The webcomics blog about webcomics

How Freakin’ Embarrassing.

Despite the risk of this column beginning to sound vaguely like a gossip column, I’ll proceed. I have a wacky day job making custom rubber stamps, and recently we fielded a few orders from some very notable webcomics folks. I ran around the office, very excited, waving hands and exclaiming, Hey, y’all, look at this order! and ending with What do you mean you don’t know who [name redacted] is! Have you seen his website?! Here, lemme show you…. So I accidentally got to introduce my entire office to a bunch of cool webcomics, which was kind of interesting. These are not folks who really even read comics, let alone comics on the web. “Webcomics” was mostly an alien concept, actually, to most of them.

And then, a few days later, I ran into two other awesome webcomics creators while running errands in town. They author two of the webcomics I had ended up showing off in the office, and it got me thinking about what webcomics are, basically, representative in some way (or, if that’s even really possible, given the huge amount of webcomics out there) of the field or are particularly innovative. It also got the gears turning, again, what things draw me to a certain webcomic and what things are offputting. Embarrassing Admission #1: I’ve never been able to get into Achewood, despite lots of recommendations from smart people whose opinions I value. I swear, I tried–it’s just not resonating with me somehow. I haven’t been able to figure out what it is in specific, but…yeah. No.

It also got me thinking about subculture. I have one of those rad Republicans for Voldemort bumperstickers on my car, and since I put it on there I’ve been seeing a lot of others on other cars. It’s weird for me to have a bumpersticker in common with someone else even though I have a few on the car (mostly music, but there’s also the older style of this design). In a much more corporate setting this week, I ended up explaining webcomics to a Harry Potter fan who’d seen the bumpersticker on my car in the parking lot, and really wanted to find out where it came from! Not a conversation I was expecting to have in that work context.

Weirdly, while giving blood earlier this week, these ideas kind of fused. I’m one of those folks who has to stay a bit later than the other kids and ends up with lovely bruises. (Always fun to explain at work.) I was thinking about what to write this week, with an eye toward becoming a little more critical now that I’m past the 6-months mark with this column (Totally Embarrassing Admission #2; I completely missed it…), and so I don’t quite feel like a newbie anymore, though I also don’t by any means feel well-schooled yet in all of this.

But I’m schooled enough to recognize Jeph Jacques! I was walking to my car after being sprung from the post-donation eat-cookies-and-relax holding pen, and thought, Oh, cool! I’ll say hi! as we passed, and then realized it would be kind of awkward somehow, since I’m not really a regular reader and, well, the rational brain kicked in just in time: hello, blood loss makes you sound even crazier than usual…. Still, I wonder: do webcomics artists get recognized and stopped on the street the way other famous (or famous-ish) artists might? Or does the web allow or even promote a kind of anonymity somehow, some kind of distance from that sort of fame?

Anyway, it links in a little since I’d argue that Questionable Content might be one of those, y’know, gateway webcomics which hooks readers in, and gets them clicking back. His readership’s pretty loyal from what I’ve heard; more so than most of the other webcomics I’ve considered in the past (though last week’s column on Wes Molebash’s work prompted much more talk on that topic than I’d expected). For example, when I mentioned to folks way back last February that I was picking up this column, almost everyone mentioned QC. (Embarrassing Admission #3: I haven’t made it all the way through the archives yet. I’m sorry! I know this is bad; I know.)

So, I guess what I’m asking is more on the Recommend Stuff topic. But what would you recommend to the person who has never read webcomics–and, really, more to the point: why those webcomics? What should I have shown the folks in my office? (Next week I’ll tell you what I did actually show them.) What do you feel is distinctive, notable work in current webcomics?

I’m going to intentionally keep the field wide open on this question, even though in this column I’ve been working with an eye toward some of the less-well-known pieces or things which are new from already-established creators, and so forth. It’s not intended as a top 10 list (I think there are already quite a few?) or any kind of ranking system, exactly, but I wonder what webcomics pop up on many lists. I have a few guesses–the lovely Scary Go Round being at the top of that list–but I’m curious…

Have you had the ‘No, I’m not a republican, that’s a character from a book’ conversation yet?

I think if I were to recommend a web comic to a person who doesn’t read them I would recommend Sheldon as it reads like a syndicated strip, but introduces the web comic medium. I also like Bunny (daily can start anywhere). I started my web comicing recently on Real life comics and Penny-Arcade.

I recommend XKCD all the time to people who have never read webcomics before.

But that’s because all my friends are computer nerds.

I like to point newbies towards Gunnerkrigg Court.

Gunnerkrigg Court all the way.

Here are four that I think have broad appeal and could hook someone who’s never read webcomics before. (In the interest of full disclosure I’m involved with the last one on the list):
Able and Baker, because it cracks me up. Copper, because it’s gorgeous in every way.
Count Your Sheep, because it really is more than cute.
Planet Saturday Comics, because of its accessible slice of life subject matter (childhood, memory, family).

Y’know, if I had to point to a web comic today for someone new, I think it’d be questionable content. But then, that’s the crowd I run with. They’d get it. Goats, while I still love it, has gone beyond what I think a newb could ‘get’.
PvP and Unshelved are both good for the uninitiated as well.
Wondermark… well… depending upon the person…

[…] Anne Thalheimer ponders gateway […]

I’ve also:

Never been able to get into Achewood. Or Questionable Content. Or PvP. Or Something Positive. Or Penny Arcade. Or…

Anyway, I made this recommendation in my article over at ComixTalk a couple months ago, and I’ll make it again here: Tales of the Questor would make a fine “gateway” webcomic, seems to me.


What I would recommend to someone depends on their interests.

On Achewood, I’ve only been able to enjoy this strip:

Most of the webcomics that were gateway comics to me have all but ended in one fashion or another, so it’s pretty silly to mention them to a rookie. I would probably suggest something like Starslip Crisis, because it’s in the familiar comic strip format, but it shows what can be done with the freedom of web publishing as opposed to the restrictions of syndication. And while it’s sci-fi based, you can still “get it” even if you aren’t a big nerd.

I’ve never really considered most of the Widely Read comics to be very good “gateway” comics. Especially ScaryGoRound. Although I love the comic, and I think the artwork could hook a new reader, the storyline is a bit… er, jerky and confusing. Really good gateway comics to me would be:

– Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
– The Adventures of Dr. McNinja
– The Unfeasible Adventures of Beaver and Steve
– Afterstrife (short backstory!)
– You’ll Have That
– Diesel Sweeties (they mostly all stand alone)
– Minus
– Nothing Better
– Perry Bible Fellowship
– Count Your Sheep
– Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life
– Silent Kimbly

I’m too lazy to link all of those comics individually, so visit this page for links if one of them interests you.

For entry-level webcomicking, stick with stand-alone strips (Penny Arcade, xkcd, Bunny) and those that break things up into digestible chapters (Dr. McNinja, Gunnerkrigg Court).
Feeling a little egotistical, I should note that both of my current comics fall in those categories, with the standing alone Dear Pirate at and The Expert’s Guide on How to Kill Things That Go Bump in the Night hitting its third chapter at .

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