that night despite never having been in to that particular store location. First, I perused the magazine racks, checking out all of the latest Hollywood gossip, video game reviews, incredible toys I wished they would have been making when I was a kid, and of course, the new issue of Wired. From there, I scanned the bargain book tables on my way over to where they keep the computer books. I then proceeded to swear a lot about how expensive all the programming books I wanted were. Once I was done there, my next destination was the science fiction racks, where I would of course find the graphic novels and… manga?

Hey, where’s the manga? They’re usually right here between the superhero graphic novels and the sci-fi new releases. I looked around, trying to figure out what was going on, and then I spotted where they had moved the manga section. They were across the aisle, far away from the other comics, neatly positioned between the young adult section and the romance novels. I was stunned for a moment, and then a huge grin formed on my face as I began to take in what I was witnessing. Young adult females are by and large the audience for the manga books being placed in these stores, and someone with some authority realized this and decided there was perhaps a better place for them than in amongst the other, mostly superhero-themed comics that these stores tend to carry.

Now, I personally can’t find myself getting into the manga romance/adventure genre that is gaining so much steam lately. I have tried, and maybe I haven’t found the right title yet, but so far it just hasn’t been what I am interested in reading. But that night at Barnes and Noble, I saw a potential outcome of thousands of teenage girls growing up loving those books. If the popularity continues, and more and more young women get hooked on these comics, then a percentage of them will probably want to create their own comics.

That in itself is a great thing, but think about the kinds of comics they would be more likely to produce. I may be stereotyping here, but generally speaking, I am pretty sure the stories they would want to tell would not have titles beginning with "X-" or ending with "-Man", or involve unrealistically proportioned people in tights flying around cities beating up other unrealistically proportioned people in tights. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that kind of comic, but it isn’t the slice-of-life story about real people in real situations dealing with problems I can identify with that I want to read.

My hope would be that as these young creative women begin to try their hand at comics, they explore issues and emotions and relationships in the wonderful ways women can. I can definitely see things coming out of this phenomenon that have never been done before in comics. A glance around the links page at scottmccloud.com paints a nice picture of the female creators already out at the boundaries and giving them a good shove or two.

Maybe I’m already a bit jaded with the possibilities of revolution, or at least evolution of comics. On the web, as the constraints of the form of comics continue to loosen and people are rethinking what the possibilities really are, revolutionary ideas and creations feel like almost a given to me. On the web, one can see the real beginnings of the actual exploration of the full bounds of the medium of comics, through every possible genre and from every possible voice. In print and with readers of print-bound comics, though, this is still a battle to be won. Despite the growth in readership of webcomics, the number of readers of comics in print remains a much larger target. The transformation of comics, from what it is today to what it might be tomorrow, will most likely be won or lost on battlegrounds such as a Barnes and Noble.

And as I look at all the people who are browsing and reading manga in the bookstore I can hope that they have finally found something in comics that appeals to them in a way that comics might not have before. Something that will lead them to not only become passionate consumers of comics but passionate creators as well. And while I wander the Internet seeing wonderful, brilliant work created in webcomics, I can’t help but be convinced that all fans of comics, webcomic and otherwise, are in for an exciting ride in the years to come.

I’d better start saving my allowance now…


  1. I think it’s wonderful whenever comics are introduced to new audiences, especially in this case, because it does seem as though comics are still a boy’s thing. I’m also glad that this encourages people to make their own comics. I mean, why not? Webcomicking is fairly easy, all you really need is diligence and time. The thing that worries me though about manga fans creating webcomics is that they may feel obligated to make manga only type comics, which is pretty much dominating the webcomic scene as it is. I personally don’t have anything against manga or manga style webcomics, it’s just that I find it sad that a lot of people feel like they have to adhere to manga standards in their comics, which really sets a lot of people back creatively.
    Whoa… I ranted a bit. SO SORRY! ^_^

  2. It IS a good idea, but my one worry would be that people might think of manga as being ALL for teenaged girls, or JUST for teenaged girls.

    The big chain bookstores where I am now have TWO graphic novel sections: One for adults, over by sci-fi/fantasy, and one for kids and young adults. Which is GREAT, it’s a wonderful idea, except the trouble is they don’t seem to READ the darn things before they sort them, and the tendency with manga appears to be “When in doubt, YA section.” Which usually works, but can occasionally be a Very Bad Idea.

    “Um, excuse me, sir? I just thought you should know, Junko Mizuno’s ‘Cinderella’ isn’t a kids story. Yes, her stuff IS cute, and fairy tale themed, but her stories tend to involve drugs and zombies and lingerie and stuff. Oh, and while we’re on the subject… Warriors of Tao? It’s rated M. It USED to be wrapped in plastic. There was, uh, good reason for that. It involves, like, boobs and gore and more panty-shots then you’d think were POSSIBLE and I think an attempted tentacle rape and you REEEEEEEEALLY don’t want to put it next to Tokyo Mew Mew. Just trust me.”

    Actual converstion with sales staff. Shudder. THAT was a lawsuit waiting to happen.

  3. Interestingly enough my biggest pet peeve with the current growth in Graphic Novels is bookstore placement.  I think it's foolish to group the comics by themselves like B&N, Borders, etc seem to do.  Don't get me a wrong – I wouldn't mind an extra comic-specific display table.  But that should be extra – fundamentally, comics should be shelved and promoted with written books.  Mysteries with mysteries – biography with biography, comedy with comedy, etc.

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