I used to think printed books were like dinosaurs, and the meteor streaking to earth bringing death and destruction in its wake was the internet. I feared the internet for what it might do to these things I loved so much, that it would kill my beloved comic books, still printed on what was rapidly becoming an old fashioned medium. But then something strange happened. I found a site called www.penny-arcade.com, and it contained a comic style that I had never seen before. And it opened my eyes to what the internet could do for the written word and the drawn icon, that it might just be the comic book’s saving grace. It showed me that online the communication between creator and audience is immediate and gratifying, to both parties, in a way that can never be matched in a print medium.
The internet has been a safe haven for the weird and geeky since its inception, so I guess it makes sense looking back that the comic medium would find a home there. Web comics cater to every genre you can think of: horror, anime, gamer, science fiction, historical comedy, and even the plain old three panel kind with simple line art and a punch line at the end. Subjects of web comics vary greatly and range from a comic that follows a group of vampires during the French Revolution at www.bitemecomic.com to one that follows two gamer friends through their surreal and often unbelievable life at penny-arcade.com.
All of these comics have something in common, and something that the print industry is sorely missing. Well, make that two things. The first is that every comic listed above is available for free, and has production level art work and writing. The characters and settings and conflict are all on par with Marvel and DC creations, if not sometimes more ingenious and interesting. And as you can see, the subject matter is often something that could not be found in printed form. The second thing, and this is pretty crucial, the creators and writers and artists of web comics have the ability to interact with their readership on an immediate level. This is, in essence, what makes or breaks an online comic’s career.
Because the interaction is so immediate, a level of transparency is afforded to this medium that print comics are in desperate need of. An online comic creator knows pretty fast if something they’re doing is wrong and disagreeable to their fans. Online, a persons worth is measured by the amount of traffic their site gets. More traffic, more people viewing the site, the more likely someone will pay to advertise there. And that is where the money is made. The people that are successful in mediating between fans and great work are able to do the web comics thing full time. Take Penny Arcade. The two that run the site, alias Tycho and Gabe, have been running the Penny Arcade comic for over ten years now. Running Penny Arcade, Inc. is their full time job. They’ve been able to find a happy medium that pleases the fans and continues to bring more traffic to their comic.
This informal interaction between the print industry and fans is non-existent. Because of this, the print industry suffers. Comic sales have definitely seen better times, and if the sell out of Marvel’s characters to Disney is any indication, an informal connection will never exist here. Yes, there are such things as comic cons that artists and writers and editors make a point to visit, but so do web comic artists and writers and creators. And, more often than not, it’s the people from the web comic world that visit more cons, smaller cons, and don’t charge for a quick doodle or signature. Their relationship with their readers is what sustains their livelihoods, and this makes them more eager to keep the readers they have and to gain more.
In essence, the internet makes publishing anything—a comic or a blog about book reviews—more of a community experience. The internet has a way of connecting people instantly and creating a place where discussion is fostered. In this way the internet endorses reading and makes the reader want more. The internet creates communities, ‘fandoms’, around ideas and material. Aside from an occasional book club, these communities don’t exist in the print medium, or at least they have no continuous outlet. The internet has succeeded in bringing reading into society, instead of keeping it isolated as a solitary experience.
It is worth noting that many of the web comic creators sell printed collections of their work to make money, since their new material is available for free online. Many newspapers and magazines, including The Atlantic, have blogs that supplement the printed volumes. The internet is not bringing a reading apocalypse with it. Nor is it heralding the end of good writing. It is simply helping reading and writing evolve into what it will become next. And that is something that will work in tandem to better the printing world, and with it, the reading experience of audiences and fans.
For anybody interested I’ve compiled a quick list concerning the genres I mention above:
Follows a Priest, a librarian, and a horror writer through Providence, RI following the trail of H.P. Lovecraft. Takes place during the 1920s and has awesome retro style art, along with numerous fantastic references to the work of Lovecraft that many a fan will absolutely love. I know I do.
Drawn in an anime-lite style that follows a seer, named Dominic Deegan, his girlfriend Luna and their assorted family and friends throughout a fantasy world teeming with dark sorcerers, dragons and orcs. Like many older online comics, this one is mostly humorous with some drama and action thrown in.
Besides Penny Arcade, this is the primary go to site to see how successful people can become as web comic creators. This comic follows the traditional three panel kind and is a comedy surrounding the office workers of a gamer magazine, PvP, and the weird and often hilarious trouble they get into. Currently on a Halloween story telling kick.
A comedy about a space ship caught in an alternate dimension, complete with snooty art critics and space pirates.
Kate Beaton’s masterpiece, basically a hodgepodge of historical references with a smattering of punch lines and fantastic hats. Expect Napoleon Bonaparte sulking over a chocolate chip cookie.
From the people behind MacHall, one of the founding members of online gaming comics, this site documents the lives of the creators in whatever style of art Ian and Matt prefer that day. Varies from chibi-manga to surreal line art.