The webcomics blog about webcomics

Roar! Hotdogs! Fire!

The ongoing interview/discussion I’ve been having with two very patient artists (both folks I’ve written about in the past; I’ll write more once we finish) has lately turned to the question of length of webcomics. Specifically, we’re talking about the difference in reading a shortform piece online as opposed to a longform piece. Yes, we’ve been on this road before. Yes, we (by which I really mean I) keep coming back to it. I still think it’s an issue; it was something I’ve been thinking about particularly now that I work somewhere where I don’t have ready internet access at my desk.

Obviously these terms are open for discussion and of course there’s complications. For example, imagine a webcomic which is a daily updated strip (and here I mean ‘strip’ in the more classic sense, though it doesn’t have to adhere to the traditional design or pacing where there’s a punchline in the final panel). Each strip is self-contained. The characters, naturally, carry over from strip to strip, and while there’s no set overarching narrative these characters go about their lives, jobs, air hockey, whatever. Eventually there’s 500 or 1,000 of these things; sometimes collected into print versions, sometimes not. While not longform comics, that’s a pretty daunting archive; for a daily-updating strip, that number often represents years of work.

But what about the works out there which are kind of more like minicomics in their design? Not strips, in that there are multiple pages which are sequential–no one page stands alone, exactly–but also not longform works; they’re works that don’t have extensive archives or many multiple pages. In order words, a quicker read? We’ve all experienced that weird fuzzy-brain feeling from staring at the computer screen a little too long. Don’t things get lost, sometimes, when we read too much online (maybe like when you’re skimming the assigned reading for class, trying to cover as much ground as possible in a short amount of time)? How is new media going to affect how we read; someone I know recently mentioned having a copy of Watchmen on his computer that he was going to read. I couldn’t believe it; that’s a book which so totally uses framing and pages and pacing and borders to get the reader to that killer ending; would the power of that work be diluted for the reader not being able to turn that page into that bloody final chapter?

Alternatively, are there examples of online works which could work just as well in either medium? Yes. I can think of a few off of the top of my head; Colleen Frakes’ Tragic Relief being one, and Israel Sanchez’s Saturday another. While Tragic Relief is a minicomic which is also available online, I’m not as sure about Saturday. It’s 12 pages, so fairly short by minicomic standards, but it’s one longer story where a little sea creature gets his revenge on a bully, sort of by accident, and tastes his first hotdog (but not in that order). Maybe not longform, perhaps, but longer form? It’s also a little different in that there aren’t words. There’s no dialogue. Visually, it reminds me of Mike Luce’s lovely (and recently concluded?!) series Fite!, which presents its own fabulous challenges for the reader. With something like Fite! you’ve got to work a little harder; with something like Saturday, it’s a little less so for the absence of dialogue, but a little more so in some ways since you’re left to imagine some of the transitions and sounds (whereas with Fite! you get those representations; you just don’t get them in a language you’re expecting).

I haven’t finished thinking through all of these things, obviously, but I wanted to point you toward these interesting (I think) examples of work that’s a little different from what we’re used to seeing in webcomics, and also raises the issue of some of the mechanics of reading. There are beautiful webcomics which are difficult to read and intentionally somewhat offputting to readers. There are others that are easier to read, but challenge our sense of what ‘comic’ means. The range is almost unparalleled; in what other field or medium do you find this kind of diversity of styles and narratives? Maybe it’s less about length and more about range, in thinking about the unique advantages webcomics offer (which might offset some of the downsides, like fuzzy-brain)?

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