Why Do Online Comics? Making it Up As We Go

When I was younger, I had a friend whose family was crazy about games. They had a linen closet filled to the brim with board games, bookshelf games, and role playing games, and had the obligatory Atari 2600 hooked up to their television. We’d play these games a lot, and we’d have an alright time. I’m not sure when this started exactly, but one time…

Making it Up As We Go.

When I was younger, I had a friend whose family was crazy about games. They had a linen closet filled to the brim with board games, bookshelf games, and role playing games, and had the obligatory Atari 2600 hooked up to their television. We’d play these games a lot, and we’d have an alright time. I’m not sure when this started exactly, but one time…

…when we stayed overnight at his place, we set up a tent in the backyard. When it got really dark, we went into the game closet and took out this game that came with several plastic glow-in-the-dark ghosts about the size of a tennis ball (I was smaller then, so I may be remembering them as slightly bigger than they actually were, but they were big enough none-the-less).

We broke into teams on opposite sides of the tent, set up defenses made primarily of sleeping bags and little brothers, and then began beaming the ghosts at one another. It was like a snowball fight, but in the middle of summer in Arizona! Of course, inevitably, someone got hurt and made enough of a racket that we all stopped the game lest we all get in trouble for doing something so absurdly stupid as throwing what amounted to large glowing rocks at one another. The thing is, that game was so much more fun than any of the other games and their rulebooks in that closet. It was as good as it was because we made it up, we wrote the rules to fit what we wanted it to do for us – to give us maximum entertainment value.

Online comics have been around for a few years now, but it is still very much a fledgling industry. This means it’s still very malleable, and there’s still time to define yourself as a pioneer of webcomics. The people that are heavily involved in online comics are the ones making the rules right now, and it’s relatively easy to get yourself in the position of being someone heavily involved in the industry.

Webcomics leaders, like Joey Manley, Scott McCloud, and the Penny Arcade crew started out from practically nowhere, and are now in the position to sway things one way or another in a big way. One well timed, carefully worded rant or news post from them can have fairly major repercussions.

These people are still pretty approachable. Try wandering up to Bill Gates and holding his attention for a bit while you tell him about the ideas you have regarding his industry – not likely. I am pretty confident in saying that if you struck up a conversation about web comics ideas with Scott McCloud at a comic convention, though, he’d be thrilled to talk out the ideas and see what there is to make of them. From conversation comes ideas, and from ideas come those carefully worded rants and news posts I mentioned. Voila, you just had influence on the industry of online comics.

I’m using these people as examples because I’ve seen enough of them both on the Internet and in person to make educated guesses as to how they would react to such things. But you can have just as much of an impact by discussing these sorts of things with anyone in the industry, or with people just interested in webcomics. Sit down at a coffee bar with the people in your community that are doing similar projects and start kicking out ideas. I don’t usually have to look much farther than the main page of the Online Comics forum at comicon.com or over at Talk About Comics to get ideas rolling for my next column. The people still have the power in this medium, folks, and properly harnessed, it can be a force to be reckoned with.

I look at what has come so far from the discussions and efforts by the people behind the scenes of the Modern Tales "empire", and I am both impressed and inspired, because any group of creators willing to put the same level of effort could do something similar. The people at Modern Tales, Serializer, and such may have strong fan bases and be established, but they didn’t get that way by sitting around and waiting for someone to trip over them and pay them to put their stuff up on some website somewhere.

Despite most of these artists loving to claim how lazy they are, they are tenacious people whose passion for the work translates into creative, and, to a larger degree than most of what we’ve seen previously, financial success. They are writing their own rules, and people are enjoying the results. I would venture to step out on a limb and say that any group of reasonably talented, equally tenacious people with a common goal and plan to (re?)shape a corner of the online comics world in their "image" would be able to do wonders. Sure, some people would say that my attitude is "dripping with optimism," but every group needs at least one person who is disgustingly "up," right? That person at the keg party you were at that one time that you heard say "I don’t need that stuff, I’m high on life"? Yeah, that was me. Still, that doesn’t change my point.

All I’m saying is that there is a lot of ‘power’ in the world of online comics that’s up for grabs. You can either take it for yourself and do something with it, or you can let someone else grab it and watch while they do what they want with it instead. If you let the latter one happen though, you better be ready for the possibility of a goose egg on your head, courtesy of a plastic phantom being hurled at you.

Iain Hamp


  1. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on matters of Keen as of late.

    For those unfamiliar with my viewpoint regarding Keenspot, Keenspace, etc., I will say that I am not a big fan. However, it has been pointed out recently that while "if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all" may be a good practice in general, it doesn’t necessarily make for good editorial-style writing.

    So I’m going to go in two different directions with this. In the future, I am going to make an effort to mention Keenspot when i mention influential webcomic sites. Regardless of whether I approve of their business, it isn’t up to me to decide whether the readers of my articles should like it or not. I know plenty of people who think Keen is the cat’s meow and that Modern Tales isn’t their thing at all. So in trying to write fairly unbiased pieces on why one should do online comics, I am going to make an effort to be a little less exclusive.

    That being said, I am also planning to review Keen en masse, including the history of it through my own observations, why I don’t connect with it as a business for the most part, what I do like about it, and what I’d like to see instead (i.e. what would bring me into the fold as a Keen customer). I don’t know if the review will go up here or somewhere else (depends on if Comixpedia wants it), but I think that’s the fairest way to express my frustration with them while keeping "Why Do Online Comics?" as unbiased as possible going forward.

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