The webcomics blog about webcomics


Joe Zabel’s doin’ some big thinking over Examiner way, and I’ve come away more confused by the question than anything; not about the answer, but why the question is being asked, since it seems self-evident. Short form, he’s wondering if the “webcomics community” is shrinking even while “webcomics” are expanding. Slightly longer version, from the introductory paragraphs:

Recently a friend of mine made an observation that got me to wondering. “The webcomics medium is burgeoning,�? he said, “but the webcomics community is this tight little group of old-timers who always show up with the same opinions and the same agenda. And while the number of webcomic creators is growing by leaps and bounds, the ‘webcomics community’ is drastically shrinking.�?

I was so captivated by this notion of a paradoxical shrinkage at the center of a flourishing artistic movement that I decided to poll a number of colleagues about it and do some further research and brainstorming to hypothesize what’s really going on.

Zabel wisely starts with a definition of his terms:

But by “webcomics community,�? understand that I’m not referring to the entire body of people who participate in webcomics as readers or artists; this aggregate group is certainly on the rise. By “webcomics community�? I mean the community at the center of all this activity, the people who are interested in webcomics in general– in webcomics as a medium, as a distribution method, as an artform, as a pursuit. I’m thinking of the community of artists who create webcomics, along with avid fans of the medium, and (dare I say it) the critics and journalists who focus on the medium.

By those criteria, it’s fair to say that Zabel would place himself in the “webcomics community”; whether or not he’s correct to place this group “at the center of all this activity” is a matter of personal opinion. But here’s where things get a bit … ironic. Zabel starts soliciting opinions on the direction of this center, talking with Shaenon Garrity, T Campbell, Joey Manley, Mike Meginnis, David Hellman, Tym Godek, and Eric Burns. With the possible exception of (curiously enough) Manley, everybody Zabel spoke to is arguably a part of the center as he defines it. This sort of reduces the question to, “Does a self-identified group in a larger culture become less important as the culture becomes still larger and more diverse?”

All together now: yes. There’s plenty of people creating and reading webcomics that never heard of Big Panda, and have read the work of first-generation creators. New webcomics crop up all the time; it’s true that without the first generation, they wouldn’t have the same environment to grow in, but does that mean that they owe alliegance to this center?

The task facing those of us who love webcomics is not to form a Webcomics Academy, it’s to make sure that every offering in this marketplace of amusements gets a chance to find an audience. Creators and projects will come and go, they’ll shift tone and audience, and local concentrations of interest will form and disperse, regardless of what definition of Webcomics (capitalized, proper noun) you follow. It’s not a case of whether or not the center will hold.

It’s whether or not the center ever truly exsited. As Zabel’s describing it, I don’t think so.

Actually, the center did exist, at one point. And it’s funny that you think it didn’t, because Fleen–at least the original iteration of Fleen–was at the center at its inception.

I’m sure webcartoonists who have been around since pre-2000 long for the days when the “webcomics community” actually was a community, with a tight-knit group of people who considered each other almost friends. They shared ideas and interacted with their readership a lot more easily and more often than occurs today.

I remember those days, and I miss them. I guess I can’t really speak for the cartoonists themselves if they miss the feeling–the nostalgia–of those early days of the medium.

But you correct in another regard: there is no center anymore. It did exist at one point, but it’s gone these days. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just how it is now. The industry expands, the center dissolves, and pockets of “centers” develop in specific interest areas. It’s called growth, and it’s a great thing.

Great essay. :D

It sounds like a load of bullshit to me. Maybe it’s just that no one cares what these blowhards have to say anymore, and they’re only respected in their little circle jerk of friends, and have made themselves look like buffoons in other communities. You can only suck each other’s dicks for so long you know.

Thanks for the comments, Gary. Yeah, I was aware of the irony when I asked a bunch of old-timers about the role of old-timers in this “webcomics community” I was going on about. But I still think it was a good idea to ask these particular folks about it. After all, if you want to get a historical perspective, you have to talk to people who’ve been around for a while.

And I don’t think their responses were at all defensive or self-congratulatory; for the most part they were saying what the article was saying, that the old center of webcomics (to the extent that such a thing can be defined) is stagnant, a bit hostile, irrelevant and sometimes full of shit.

I’m a bit baffled by your link to a description of the French Academy. Nowhere does the article suggest our imply that such an institution should be set up in the realm of webcomics.

BTW, when I was talking about the “center” of webcomics, I merely meant that some websites (like Fleen, for instance), message boards, and individuals are devoted to a general interest in webcomics, rather than an interest in a particular artist or genre. I certainly don’t think that these generalists are more “important” than anybody else.

This is really interesting, because before I got my gig here, I was very much on the perifery. I would read comics, even popular ones, but I didn’t participate in forums or any other fan aparatus. I was one of the perpetual lurkers, and saw the comment that you were looking for writers on Overcompensating and took a chance.

So, if the center includes bloggers who focus on the medium, I’m not all that entrenched… as of yet. :D

With respect, Gary, I don’t think the essay’s points are stultifyingly obvious to everyone. I see a number of people at Keenspot and Modern Tales behaving– at least on the surface– as if nothing had changed about webcomics since about 2002.

I look back and see myself lapsing into that mode of thinking, too. The let’s-all-work-together! initiatives I pushed last year, like the call for OhNoRobot subscriptions and the early calls for History feedback, were written for a tighter-knit community than what we’ve become. I see the changes now, but others may need help.

Perhaps “the center” never did really exist, but the marketplace from about 2000-2003 or so made it a lot easier to pretend it did.

>>Yeah, I was aware of the irony when I asked a bunch of old-timers about the role of old-timers in this “webcomics community� I was going on about.

I don’t think it was that you were old-timers that Gary found ironic (or at least, not solely). I don’t think Eric Burns is an old-timer. I think it was that it was such an insular group. There are old-timers much further afield than you chose to speak to.

Depending on how you define it, that little group represented a wide range of experiences; but it wasn’t intended as a scientific opinion poll by any means.

FYI, Eric Burns was buddies with one of the earliest webcomics pioneers, and even appeared in his friend’s strip. See
for details.

>>I’m a bit baffled by your link to a description of the French Academy. Nowhere does the article suggest our imply that such an institution should be set up in the realm of webcomics.

Never said that it did. I said that the task facing those of us who love webcomics is to avoid falling into that mindset (new emphasis). That includes you, me, and everybody else that loves these crazy things.

Where creators are doing good work, we ought to try to make sure that people are aware of it. When people aren’t ready for prime time, we ought to provide constructive feedback.

We shouldn’t declare that certain topics, styles, or implementations are, on their face, unworthy. As we both know, some people in the ongoing dialogue about [web]comics have a tendency in that direction (and a general Us/Them mindset), and anybody with broadband and strong opinions (me, for example) has the potential to fall into that trap. And if I fall into that trap, I hope you’ll call me on it.

[…] Gary … and tired as hell. Which is probably why, in the context of this, I find this far funnier than I should. After all, we here at Fleen are all about webcomics community, and not interested in provoking shitstorms or internet fights to the bloody death. That being said, Bunny is owning all over those birds (start here and keep clicking on “next”, through the ten updates that Lem managed in one day). […]

[…] I’m not sure it’s the issue that Johnson thinks it is (although there are differing views on what the ‘webcomics community’ actually is), but just in case Shishio tells us: I agree that webcomic creators need to work harder to make webcomics as a whole more successful. And so I have launched The Webcomic Word of Mouth Project, the idea of which is to get webcomic creators to pledge to link to other webcomics they like which will hopefully increase everybody’s readers. […]

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