Anyone on the street will tell you that “comics” mean “superhero comics.” With the rise of Batman, Captain America and the Avengers from the back of the dingily-lit comic store, to the summer blockbuster every year (forever) that person on the street might even be able to tell you everything about their favourite Hero, without ever having seen a comic book.
Online, it’s a different matter. Sure, superhero webcomics exist, but how many of them do you see in a given ‘Top 10″ or ‘best of‘ list? How many of them do you read?
Not many – because Superhero comics lack something special, something integral to digital success: something comics like Mary Worth figured out a long time ago.
Comic books don’t think they’re Soap Operas (they’re wrong).
Let’s play a game: Soap Opera, or Batman!
- Man emotionally struggles after the death of his son.
- Surprise! The kid was’t really dead. But now they’re evil!
- Okay, they’re dead for real this time.
- Surprise! Here they are again…
A while ago, we scoured the internet for examples of Webcomic Soap Operas, and found that there’s only a few out there which can be classed as complete soap. Comic books are like that too – only, in this case, they’re soap operas masquerading as power fantasies.
The trouble is, when you’re spending all your on-screen time just showing how badass your powerful characters are, you don’t get a lot of room for good, well-developed story or characters. So, when these elements get horned into the story around the splash pages of bone-shattering punches and super-powered flexing, it gets pretty eye-rolling pretty fast.
The most successful Webcomics out there lean into their Soap Opera elements.
People reading Webcomics have shown that, above all else, they want to read stories about characters.
Statistics of Patreon support of Webcomic creators (via Graphtreon) show that the top ten most financially successful webcomics are overwhelmingly creating stories with heavy soap opera elements. For instance, Jeph Jacques, cartoonist of Questionable Content, has used this formula to become the 22nd top-earning creator on Patreon overall.
Like Mary Worth started doing 80-odd years ago, these most successful comics double down on using characters and personal drama to drive their stories. Like superhero comics try to do, they often add other exciting elements to the plot – like Jacques’ use of sentient AI characters and high-tech robotics technology. But the focus is always on the drama between characters
A drama that, in the rush to punch each other the hardest, superhero comics tend to lose.
Did we miss any elements of superhero comics? Are they more than just punching and power-posturing – can you think of any examples where they do a great job of treating character drama? Let us know in the comment below or on Twitter and until next time, remember: don’t eat the clickbait!