The red challenge flag: when is a webcomic not a webcomic?
So what are webcomics? Well, the pat response (and one of my favorite lines from an old webcomic that has since disappeared from the net) is typically that “webcomics are comics … on the web!”
Except when they’re not.
Like the battle between Americans, Canadians, and the rest of the world over what or what not should be called “football,” the term “webcomics” has outgrown the original simple definition implied by the nature of it’s compound noun. So what’s a webcomic? It’s not as simple as it sounds. Webcomic readers have accepted that captioned photos and Venn Diagrams written on index cards can now be counted as webcomics. I Can Has Cheeseburger, on the other hand, is not. Where is the justice in the world?
Here are a few comic examples that often get thrown the red challenge flag for penalties against being a webcomic.
1.) Anything produced by well-established print publishers
Comics by Marvel or DC and the highly visited online version of Dilbert is often excluded from discussion about webcomics. But are they not comics … on the web?!?!?! Yes, but to the minds of many pundits, webcomics are the successor of the indie comics scene, and anything back by a company or a syndicate or Time Warner or Disney is totally not living up to that indie spirit, dude. (Never mind that Disney, which owns Marvel, also owns Miramax, one of the most prominent indie film studios.)
For example, here’s a quote by Fleen’s Gary Tyrrell, who, as of 2007, did not consider Zuda to be webcomics:
“…Zuda has been specifically pitched as webcomics, and that’s a place with a decade-long history of not doing work-for-hire. Those making their livings from webcomics do it on their own, not by partnering with a corporation and giving away the rights to their creation (exception: Penny Arcade, who managed to do exactly that twice, and bought themselves a five-year legal struggle; you won’t be that lucky).”
Perhaps Zuda disappearing from the world wide web makes this discussion moot. But What about Marvel’s online products? Dark Horse Comics Presents? Image Comic’s Shadowline webcomics? They’re still online.
Also, there’s a certain feel to published comics (which are then put online) that’s just different from “webcomics.” It’s a little difficult to quantify. It’s like print comics evolved in one direction that relies on a large collaborative effort with writers, pencillers, inkers and colorists, while webcomics went for a simpler, more individual flavor. As much as we like to say that webcomics offer all sorts of options you don’t see in print, you grow to adopt expectations about the pacing, the humor, and the artistic style. Lauren Davis’ commented on this difference with regards to some of the past Eisner nominees:
“You and I had a bit of a falling out last year, Eisners. You came out last year, all fat and happy, nominating short stories like Body World, The Lady’s Murder, and Speak No Evil: Melancholy of a Space Mexican. The comic that took home the grand prize was a few pages of Carla Speed McNeil’s long-running print comic, Finder. Now it’s not that the stories weren’t good. A few of the noms were kind of lightweights, but Body World was pretty brilliant and the bits of Finder were fascinating. But they aren’t exactly what I’d call webcomics.”
The Webcomic Overlook position: Ruling on the field is inconclusive. Therefore, ruling on the field stands.
However, it will be a cold day in hell before I review Dilbert. And I like Dilbert. I guess it comes down to where a work originated — was it first online, or first in print?
2.) iPod/iPad apps
Few people realize that there’s a difference between the web and the internet. Wired Magazine seems to know this. Their September 2010 issue had the very scary (and somewhat misleading) “The Web Is Dead” line emblazoned on a pictureless cover to prey on that very misconception. However, their follow-up tagline found in the article itself was less dire: “Long Live the Internet.” The article claims that web usage — which is, the stuff we see on browsers like IE, Firefox, and Safari — has dropped by percented over the peak year of 2005. On the other hand, internet users are gravitating toward streaming videos (YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix), peer-to-peer applications (Facebook and Twitter), and, yes, iPod/iPad apps.
Among those apps are the heavily publicized ones for reading comics. Most of these apps are available through Comixology. There are apps for Marvel and DC fronts, apps for smaller publishers (like Boom), and apps for individual series, like the one for the zombie comic The Walking Dead. Very little, if any, is originally unprinted content. One of the big exceptions: Ulysses Seen, which author Robert Berry had told me was always meant for the iPhone/iPod/iPad environment. But, hey, it’s also available online, so nyah.
Pundits like Robot 6 and Valerie D’Orazio have been increasingly using an alternative term: digital comics. But… doesn’t being on the web mean that webcomics are also digital comics? Shouldn’t it be a subset, not separate categories?
The Webcomic Overlook position: After review, it was found that iPod/iPad comics are not webcomics.
By definition, comics released exclusively on the iPod/iPad hardly qualifies as being on the web. Also, for the most part, you have to pay for them … which violates one of the unspoken rules that webcomics have to be free.
3.) Motion comics
In iFanboy‘s 250th “Pick of the Week” podcast (a two-part all reader e-mail affair), the guys were asked about their thoughts on webcomics and motion comics. They replied that they didn’t really follow either, and that’s why they didn’t cover them on their how. They also gave webcomics some mad props, saying that were the way of the future. Motion comics, however, were just a fad that was dying out.
Having experienced the Spider-Woman motion comic (supposedly one of the better ones out there), I tend to agree.
It’s weird, because for a while there was a lot of speculation that motion comics were the way of the future. Now, Scott McCloud didn’t endorse motion comics specifically. However, he did imply that motion was one of those things that can separate webcomics from their print kin in Reconstructing Comics. A few pundits seem to agree, implying that unless snazzy new things were incorporated into webcomics, they would always stand in the shadows of the far superior print comic monolith.
“Motion comics, baby! Way of the future! They’re boffo, Jerry, boffo! Webcomics are too static for today’s ADD-addled kids! No one wants to read anymore. The future is YouTube, YouTube, YouTube! Get on the motion comic gravy train before it leaves the station and gets on all the mashed potatoes!”
I think there are basically two kinds of motion comics, the ones that let you control the pace, and the ones that are basically bad cartoons with terrible voiceovers and animation. The latter seems to have been embraced by long time comic lifers.
The first type, though, lets you control the comic at your own pace and retains some parts you have to read. Plus, no bad voice-overs. You can’t believe how much of an asset that is.
The Webcomic Overlook position: Ruling on the field stands.
It boils down to simple things, like whether there’s a “Click Forward” button and speech bubbles. Under that unscientific guideline, I’d consider Nawlz (reviewed here), Wendy Pini’s Masque of the Red Death (reviewed here), and AMC’s The Prisoner: Online Graphic Novel (reviewed here) to be webcomics.
4.) Whatever MS Paint Adventures is
So… it’s on the web, so no one’s debating the “web” portion of “webcomic.” But is it a comic? There are no speech bubbles (Problem Sleuth‘s characters didn’t talk, and Homestuck‘s characters communication via chatlog), there’s music, and it often had long sequences that are fully animated. For the most part, though, I don’t think it violates Scott McCloud’s definition of “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.” While the pictures aren’t juxtaposed in the traditional sense, they are but one mouse click away. It’s like virtual juxtaposition.
So really, what’s the dealie-o?
The Webcomic Overlook position: Ruling on the field stands. Naysayers are charged with their first time out.
Yup, it’s a webcomic. The whole crudely drawn image with dialogue printed on the bottom is, in essence, what you see in the New Yorker. The animated sequences are so infrequent that it would be sort of a mistake to call MS Paint Adventures a webtoon. At worst, Andrew Hussie’s crazy creation can be considered a bizarre webcomic/webtoon hybrid, with heavy tendencies toward the former.