A New Year’s question

Christopher Butcher, a comics retailer whose blog Comics212.net is must-reading in for fans of dead-tree comics, poses an interesting end-of-the-year question. As the year-end retrospectives come trundling down the information highway, Chris asks: Why are these all print comics?

Why aren’t webcomics, by and large, included in all of these critical “Best Comics of the Year” lists? For my money*, Dinosaur Comics, Achewood, Diesel Sweeties, and Penny Arcade were as enjoyable reads as most of the other comics topping my list.

Well, DS readers, what do you think? When only Time and Publishers Weekly prepared these kinds of lists, you could expect some bias, but we’re talking about bloggers now, people who are used to getting their news and culture in little bursts of pixels. Although there are some great webcomics out there, they don’t seem to have penetrated the consciousness of bloggers, critics, and pundits outside the webcomics world. In fact, I’ve been reading Chris’s blog for a couple of years now and I don’t recall him ever mentioning webcomics before.

My own take is that these lists, in their original incarnation, were designed to sell books, and webcomics aren’t “sold” in the traditional way. There’s a whole marketing machinery built around critics and PR that just doesn’t exist for webcomics because most webcomics are free. Also, a weekly strip is more amorphous than a bound volume; it’s easy to read a stack of books and critique them but a bit harder to follow several strips for a year and then compare them to bound books.

That said, webcomic creators do seem to be infiltrating into the larger comics consciousness a bit. The Comics Reporter included a chat with Shaenon Garrity in its bouquet of year-end interviews, and they spent quite a bit of time discussing the demise of Narbonic and the state of webcomics. Warren Ellis has become a big booster of webcomics at his discussion board The Engine, which is where I discovered the delightful Kawaii Not. And even as I was typing this, my RSS feed notified me that Comics Worth Reading is reporting on the print version of Young Bottoms In Love.

So maybe this will be the year.

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7 thoughts on “A New Year’s question

  1. I think the biggest disconnect comes from the fact that most of these lists deal with comic BOOKS and pretty much everything online can be considered comic STRIPS. From the print perspective, that’s like wondering why Ziggy isn’t compared to Watchmen.

    In the blog you linked to, someone commented about a “print bias”, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s about presentation. Yes, Penny Arcade and those other strips listed are good stuff, but unless we open up the door and say that comics is comics (something that is destined to drag out for some time), the gulf between books and strips will remain. Personally, I think that’s kind of okay. Let’s just make sure the strips get some recognition alongside the books and we’ll be just fine. Juuuust fine.

    b

  2. Webcomics are the red headed Step Child of COMICS in general right now. Or the elephant in the room… the red headed elephant???

    And, well, COMICS are the red headed step child of the entertainment industry…soo…. I guess do the math. The general conception is that “webcomics” are for people who can’t afford to publish through Diamond or get syndicated, or hobbyists. It pretty much is the new SMALL PRESS whether “webcomics” like it or not.

    In the comic book realm, at conventions, wander over to the guys who staple their own books together and have unique things– sometimes you hear them asking the same thing– WHY isnt THEIR book able to be nominated for something just because it wasn’t shipped through Diamond? —-

    That small press corner of conventions is where I came from, and this whole conversation is very familiar to me.

  3. I agree with Brandon that it’s largely because most webcomics are comic strips, not long-form stories.

    But I’ll add what a handful of people are thinking: It’s also partly because most webcomics aren’t really that good — moreseo when it comes to art than writing, to be fair. There’s so little attention to actual artistic CRAFT. So many webcomics readers all too obviously judge on a curve. (Free comics is good comics, right?)

    Until we really take ourselves seriously and hone our craft, we’re not going to get taken seriously. And — right now — very few of us deserve to be taken seriously.

  4. I don’t see that changing anytime soon, Gordon. Part of the problem with an equal playing field is that way too many people think they’re ready to suit up. So long as everyone with a crayon, a scanner, and a dream (or hell, just a mouse and MS Paint) can subject us to their poorly-crafted, ill-conceived “comics”, separating the wheat from the chaff will be an arduous process.

    Now, it’s easy to point at that any artform is subjective, but there are certain technical “rules” and aesthetic “guidelines” out there that are being violated every day. What I fear is that with this glut of lazy creation, the craft itself is going to be diminished over time.

    b

  5. I agree there’s a lot of crap out there, but as Shaenon Garrity said at the Comics Reporter interview I linked to, the “shit to diamonds ratio” is much better now than previously. She continues: “There weren’t many good webcomics six years ago, and the decent ones, like Scott Kurtz’s PvP, are way better now than they were then. The bar is much higher now.” I’m still pretty new to the world of webcomics myself, and I’m floored at how much good stuff is out there.

    The strips vs. books argument is a good one, but there are plenty of webcomickers working in more of a book format Inverloch and the Seven Seas books come to mind. And there’s also a tradition of collecting strips into books that stretches from the early newspaper funnies to Azumanga Daioh. Once the webcomic makes it into print, I think it’s much more likely to be included in the critics’ lists, because it’s more of an apples-to-apples comparison.

  6. In webcomics, “the one true genre” are gag strips. Sunday funnies in pixel form.

    Gag strips, by their nature, are disposable entertainments. With neither meaning, nor depth, nor innovation. They are vaudville and little more. Since the people compiling these lists seek meaning, depth, and innovation there is nothing in these vaudville acts to draw their attention.

    Not to say the gag strips are all sub-standard. It’s just that they don’t meet the criteria usually demanded of a “best” list.

    The other benefit of books is that they are comnpleted works. The people compiling them can look at the whole and make a judgement. But for a longhform webcomic, you won’t be able to look at the whole for a few years, and by that time, something shinier and newer has come along.

    So, no real consipracy, just due to the nature of the beast.

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