The webcomics blog about webcomics

Online + Comic = Webcomic? (Survey Says…).

Yeah, we’re back here again. Bear with me, okay?

I’m gearing up to revisit the question of Webcomics/Not Webcomics? with which I started all those months ago. In truth, revisiting this question’s been inspired by a few things. First, I’ve been conversing with folks I’d been thinking of as “webcomics artists” who, as it turns out, don’t really self-define as such. They see themselves more as minicomics artists who also share their work online. While having comics online is a way to reach a wider audience, it isn’t what they consider their primary delivery system and these artists don’t do anything particularly hypertexty. I empathize: I certainly do not consider myself a webcomics artist even though comics I’ve done are available online. I didn’t put them there, but they’re findable. (It’s the Internet. Everything is findable.)

It’s also been spurred on by looking at pictures of SPX this past weekend. It was a lot easier to get there when I was living in Delaware and presenting with ICAF (back when ICAF ran at the same time and place as SPX; it’s actually starting tomorrow in the Madison Building in the Library of Congress in Washington DC), but it makes me wonder a little. One of the things I liked so much about SPX (and MoCCA, to a lesser extent) was the amount of non-comics items made by people who do comics. Like fabric robots, for example. It’s something I’m more familiar with from zine fairs, but it’s that same “Hey, check out this cool thing I made!” vibe (Gary also mentioned this point in his SPX recap post). You get to meet in person the people behind the work. That’s something I don’t feel like I get in quite the same way with webcomics. (Not to say it isn’t there; it’s just different in that it’s mediated by technology—emails, blogs, comments, etc.—rather than a face to face conversation.)

So this week’s experiment was to find a webcomic (I’m using the term as broadly as possible here) in which I didn’t know anything about the creator and had to infer information from what I read. The link came via my friend Chris, who has an eye for such things. I wanted something where this sense of immediacy wasn’t there, and instead there was something more like discovery, where I had to dig in and read and click through different images to see what was going on.

Beginning in January of last year, Ordinary Things is, as creator Ozge Samanci describes it, “an online journal of my observations in the comics form.” It has a very interesting use of color and composition, so much so that some of the images look like collages (or, in this case, are collages). It is maybe autobiographic, maybe not. If yes, she is a Ph.D. student, not from the States, in Atlanta, GA recording journal entries as comics and then posting them to the web. If not, who knows? (I’m guessing yes, judging by the forum over on Transplant Comics, which kind of opened the door for me to check out a whole stack of other new-to-me webcomics, like Robert Sergel’s Idiot Comics).

I’m very fond of the website. I’m totally smitten with the artwork, and I have that decided preference for autobio pieces. It also reminded me of some of the more interesting issues about sequentiality; what do you do with pieces which are their own individual work but also part of a larger, longer narrative–even if that narrative is in journal form? It’s an interesting point and one that I think will set some groundwork for future conversations; is Ordinary Things a webcomic? I think it complicates the discussion in interesting ways, not the least of which is the means of production: they’re generally single-panel pieces created offline which are then reproduced via scanner or camera, and posted online. I experience this work the same way I’d experience a webcomic, but it’s certainly visually different from much of the other work I’ve seen in the months I’ve been posting here.

Here’s also, by way of conclusion, something of a taxonomy question: Does it matter? Does it matter what we call them? I’m thinking yes, given how this week’s column began, but I’m open to revisiting the conversation since I still think it’s murky and interesting.

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There is a difference, though in the long run figuring out which is which isn’t all that important. For example my work is almost the webbiest you can possibly make a comic. Everything about it is designed with the internet in mind, so much in fact that translating it to print form becomes a real pain. The line isn’t always clear, though, as with the case of my pal Nick Gurewitch. We webcomickers have long since claimed the PBF as one of our own, but really it’s just a newspaper comic that’s on the internet.

The definition of webcomic or regular comic is only really relevant in determining what the primary focus of the creator is. Other than that, it really isn’t that important, especially since the line is so blurred to begin with.

Does it matter what we call them? Well… only insomuch as the speaker feels that fostering an understanding of the subject matters.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that “all webcomics are comics, but not all comics are webcomics.”

I’ll further posit that (and it gets sticky here) since most of the webcartoonists I identify with are independent creators who own the properties they write and/or illustrate, there is precedent (or tendency) to say that “all webcomics are independent comics.”

The problem with this is that the word “webcomics” is made up of two words whose meanings are, at least in modern tech-speak, fairly fixed. Concatenating those words gives us a word which, to the uninitiated, should mean “any comic that appears on the web is a webcomic.”

But there are independent cartoonists (and journalists who write about them) who are looking for a word that says “creator-owned comic properties principally delivered via HTTP,” and these folks just don’t have time for more than maybe three or four syllables. To them, “webcomic” would include Penny Arcade, XKCD, and Turn Signals on a Land Raider, but would NOT include Dilbert.

How clearly understood are we when we say “indie” comics? Would saying “Indie Webcomics” and “Syndie Webcomics” allow us to establish firm meaning, and proceed with meaningful dialog rather than an argument over semantics?

With “Ordinary Things” I find elements common in things I call webcomics — it’s online, freely offered, owned by its creator, presented as a comic, and (for bonus points) it’s a journal.

It is possible that the creator of “Ordinary Things” (which I have not followed beyond looking at enough pictures to say “yeah, webcomic”) is blissfully unaware of “webcomics,” and feels compelled to hang a different shingle out.

Does it matter that when I say “movie,” you instinctively know I’m not talking about something created to air on network television? I’m not sure it does. I think the problem comes more from the fact that in the last 100-odd years, we never really got around to defining what *comics* is/are. And now we’re faced with a new delivery system, and we find there’s linguistic work to be done.

I question whether it matters because the general public will decide what to call a thing– generally based on convenience. Eddie Campbell notwithstanding, I think it’s okay if we get it technically wrong, as long as we understand each other.

Yes. Online + comic = webcomic. Why? Because “webcomic” is not a description of genre, it is description of the method of publication. Attempting to also turn it into a genre does a great disservice to the medium.

Christopher sums it up pretty succinctly, I think.

I agree with Chris Wright as well, and would only add that it’s the oiriginal manner of delivery that matters. Collections of PVP still refer to it as a webcomic on the book, even though it’s a collection. We don’t call Peanuts collections graphic novels. One doesn’t have to do some stylish jiggery-pokery to make one’s comic specifically a ‘web’ comic.

[…] Interesting re-visit of the webcomic/ non webcomic debate over at FLEEN. […]

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