My THOUGHTS On A History Of Webcomics V.1 ~OR~ Do It Right

At last, the long-awaited, eagerly anticipated Digital Strips review of T Campbell’s A History Of Webcomics V.1! And the question on everybody’s mind: Will he hate it? Or will he gush with praise of a work so ahead of its time, it should be another ten to twenty years before it’s actually published?

If you can’t tell from that last sentence where I’ll be taking this, let me ask you this question: Who do you feel the intended audience should be for a work such as this? The webcomic community? Or those we would like to educate about our young medium? If you marked through the first selection on your test sheet, then it would be best if you sat down your pencil and left the classroom now. This review isn’t for you.

By Campbell’s own admission, we are a growing area of the Internets with about ten years experience under our belts. So why would we already need a book to show us how far we’ve come? To help illustrate just how far we’ve got to go? To toot our own horn? There’s plenty of that going around already, thank you very much. A self-agrandizing reminder of what we’ve done (or haven’t done, in many cases) is NOT what webcomics needs right now.

Ever watch VH1’s Best Week Ever? Sickening, isn’t it? That we could get so much pleasure out of remembering what happened just a few days ago in the world of entertainment is disgusting and this case of selfish pride with A History is no better. Ten years, folks. We need no looking back just yet, only to look forward, so a book like this, intended for an audience raised on the Internet and meant for those already involved in our developing medium is useless.

Ah ha! But what of those who know nothing about us? The plentiful portion of the population who look at me with puzzled anguish when I try to explain to them that there are comic strips being published online, good ones, and that they can find them at the click of a mouse. THIS is the group that we should be targeting with a comprehensive history of where we’ve been thus far and where we might go in the future. And as such, the book should be written for that audience, a tutorial for the everyman, created to bring them in and introduce each person, one by one, to the amazing world of online comics, or webcomics as we like to call them.

I’ve been a part of this thing for about two years now, working on my stuff and getting more and more entrenched in the community with each passing day. Paging through A History Of Webcomics V.1 was a chore for me, a self-educated man of the medium, so I can’t imagine how quickly a non-initiated reader might toss the book aside. My guess would be somewhere during the first chapter, titled “Pre-History”, which includes so many numbers and acronyms you’d think you were reading a script for Lost. There ARE lessons to be learned within the pages but who wants to learn them when you have to force yourself to turn the page every single time?

And the construction of the book itself doesn’t help matters, either. Pagination is horrid, leaving the mind to jump from one conclusion to the next when one paragraph ends and another begins. You really just take a flying leap of faith from one to the next and hope a coherent thought continues on the opposite side. Page numbers would be nice as well, especially when I had to put the book down and then work every muscle in my body to the breaking point to pick it up again, but I guess that’s what bookmarks are for.

Basically it’s the production values of the book that bring it down in terms of aesthetics and actually looking like a professionally published work. Black and white images? Come on. Do it right, make it color, and show the strips included (some allegedly illegally, but I won’t say as I don’t know for sure) with the proper respect and consideration they were created with.

Finally, with the last page read and the final day cataloged, I heaved a heavy sign of relief and took to jotting down my thoughts. Then, a small image in the upper-right hand corner of the cover caught my eye. A cute manga schoolgirl was there to alert me that this is version 1.0 of the series, meaning more revisions are still to come. This scared me to my core and brought me to a great realization: this book was just plain made wrong.

If something MUST be done to document this 10-year milestone, do it right. Start with the beginning and write a full-color, light-hearted take on the events of the first ten years or so. Heck, there is so much to talk about in terms of defining the work and just how different the medium was than anything else before it, the first volume could cover only five years.

And that’s just what the first book should be: a volume. Tell the story, educate the masses, but let them learn in the same way they’ve learned everything else in their lives. Give them A History in its current form and I can almost guarantee they’ll never give us a second glance. After all, it made me less interested in the medium, and I already know about it.

So are there ANY redeeming factors about the book? Well, if you’re in webcomics already, you might appreciate the list of strips you never knew existed and behind-the-scenes drama that you never heard about, but even THAT is debatable; according to some in the biz, much of the information gathered and cited in the text is incorrect, even to the point where it might be false. But I’ll leave that chestnut for someone ELSE to roast.

Overall, A History of Webcomics is an unnecessary work and one that should have been in a completely different manner and by a completely different author with little to no connection to the medium other than an unbiased love of it. I’ll instead be keeping an eye out for Checkboard Nightmare’s A Brief History of Webcomics, which promises at least to be an enjoyable read, if nothing else. I suggest you do the same and avoid this version (or any other) of A History Of Webcomics. If you want to continue your love affair with webcomics, it’s a must-not-have.

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11 thoughts on “My THOUGHTS On A History Of Webcomics V.1 ~OR~ Do It Right

  1. Ah man, I just cant leave it at that…

    I realize that by your logic, there hasn’t sufficient time passage before I can critique this. But, this whole rant reads like it’s one of two things:

    1- A fanboy vehemetly backing up the previously stated opinions of his favorite webcartoonists. Which is the way I’m leaning right now since you havent provided a new opinion, and implied most of their character assassinations.

    Oh wait, that’s not fair. You DID lambaste the printer for not making it color. Fuck you, Antarctic Press!

    2 – Or a far-too-late attempt to generate controversy/ traffic with the most recent target du jour. Which is quite possible give past history around here in regards to drama.

    Anyway, I can see why you’re not doing the reviews.

  2. First off, I never said I was a professional reviewer, so let that one go, alright?

    Next, I was the one charged with reading the book and giving my thoughts and that’s just what they are: MY thoughts. I tend to agree with what everyone else has already said about the book because, most likely, it’s what most people are thinking. If not, they are opinions and everyone’s got one.

    I read books for enjoyment and a comprehensive history of a medium that has proven itself to exist simply for the purpose of providing enjoyment in some way should be somewhat enjoyable, in my opinion.

    I stand by my statements and could care less why THE William G agrees with me or not. Talk to the boss ’round here if you don’t want me to do anymore reviews. I’m sure you can probably get a petition started or something…

  3. We have a kurtz, a william g…. a coffman… if only you could get a Manley or Campbell in here arguing, people might give a shit about this article.

    Wasnt this so last year when people were saying how retarded it was to have a HISTORY of webcomics book? heh. I’m just busting your balls man.

    I’m surprised no one mentioned that digitalstrips.com was mentioned in the NY TIMES article… thats where the real drama is at these days.

  4. DISCLAIMER: The following is meant as an attack strictly on MC’s argument about A History of Webcomics and not on MC’s other reviews or life or soul or personal hygiene. I assume until otherwise notified that MC is in fact a wonderful person who tips 20% and would stop to help a woman in labor even if it cost him a job interview. Response begins… now.

    I seriously can’t follow these arguments, MC. You allude, without committing yourself, to a couple of thoroughly unfounded claims:

    Reread Gary Tyrell’s review if you want; at no point does he claim the information in there is false, only misleading and, in one case which I find trivial, erroneous. The only people who have claimed the book’s information was false have not only made false arguments, they didn’t even bother to read it first. But OH! it’s okay, because you’re just saying the information MIGHT be false, similar to the way I could say you MIGHT be a child-murderer. Why haven’t any of the book’s critics exposed such spurious falsehoods in the months following its release? Because this would require actual reading and research, and because they CAN’T.

    What you are misremembering concerning images is a dispute about the commissioned COVER of the book, not its contents, a dispute quickly resolved to the satisfaction of all parties actually involved, but trumped up after the fact by people who should have known better. If you’re not gonna do basic research about things that are easily found online, let alone things that might actually require some digging and interviewing, then hrm! Maybe it would be helpful if you had a BOOK on hand that did some of that stuff for you!

    The rest of the time, it seems like you don’t like the book but can’t decide why.

    Should it be more concerned with accuracy or amusement value?

    Is it “too soon” to do the book because webcomics is only ten/thirteen years old or might a book like this be done that covers only the first FIVE years of webcomics?

    Is the book unnecessary or should it have been done in a completely different manner?

    Should the book be written for and therefore judged by webcomics outsiders, or should we be reading your perspective on it as a webcomics insider?

    Is this a REVIEW, or are you not even a REVIEWER?

    Is day NIGHT? Is white BLACK?

    And if the whole thing is so awful then WHY ON EARTH would the notion of corrections and revisions strike terror into your heart, gentle reader? Having raised the possibility that I mmmMIGHT be a thief or a liar, are you afraid that I’m going to break into your house in the dead of night and FORCE you to read v2.0? “It reads the passage on electronic pens, or else it gets the hose again.”

    *SIGH* At least you read v1.0, and of your own free will. Thanks for that much. I don’t deny that the book has real problems, but I wish the people who criticized it talked more about its actual content.

    The book was written for PEOPLE INTERESTED IN DEVELOPING ART AND LITERATURE, whether insiders or outsiders to this particular strain of both. But I don’t begrudge you the assumptions you make about my motivations based on my words, and I hope you won’t begrudge me the same sort of assumption:

    “We need no looking back just yet, only to look forward.” This implies that we CAN know where we’re going without knowing where we’ve been, and if that is truly your belief, then the book is emphatically not going to work for you. I think it may work better for those art-and-lit types who might also read books like The Google Story and magazine articles like New York‘s “What If 9/11 Never Happened?,” people who believe that ten years or five years or one year is not too little time to gain perspective. At least, not on things that matter.

    This stuff matters to me, at least. And I want to understand it better now. Not ten years from now. Now.

    P.S.: I have nothing good to say in defense of the book’s design, except that your expectation that it be in full, splashy color is not economically realistic.

    Well, I guess I could also say that at least it isn’t one of those books like Gardner’s Art Through The Ages which can’t be bothered to put images on the same two-page spread as text describing them. Ooh, I hate that. So. Much.

    I missed my best chance for a good dramatic exit, didn’t I? Stopping typing now.

  5. Thanks for the clarifications, T. I was expecting THAT much at least.

    You’re right, I do little to no research for reviews, so I guess I’ll just leave reviews for books with “History” in the title to others who will readily check sources and citations and such. It all just makes me head hurt, much like this comment thread.

    And thanks for taking my researching skills to task and not making this a personal attack. If I can’t back up my words, then I shouldn’t be doing this, right? I just wish others could follow the same example…

    And FYI, I tip based on performance, no matter how high the minimum gratuity might be and, though extremely icky, I would indeed help a woman give birth despite the sacrifice necessary to do so. I have also been known to, as they say, “pay it forward”.

  6. T, buddy, it’s “TYRRELL”.

    Just bustin’ on ya. I’m feeling great because in WG’s estimation, I’ve gone from blowing Jon Rosenberg to merely being his publicist. I win!

  7. Pingback: Digital Strips: The Webcomics Podcast

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