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Eric: Apropos of nothing, it's Heinleinmas. To celebrate, I didn't eat a free lunch.

So what happened?

This is what's being asked. People have noticed that while I don't eschew webcomics these days (I've done three webcomics related posts since spinning back up), I'm not anywhere near as focused on them as I used to be. And I do almost no posts about the bigger issues, the trends, the controversies, or whoever's pissed off at whoever else any more.

This is true.

So what happened?

Honestly?

I still love comic strips. I still love reading them on the web. I read dozens a day (though I've cut back from the hundreds I used to read). And sometimes I'll see something I think is really cool and want to talk about it, or see some point I want to make in another, or see some trend or technique or what have you and I'll want to write about it.

But the rest of that stuff? Somewhere along the line I stopped giving a shit.

The question is, of course, why. And there's a lot of reasons for it, but I think the primary one around them all is this: we're talking about a distribution method, here.

That's all.

The difference between webcomics and newspaper comics is distribution.

Now, there's a lot of baggage which goes with that. Newspapers tend to get their comics from syndicates, for example, and there's lots of stuff to be said about editorial mandate and syndication rights and merchandising and all the rest, and the ultimate freedom of the web and the ability to sink or swim on your own yadda yadda yadda. There's tons to be written about that. I know. I've written tons about it.

And I really don't have much more to say on the subject.

Seriously.

I think the situation's improved over the three years I've been writing for Websnark. I also think that improvement had absolutely nothing to do with my writing, so please don't take that as me taking credit. When Diesel Sweeties got the syndication deal they did, and when Girl Genius went out of the pamphlet business over to web distribution (but always with an eye to selling collections), we really saw how the world had changed since, say, 2002. Even back in 2004, those folks who had quit their day job to make comics were vanishingly rare. These days, there's quite a few of them, and there are at least a few methods of doing it (merchandising a la Dumbrella or Questionable Content being probably the most prominent) that have been reproducible.

Once you have a good number of people who base their living around their comic strip in a series of business models that are reproducible, the method of distribution becomes less a revolution and more a factor in how you see that business model through. These days, the web is a dirt cheap way to get your comic in front of the eyes of people who might give you money, and it's being used to that effect.

Which brings up the question of innovation on the web. The evolution of illustration, using the tools set before us to new and exciting effect.

Yeah, there's some of that.

Seriously, I like some of what the Tarquin Engine and similar things have done. I really do. And I've seen stuff with protoanimation (or actual animation) that's really cool. Though a good amount of 'animation in webcomics' is really 'Flash based cartoons,' and I don't see the need to lump them together. I'm still digging PvP's online cartoons -- I think they've matured well as the months have passed and I'm glad I subscribed, but I don't see those as 'comic strips that are moving,' I see them as cartoons and judge them accordingly. That they're based on a comic strip doesn't change that, beyond (once again) the comic strip's popularity has made it possible for Kurtz, Straub and the folks at Blind Ferret to make some money. And that's all to the good.

On the other side of the question, the real, lasting and powerful innovations that have happened out there -- the ones we see the most use of right now -- are content management systems. Ways of presenting and distributing and archiving the comic strips. Not innovations in the comic strips themselves. Look at the most popular webcomics, and you tend to see very straightforward illustrations in sequence, without multimedia, movement or the like. You also tend to see good reference materials (like a cast page) and archives (by date and storyline, generally, although not always). Sometimes you see search engines (Ryan North, take a bow out there) or the like. That's something books, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets -- all the other ways of distributing comics to the public -- can't compete with. And people have done some amazing things with it. And we've talked a lot about it. But again, it comes to distribution.

Some of you are decrying the definition of success with either popularity or financial gain. And I'm with you. A comic strip is successful if it meets its goals, and often those goals can be artistic. A strip with eight readers might be beautiful and poignant and wonderful and absolutely successful. And it might use techniques and skills and tricks that you couldn't reproduce on paper. All true. Just like someone could do the same thing with a photocopied minicomic that did things on paper that to date we just can't replicate on the screen. C'est bien. Mea culpa. I'm not arguing that.

But that's not how most of the comics I've encountered on the web have proceeded. Most of them have been sticking with the same toolset and visual language as comics in the paper, in books or graphic novels, or in magazines or pamphlets. And that's okay with me, because I tend to like that sort of thing.

Which, by the by, is why I read comics on the web. They're delivered to me automatically, by my selecting a single tabset in Firefox. (Well, one of five tabsets, but I digress.) It's useful and convenient for me to read them this way, whereas I don't have any interest in buying a newspaper to read them, and I only rarely get comics or graphic novels. (I do get them, sometimes. But it's rare. And I don't get them from Marvel these days, but I digress again.)

All well, all true, and all good. And I've talked a lot about all of it in the past.

And I'm not sure how to say much more on a lot of it without just repeating myself, again. Filling up space without saying anything new. And I'm not sure why I would want to do that.

Which brings us to the meat of the subject. I'm not talking about the Webcomics community much these days. I'm not talking about who hates John Solomon or Joey Manley or Scott Kurtz or Penny Arcade or Robert A. Howard and who's defending any of that list to others or who's doing anything like that. I'm not diving into the fray giving my two cents on it or talking about who's being mean or who's being thin skinned or who's right or who's wrong or any of that stuff. And the core reason why is, as stated above, I just don't give a shit any more.

Seriously.

For one thing, there is no webcomics community.

None.

It doesn't exist.

If you think you're in it, you're wrong.

There are comics on the web, and they have fans. And those fans are sometimes fans of more than one comic on the web. But are they a community? No, not really.

I have met and talked to passionate fans of Questionable Content who have never heard of Penny Arcade.

Seriously. They know Questionable Content. But they don't know Penny Arcade.

And there are no doubt tons of Penny Arcade fans who've never heard of Questionable Content.

Almost everyone I've asked tells me they don't currently read Megatokyo. But thousands upon thousands of people do read Megatokyo, and power to them. I read a bunch of shit you don't. I promise you that. I'm a huge fan of some pretty obscure webcomics. But you read a bunch of shit I don't read. I promise you that. And I keep running into comic strips that are celebrating their five hundredth strip with a fanbase in the tens of thousands that I've never seen the slightest reference to before.

And that makes perfect sense, in the end, because the only thing many webcomics have in common is their distribution method. And distribution methods are a piss-poor means of tying a community together.

Now, webcartoonists can and I think are a community. They have common interests, common ties, common problems and common challenges, and to a degree they form a community both to help with them and because mankind is a social beast. But "webcomics fans" are almost always fans of certain webcomics who have then defined themselves as "webcomics fans." But webcomics ain't a genre. Not like science fiction or fantasy or anthropomorphic or detective stories or any of the rest. Hell, "comics" ain't a genre either.

Comics -- comic strips, comic books, sequential art, illustration, call it what you will -- is a medium. A means by which stories are told. Some of the more outre comics out there on the web might constitute a different medium than all the rest of the comics, but for the most part they don't. For the most part Nukees and For Better and For Worse tell stories using similar tools and similar visual language techniques, operating in the same medium.

For Better and For Worse, by the by, is on the web. It updates every day on the web.

In other words, it's a webcomic. Just like Nukees is. And all the rest.

So. Fans of certain webcomics get upset at other fans of other webcomics (or even the same ones) sometimes. Cliques of webcartoonists gather -- naturally enough -- and sometimes get pissed off at other cliques of webcartoonists. Somewhere in all this, someone calls Scott Kurtz something mean and William G gets people mad at him.

I'm sorry. I used to care. I really did. I cared for a long time. I passionately cared.

But these days? I just. Don't. Give. A Shit. It's webcomics drama, and it'll pass soon enough.

"But wait!" you shout. Well, some of you shout. Look, give me my illusions. "What about the discourse! You said you liked the discourse!"

I do. I enjoy literary criticism. I enjoy making points about the things I read or see, and having others debate them.

That's not what any of that shit's about. It's just not. Look, John Solomon can be very funny, but he's not trying to encourage a debate over the finer points of Dominic Deegan. He's entertaining a fanbase, either by making them laugh their asses off, by giving them sharp relief by saying something they wish someone would say, or by enraging them by saying things they find hideous and hurtful. They all seem to work -- people are certainly entertained. And if you take any of the other 'controversies' running around, they're almost never about actual criticism -- about actual critique. They're either about "X sucks!/No X rocks and YOU suck!" or they're about something tangential.

When I see something in a comic on the web I like, I'll talk about it. When I see a point I want to make, or I get inspired to write a thesis on anything from a character arc to a storytelling technique I'll write it, but I've never had any interest in writing reviews and if I had interest in diving into the whole mudslinging match I've gotten over it with time. Mostly, I want to write shit I find interesting over here, or try to write something new over at Banter Latte. And with luck, the essays over here will inspire some discussion -- that discourse I like so much -- saying why I'm right or wrong. Without luck I'll still have fun writing them, which is after all the real reason I'm doing it.

(As for Banter Latte -- that's not really discourse-related. I mean, you'll like it or you won't.)

There's plenty of people out there who do like doing reviews, and power to them. And others who like doing rants or diving into controversy (or creating it). And power to them. And if that's your thing, power to you too. I do read some of those sites too, you know. There's nothing wrong with enjoying them.

But I just can't bring myself to care any more about the gigantic, titanic debates of a nonexistent community whose definition comes from a fucking means of distribution. I used to, but I don't any more. And I don't feel badly for not caring any more. That's the kind of thing that happens over time. The things you used to think were amazingly important stop seeming important. Or even interesting.

If you find them important or interesting? Cool. Power to you. I have no doubt but that there's going to be plenty of chances to weigh in on them.

As for me? There is other stuff catching my interest these days. I'll do my best to write about it. If what catches my interest also catches yours, I hope you'll read about it. If not, I thank you kindly for your attention and support.

Oh, and Feral Chicken has been spending like twelve bucks a day advertising his comic for over a week. Given that, I can't just snark him and not have it look like quid pro quo, but damn man. I felt like I should say something. That's a lot of gas money.

Peace.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at July 7, 2007 7:15 PM

Comments

Comment from: Howard Tayler [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 7, 2007 7:46 PM

Regarding "webcomics" as a medium rather than a genre, amen.

We made this point at the Blank Label Comics panel a year ago: What most people call webcomics are just indy comic books, comic strips, and mangas that happen to be distributed via the web.

Not. A. Genre.

We can put our heads together as artists and entrepreneurs, and discuss how to best exploit the medium to meet our goals, but the minute we start thinking it's an art form or a genre rather than just a medium we're missing the mark.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 7, 2007 7:53 PM

And I think the success Blank Label has had has borne that out. The small guild-style collectives like Blank Label, Dumbrella and Dayfree have generally done very well, in part because they've examined business models, thought of the advantages of the medium, and found good business practices surrounding that medium.

Comment from: mckenzee [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 7, 2007 8:07 PM

Well, I have a webcomic community.

It's you and Weds and Greg Carter and Jennie B. and Joe from Feral Chicken and the rest of the NCWCCC gang and the snarkoleptics and Phil Khan and, you know, MY friends. Even the local librarian in the Questionable Content tee recommending manga is part of my webcomic tribe.


Comment from: mckenzee [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 7, 2007 8:13 PM

Also, since this hasn't shown up on Google yet, Heinleinmas is still a googlewhack for MY journal.

Yes, I will keep capitalizing MY.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 7, 2007 8:18 PM

Then let me add to the googlewhack!

It's a good term. :)

But then, we're just glad you didn't get blown up, sir.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 7, 2007 8:22 PM

Mmm. And hm. It sounds to me like you've found a community of people who like comics rather than "webcomics." Certainly the manga-recommending Questionable Content Clad Local Librarian is recommended dead tree manga at least some of the time, and most of the sources you're mentioning have some interest in sequential art that's distributed in other methods.

But that's not the same as an overall lodge membership in Webcomics Community, like we were the Elks. ;)

Comment from: Benor [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 7, 2007 8:24 PM

Welcome to a post-drama geek love. It happened with me for Apple and Nintendo, and both times it's made me feel like I'm a little more mature.

Comment from: mckenzee [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 7, 2007 8:32 PM

True, true... the medium is not the message. We love comics, not necessarily the intertubal delivery system.

I'm rather glad I didn't blow up also.

Comment from: Andrew Goode [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 7, 2007 8:42 PM

I come here for the literary criticism. I love reading about Howard Tayler's use of en media res. I love reading about characterization in Questionable Content. I love reading about the literary devices and their use in "literature" that I truly have an interest in. To hell with Hundred Years of Solitude (well, not really. I loved that book), I want to read about the use of magical realism in Narbonic!

And you, Mr. Burns, have a gift for that type of writing, and a venue to bring that to the rest of the world.

So, to be honest, I couldn't care less if you don't post on webcomic drama. Just as long as you keep up the literary criticism.

Comment from: DataPacRat [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 7, 2007 8:53 PM

Re "They're delivered to me automatically, by my selecting a single tabset in Firefox. (Well, one of five tabsets, but I digress.)", would it be possible to find out what those five tabsets contain?

Comment from: Imaria [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 7, 2007 9:05 PM

I have to say, I respectfully disagree. While webcomics are indeed brought together by the commonality of a distribution method only, they also share common effects of that method on the work itself.

Paper comics all have similar forms due to the environments in which they were distributed; the Comics Code undoubtedly affected the development of comic-style narratives. For webcomics, there is a similar yet inverted effect in which there is a much greater field of expression because things given away for free are held under less "moral" scrutiny than things which found businesses.

Also, the effect of an immediately accessible archives has changed the format of stories. Long, complex backstories are possible because new readers can easily catch back up to the present; in other distribution formats, such complicated stories risk alienating new readers from serial formats.

In fact, you were the one who coined "Cerberus Syndrome"; a term only worth using because it seemed to occur with some regularity across webcomics. It does not refer to a distribution effect; it refers to a plot effect that is commonly brought about because of common circumstances. The distribution affects the story, and similar stories do indeed create genres.

I don't begrudge you for not getting into it as much anymore; we feel what we feel. But to leave with words like "there is no webcomics community" seems... well, bitter. Because webcomics appeal to different groups, I do not think that precludes them from also having common elements that are unifying. I enjoy webcomics as a narrative form, because of their tendency to grow in complexity over time.

Now, is this community organized? Hell no. But there are people who enjoy webcomics as a genre rather than just as a method of distribution, and as someone who brought about many of the points proving that, I am disappointed to see you so brutally turn away from that conclusion.

Comment from: richard stevens [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 7, 2007 9:10 PM

Agreed, my man. Until there is one central distribution method, portal or journalism which is large enough to "define" webcomics, we're just a bunch of rad websites.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 7, 2007 9:27 PM

Imaria -- I respectfully accept your disagreement. ;)

However, I do have one comment and one quibble.

Paper comics all have similar forms due to the environments in which they were distributed; the Comics Code undoubtedly affected the development of comic-style narratives. For webcomics, there is a similar yet inverted effect in which there is a much greater field of expression because things given away for free are held under less "moral" scrutiny than things which found businesses.

You are again highlighting medium, not genre. These points are true, and they are germane, but that gives a fan of Gunnerkrieg Court and a fan of Sheldon little they can point to and say "here we have things in common because" other than the drawings.

You're right. The different distribution methods have radically different advantages and disadvantages -- archives and the like are germane, but that doesn't directly make for a single banner. In fact, one thing I've found is collectives that get a broad variety of webcomics run the risk of dilution, while collectives with moderately similar comics, styles, goals or the like have a better chance of finding an audience receptive to more than one or two of their strips. I think this is borne out from Dayfree through Blank Label to Modern Tales.

The quibble is simpler: I'm not leaving anything. I'm saying why I'm not writing about webcomics drama these days. I'm still going to comment on comic strips or anything else I feel like commenting on. This isn't my dramatic exit speech. This is me saying where my head is at. ;)

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 7, 2007 9:31 PM

Oh, and there is nothing in the 'cerebus syndrome' that is innate to webcomics other than the ready opportunities to show examples of it. Hell, I went through a Cerebus Syndrome myself back in my Superguy days. Well, okay, at least an attempt, with sidelines into First and 10.

As a side note, I have the bowdlerized complete "First and 10" series on DVD now. It cost me six bucks, a month after it was released. Which was about right.

Sadly, without exposed nipples what little reason to watch the early seasons disappeared.

Comment from: Howard Tayler [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 7, 2007 9:54 PM

Imaria's point about backstory and immediately-accessible archives is a good one, but I would categorize it as a case (one of many) where the medium influences its content, rather than defining it.

There are webcomics where you're expected to start from the beginning of the archives, and there are those that provide synopses for new readers.

If you check the front page of many serial print comics, you'll often find synopses as well.

In both cases, the writers decided they would rather not force readers to wade through the old stuff before getting caught up. With webcomics, it's so we can get you to add the comic to your daily trawl NOW, so we're part of your habit. With print comics it's so that you'll add the series to your hold NOW, rather than waiting until you've collected the necessary back-issues (a herculean task if ever there was one.)

Absence of weekly or monthly recap is not medium- or even genre-specific. It's a stylistic choice that happens to be held in common by lots of writers in our particular medium.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 8, 2007 12:13 AM

I started saying webcomics culture instead of webcomics community quite awhile ago. Maybe a year. I think it was William G convinced me.

Comment from: Tangent [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 8, 2007 12:54 AM

I respectfully request you remove me from that little list including Solomon and others. I don't want anything to do with the current wave of webcomic drama and am trying to withdraw from it. I don't need to have this bs riled up with my name dragged back into the limelight.

Rob H.

Comment from: Merus [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 8, 2007 1:34 AM

I'm fascinated by the idea that there's webcomics drama going on that I haven't seen anywhere. Of course, I stopped reading PvP, so.

Anyway, I was saving this little revelation for the next bit of webcomics drama I came across: webcomics drama is, at heart, the arrogant versus the pretentious. I expect this will upset some people, but then I prefer to name large swathes of people in arguments by what their opponents would call them for no good reason other than to get them all hot and bothered and provide the opportunity to do the 'see what you've reduced yourselves to' speech.

Think about PvP's targets over the years, or Penny Arcade's, or Kris Straub's. They've all been taking shots at the pretentious, and it's not hard to say that Kurtz or Penny Arcade, Inc. are arrogant. (Holkins has admitted as much.) Websnark's former role as a nexus of that drama? It was, in its time, the most prominent of the pretentious webcomics sites. (This may seem like an insult, but then the amount of discussion that went into such minutiae sure looks like pretentiousness, and that was the charge that Kurtz and Straub regularly laid at the feet of webcomics criticism. So it fits.)

I would even go so far to suggest that the goals of the cartoonists give a clue as to their stance in webcomic drama. Kurtz, who is trying to do a newspaper comic without submitting himself to the sydicate machine, is an arrogant. Straub, who regularly delves into meta-humour twenty years after it was novel, is also arrogant. Aaron Diaz, who jams his poorly-connected panels full of outlandish concepts and pseudo-intellectual shoutouts, is a pretentious. And so on.

This then suggests: those that can cause drama all on their own are both arrogant and pretentious. William G certainly fits the bill, and until Bobby Crosby changed his focus from the tale of a half pumpkin, half dog (which comes straight from the land of strange and therefore pretentious, because you have to be pretentious to make a comic out of it and then attempt to distribute it) to a poker comic, so did he. (And note: Bobby's stopped bringing the drama as well.)

Anyway, it is a theory I have, and it seems to fit the facts (though I'm not sure about D.J. Coffman). This of course doesn't preclude the two groups from sharing coffees or whatever, it's just that the two will eventually have arguments and people will be upset. Take from it what you will, and please direct your complaints and death threats to my email address, mattcrampy at gmail.com.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 8, 2007 1:38 AM

Dude, if there's one thing I'm certain I am, it's pretentious.

Which doesn't preclude me also being arrogant.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 8, 2007 1:55 AM

Re "They're delivered to me automatically, by my selecting a single tabset in Firefox. (Well, one of five tabsets, but I digress.)", would it be possible to find out what those five tabsets contain?

At some point, I'll post the current trawl. The old one is frighteningly out of date.

Comment from: Laser Jesus [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 8, 2007 4:22 AM

Anyway, I was saving this little revelation for the next bit of webcomics drama I came across: webcomics drama is, at heart, the arrogant versus the pretentious.

Many arguments can be broken down to the Pretentious versus the Arrogant. (Turning words into proper nouns makes everything seem more official, doesn't it?) Hardcore PC gamers, being the arrogant, versus Mac enthusiasts, being the pretentious. I could give more examples, but the point's really simple. Pretentious and arrogant people are both very stubborn beyond anything else. So not only will they get into arguments quite alot, when they get into arguments with each other, neither side will back down easily.

The resulting energy unleashed from their conflict creates the ethereal substance known as drama.

Comment from: Chaomancer Omega [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 8, 2007 5:18 AM

Also, the effect of an immediately accessible archives has changed the format of stories. Long, complex backstories are possible because new readers can easily catch back up to the present; in other distribution formats, such complicated stories risk alienating new readers from serial formats.
They do run that risk, but it's a risk that some newspaper comics do indeed take. Rex Morgan, M.D.; Prince Valiant; Little Orphan Annie; The Phantom. The list could easily go on. The serial story is not only alive and well in newspaper comics, but it started there back in the 1930s.

Yes, a newer reader may be turned off, but it would seem that there are enough that give them a chance to keep them going. And, in truth, while the presence of an archive with web-distributed comics does make catching up easier... I have to wonder how many casual readers really go through a site's entire archives. It's a time-consuming process if a strip really does have a long and complex backstory, and the same things that can turn off a new reader of a newspaper strip can turn them off of a webcomic. Just because you have the option of making a huge effort to understand why Joe Random Character making an appearance is a big deal doesn't mean you want to have to. If a strip doesn't stand on its own in any way without me already knowing the backstory... I may not feel inclined to check out that backstory. After all, realistically I'm not going to remember everything, so the next time the creator throws out a long-forgotten piece of lore, it's the same as if I'm a newcomer again.

Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, of course. I'm just saying that when it's a bad thing in newspaper-distributed strips, it's still a bad thing in web-distributed strips, archive or no archive.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 8, 2007 9:26 AM

ERm... I can kind of agree with this post, but then I can see where it's wrong.

On one hand, distribution methods aren't a solid wya to make a community. You don't see groups for people who just like to watch TV. You see groups who like certain things when watching TV (snarking at the shows, complaining about shows that used to be good, or the natural "I like this particular show" groups). But it's not like you get general TV watching groups.

On the other hand, video games are really just a distribution model, and you do get a general community of video gamers. You also get communities of different genres there (my favorite to watch are fans of shoot 'em ups, games like Gradius or R-Type - they're so joyfully obsessive). And of course you get the company specific groups, like fans of Nintendo or Capcom. But in general, video gamers by and large see themselves as part of an overarching community of video gamers even if any given pair of video gamers are wildly divergent in their interests.

I think the key idea is that in the latter instance, there is a perception amongst the community (whether or not it's true, or as serious as the community might believe) that there is a concerted effort from outside the community to destroy or seriously weaken it. In that light, any drama on the level of Joe Solomon pushes at least some webcomics readers closer to forming an actual community (those that are afraid his criticism will destroy their webcomics - again, this is less about whether or not he could but more about whether there are those that believe he could). But since there is no outside credible threat (Congress isn't about to consider a bill seriously restricting the content of webcomics), it's highly unlikely that a full-fledged community will ever develop.

Not to say there isn't an informal community in general. It's just extremely informal and extremely diffuse in its actions, to the point where it is fair to debate the validity of the word "community."

One minor point - I wouldn't take ignorance of certain "major" webcomics as proof that there is no webcomics readers community. What's major to one subcommunity is completely unknown to others - in video gaming, not too many role-playing fans are that up on why Radiant Silvergun is the most expensive video game, should you find a copy. Not too many fighting game fans know about how highly-sought Mother is, particularly the North American prototype. And shoot 'em up fans aren't always "in the know" about the rise and fall of the Guilty Gear series.

However, I can confirm that there are a whole bunch of PA readers that only know of PA, and any other comic that has ever appeared in Joystiq's weekly webcomics poll. But in a way, it proves another point. It's possible to play video games without being a part of the video gaming community - just as it's possible to read webcomics without being part of any webcomics readers community.

Comment from: Ununnilium [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 8, 2007 9:49 AM

I always read a webcomic's whole archive before reading daily, myself. It's generally more fun than waiting for the daily strips.

Also, video games aren't a distribution model. Console games are, or arcade games are, or computer games are. But video games in general are a medium.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 8, 2007 11:50 AM

Well, there is a "webcomics community."

It isn't particularly large, and it certainly isn't a good representation of all the webcomics out there (it sure doesn't represent me), but it's there. It's a community of people who think about and talk about and speculate about webcomics.

This is not a problem or a bad thing.

The problem is when people feel in some way beholden to it -- this includes its detractors and critics as well as its supporters. The nice thing about the internet is you are only beholden to your bandwidth costs and legal fees.

Comment from: mckenzee [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 8, 2007 1:11 PM

Wish I could remember how to quote: "(it sure doesn't represent me)"

Aw, Chris, you're part of MY webcomic community. We've eaten beans together.

Comment from: alienpriest [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 8, 2007 4:45 PM

At some point, I'll post the current trawl. The old one is frighteningly out of date.

I was just on my way here to request such a thing. Please, I love coming here and being turned onto something I would never have considered otherwise.

Such a bookmark list can be so organic, I know mine are. They change with a stray link click, a stagnant run of guest comics, the time I happen to have to read them at any given point in my life, or even the slightest whim.

I do enjoy the occasional drama too, but then again, I also get a kick out of reading the magazines while in line at the grocery checkout.

Comment from: Remus Shepherd [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 8, 2007 9:00 PM

Is there an American community?

Well, no. There's an Alabaman community, and a Hawaiian community, and a Kansan and Mainer and Floridian community. But no 'American' one. The only thing all these communities have in common is that they have the same government. Which, frankly, is less intrusive than a shared means of distribution, right?

Seriously, I disagree. Removing the labels, there *is* a group of people who read each webcomic, and a group of those groups that together form a group we could call webcomic readers. How tight or loose a community it is is up for debate, but it definitely is one.

If the webcomics community doesn't interest you anymore, don't post about it. Simple as that. Don't feel obligated, no sane readers will get their panties in a bunch.

And *incidentally*...I was just at a convention, and at the 'professional comics panel' there were five people. *One*, and only one, of them had a web presence, and it was an adjuct to his paper comic. They hardly mentioned computers, let alone email -- they all use the old model of mailing or driving physical pages of paper from writer, to penciller, to inker and so on.

These Carter-era 'professionals' were the only people at this con offering advice on comics. Which, to me, highlighted the desperate need for someone, someone, SOMEONE to lead the rest of us into the future.

So we have a community, and that community does need leaders.

Please, don't feel obligated to be one. We'll be okay, really. Just don't badmouth us. :)

Comment from: Howard Tayler [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 8, 2007 9:44 PM

Remus: I think the point Eric was making is that there is not a community of webcomic readers, so much as there are hundreds of smaller, oft-overlapping communities of readers of specific webcomics.

There is definitely a community of webcomic creators. You could even argue that there is a smaller community of webcomic professionals, but the moment you did so someone would label you as pretentious. :-)

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 8, 2007 10:28 PM

Is there an American community?

Absolutely there is. There is a community -- and as someone else has said, a culture -- with shared values and interests and needs born of common experiences and common goals. I may not have a lot in common with someone from Alabama on the surface, but we share Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, the Constitution, CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, Paris Hilton, Cable Television, the Clintons, the Bushes, the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Patriot Act, the War on Terror, the War in Iraq, the first Gulf War, the Vietnam War, WWII, WWI, the teapot dome scandal and all the other aspects of our shared history and artistic heritage back to our nation's founding.

What a fan of Penny Arcade shares with a fan of Schlock Mercenary, if they don't read each other's favorite comic, is an appreciation of graphics on someone's web page. They might be part of the 'community' of web users, though I doubt it. What they are not is members of a shared webcomics community with shared concerns, shared aspirations and shared goals. They are fans, members of fandoms, and maybe it's possible that they would end up liking each others' favorite comics, and maybe it isn't.

Throw Pastel Defender Heliotrope into the mix, and it gets fuzzier. While I don't want to stereotype unduly, fans of PDH probably wouldn't be as likely to become fans of Schlock Mercenary as Penny Arcade fans would be. Or vice versa in any direction. In some cases it would happen, but not in all.

As Howard said, I think webcomics creators do have a community, because they do have shared experiences. What I don't think there is is a grand nation of webcomics fans who all interconnect and have shared interests and common goals, beyond 'liking the webcomic(s) I like' and 'wanting to be entertained.' And there's nothing wrong with that.

As for 'a group of people who read each webcomic?' There is essentially no one who reads every comic on the web. No one. I tried. It doesn't work. Your brain turns to mush long before you regularly read half the webcomics on the web. You end up reading the webcomics that entertain you -- be they good or so bad they're good -- and sticking to them. Trying to artificially find common ground with people who don't like the same comics you do because their comics are on the web and so are yours ends up making for some interesting arguments and the aforementioned drama.

That said, if the attempt makes you happy, then power to you.

Now, I'm still really interested in comics, and my media of choice to read them is the web, and so I'm going to keep doing that. And if over on your side you want to keep up with the goings on in intrafandom debate? Enjoy. Sincerely. I'm not here to pee in your cornflakes. I promise.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 8, 2007 11:15 PM

I think by "a group of people who read each webcomic" was meant "each webcomic's group of readers".

Comment from: Quellan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 8, 2007 11:39 PM

Heh. This site was pretty much the only way I was ever kept abreast of webcomics drama. Still, in a fashion similar to that of Andrew Goode I come here primarily for the literary criticism. Well that and that you genuinely seem to enjoy the comics that you snark. This causes me to end up discovering new comics, and indeed the frequency with which I read new comics is almost directly proportional to the number of comic-specific snarks posted here.

Comment from: Remus Shepherd [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 9, 2007 12:22 AM

Yes, I meant 'each webcomic's group of readers'. Put a bunch of little groups together, and you get a larger group. And 'wanting to be entertained' is enough to base a community upon.

I agree completely that there's a community of webcomic creators. But was Websnark a resource for creators, or fans? I think the fans got more out of it, so I was arguing for the existence of a community of fans. It's no stranger than lumping sports fans, movie buffs, or sci-fi fans into their respective communities.

The analogy with America is flawed because America has 200+ years of history. Webcomics have maybe ten years. There have been only a few events that have affected the entire webcomic community in that time....but there have been a few. Don't confuse infancy with non-existence. :)

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 9, 2007 2:06 AM

Webcomics have maybe ten years.

At least twelve or thirteen.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 9, 2007 2:16 AM

September 24, 1993, as far as we know. (Doctor Fun is generally considered the first webcomic, though there were online comics before then.)

As for what Websnark was or is (and I reiterate, we're not going anywhere), I'm not sure in what way that would change -- or how dependent on a 'webcomics community' it is. I mean, if I don't comment on the drama-of-the-day, but I do comment on comics I think do something really right (or wrong, for that matter), does that mean I am or am not a resource for fans of webcomics?

I will give you "sports fans," actually. That's an apropos comparison. Though "sci-fi" is a genre which means it's a different animal.

Now, here's another question for you: in what way is the webcomics community distinct from, say, the 'comics community.' Be that strips or books. Is it purely web-accessibility? Or is it something deeper? And if it's deeper, does Diesel Sweeties count as a webcomic still? Does Girl Genius? What about For Better or For Worse or Big Nate?

Comment from: Merus [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 9, 2007 6:23 AM

in what way is the webcomics community distinct from, say, the 'comics community.'

They care about their online audience and believe it's important. Seems simple enough.

(There is a bit of a self-identification here, but then isn't there always?)

Comment from: Feral Chicken [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 9, 2007 11:00 AM

I think that it's incorrect to describe a community in simple black & white terms. Most webcomics creators have a network of friends and allies, and you usually know who they are by the links they post. They may be formally set up, even sharing office space, or just a loose network who meet at cons. At any rate, you realize pretty quickly who's friends with who.

This has an effect on readers in ways that traditional print comics lack, and it's one of the reasons I love webcomics so much. It doesn't create a strong webcomics reader community - but a loose community of folks is still a community, and if you want to see what it can do, just look at Randy Milholland's 'Pay Me And I'll Quit My Day Job' madness. That was a community coming together.

Comment from: alschroeder [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 9, 2007 12:56 PM

It was inevitable. It's a shame though...

I used to come to Websnark to catch recommendations of comics I hadn't read before, selected by someone who's taste I trusted. (Plus, the slightly selfish hope that someday, maybe, my comic would be so honored.)

To me, much more than literary criticism in the sense of dissecting the mistakes in the work in question, (which really only benefits the work's writer--when they'll listen.) that's really what I enjoy a critic most for. In the old heyday of science fiction magazines, if the Galsxy bookshelf or the Analog book section recommended a book, I was rarely disappointed....depending on the reviewer. If I grew to trust his taste, it was a given if he enjoyed it, I'd enjoy it.

Websnark was like that. Sometimes I'd get a little frustrated at the upteenth-recommendation of Achewood or Goats, instead of some NEW gem, but hey, you have to write about what you enjoy, and I'm sure new readers appreciated it. It was always enjoyable.

People move on, and some things aren't meant to be recaptured.

Yet I'll miss the old Websnark. I'm going to have to find another critic whose recommendations I trust.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 9, 2007 2:34 PM

Yet I'll miss the old Websnark. I'm going to have to find another critic whose recommendations I trust.

I'm slightly confused, Al. If I do write about a webcomic you haven't seen before, you won't trust it now? Because I'm not feeling the need to write about debates and drama and the like?

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 9, 2007 2:51 PM

I think Al is interpreting your post as the beginnings of an eventual estrangement towards webcomics altogether.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 9, 2007 2:58 PM

Ah. That would be an "incorrect" interpretation, then. ;)

I don't foresee ever stopping writing about webcomics -- or comics in general -- entirely. I'll go through waves where there's more or less about it, but one of the things I do every day is read comics, so...

Comment from: lucastds [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 9, 2007 10:07 PM

Good to see someone mention Big Nate. I love that cartoon. It reminds me of Calvin and Hobbes.

Comment from: Robert Hutchinson [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 9, 2007 10:24 PM

I'm going to second Feral Chicken's comments. There are various levels and strengths of "community". My dad would often watch the various Star Treks--and that's all. I would often watch the various Star Treks, discuss them occasionally on the Internet, and that's all. Keep going down the line until you're translating things into Klingon. The first rung is pretty definitely not a community, the last rung unquestionably is. But good luck figuring out where exactly to put the "do not climb above this point" sticker.

I do think that the webcomics ... realm? ... has a higher-than-average number of people who have a mental picture of a much more solid community than actually exists. But there is a community. Rather, there are communities. The webcomics facet of Websnark, and the reader comments thereof, would be the most nearby proof.

Comment from: alschroeder [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 10, 2007 12:22 AM

Well...look, this is not a criticism. You've gotten married, and I'm THRILLED you're experimenting with your writing. That's what any writer SHOULD do. There are only so many hours in the day. But be honest. When was the last time you talked about a comic you've never talked about before?

That's what made Websnark a delight for me. The thrill of discovery, of finding something new. I mean, by now---I KNOW Achewood is good. I KNOW Goats is good. I KNOW Something Positive is good. I do that sort of thing myself--in fact, I plugged Something Positive and Sinfest right in the middle of my latest comic, making them two of Vicki's favorite comics. But what I really liked Websnark before was finding something NEW, that I had never read before.

You see what I mean?

I'm glad you're not going to stop talking about comics. Honest. This is not a real criticism of Websnark, per se. It's just I think the earlier Websnark spent a lot of time looking at a lot of webcomics---and lately, when you DO post, it's about the same ones.

*Grin* But since you don't post as much as you USED to, maybe it's just my perception, not anything real.

I DO trust your recommendations and judgement, okay?

Comment from: gwalla [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 10, 2007 2:57 AM

I tend to think that there is a webcomics community, it's just much smaller than usually assumed, and not that close-knit. It's the people who are interested in webcomics in general, rather than just the ones they already read regularly, and who congregate in forums and blogs for the purpose of discussing the subject. Places like Comixtalk née Comixpedia, the onlinecomic LJ community, snarkoleptics, and of course Websnark. You tend to see the same faces, more or less, in all places. There's too much overlap there for them to be independent.

Where we go wrong is when we think that anybody who likes to talk about a webcomic is part of the Webcomics Community rather than part of a specialized fan community, like it's an Übercommunity enveloping all of the individual webcomic fan communities. Basically, there's a webcomics afficionado community, but there is no Greater Webcomics Community.

Comment from: William_G [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 10, 2007 11:17 AM

Merus: I've never made a single claim about myself, my views, nor the importance of my comics at any point. NEVER.

So if you're going to call someone pretentious, learn what it means, okay?

I'm like you and everyone else here: A guy with an opinion. The only difference is that mine is in the minority.

Personally, I find guys like you far more arrogant. Simply due to the fact that you take the easy route of agreeing with the mob and treating it like some sort of god-given truth. It leads you to never having to question your stances or your morals.

And if you don't think that's arrogant, it's certainly cowardly.

Comment from: Fabricari [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 10, 2007 12:21 PM

You know in the last year or so, I've become pretty good friends with William G. He's a great guy when he's not all hopped up on webcomic banter. And that doesn't stop me from giving him shit when he over-reacts. I'm giving him shit right now.

The guy's damned talented. Sadly, I've never heard the creator's community mention "It's About Girls" or "Bang Barstal". These are some fine examples of webcomics. But in the last year, whenever he's mentioned, it seems only in reference of past transgressions.

Bill's laid off the drama, a lot, but no force of friend or nature is going to stop him from taking bait or reacting when people continue to villify him for stuff he's written about a year ago. And frankly, he sucks at filtering his responses. So, can you all help out a little, and just stop bringing up old conflicts?

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 10, 2007 3:06 PM

Fabricari -- for the record, I have talked about 'It's About Girls' before. I think it's brilliant.

Comment from: Merus [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 10, 2007 9:18 PM

"Personally, I find guys like you far more arrogant."

Playing the throw-your-words-back-in-your-face game, I've never made a single claim about myself, my views, nor the importance of my comics at any point. NEVER. So I have no idea where you're getting the idea that you know what I'm like because I made a pithy observation in the comments of some guy's blog.

Hell, I don't even draw comics.

Anyway, I'm standing by my assertion that it's best to pop you in the 'both' box because, well, you're chewing me out for being a sheep (not to mention accusing me of arrogance), without actually taking the time to find out what my opinions really are.

Look, this isn't supposed to be a personal attack as much as it's supposed to make people stop and think what kind of message they're sending about themselves. I'm sorry if you read it that way; despite the deliberately inflammatory language, I'm not so interested in causing drama.

For the record, I like Bang.

Comment from: William_G [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at July 11, 2007 12:44 AM

Merus, thats fine then. You didn't intend any insult. But insult was received.

And considering how often that insult and numerous others have been handed my way over the last few years by people I have never heard of simply because they're continuing to parrot some crap their favorite creator shat out... Well, you'll have to forgive me for assuming you were part of the standard. I don't have the time to check the backgrounds of everyone I come across who decides to take a hatchet to me in webcomics. It's easier for me to say, "Just another fucking fanboy" because it usually is.

As for the messages being sent: I'm not going to base my views around how it plays to a certain crowd. And I'm not interested in being the lord of some little online kingdom. So I'm not going to play the Self-PR game like so many of my fellow creators. And if that leaves me open to people misrepresenting me for their own goals or world views, then I'm going to have to keep dealing with that.

Comment from: B Williams [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 21, 2007 4:41 PM

Just wanted Eric to know that I discussed this post today on my little blog. It's not really all that important, but still about the Websnark post none the less.

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