The webcomics blog about webcomics

The Somewhat Different Envelope, Please

Once again, I’m assuming that most of you have seen this by now, but there’s been an amendment to the requirements of the new NCS award in the Online Comic Strip Division. Namely, the requirement:

5. Creator must earn the greater part of their living directly from the strip/property

has been altered to:

5. Creator must earn the greater part of their living directly from cartooning in order to adhere to the NCS criteria that creators under consideration must be either full members or eligible for full membership

It wasn’t the intent that nominees in this new division be required to meet more stringent requirements than in the others; I don’t think any of us on the committee were reading the old #5 as meaning anything other than the new #5, but in situations like this it’s important to make sure that what you write is as unambiguous as possible. Thanks to Tom Richmond for clarifying, and don’t be surprised if other clarifications become necessary¹.

  • As long as we’re on the topic, I feel it useful to point out a couple of thinky pieces written since yesterday’s post on this award and the focus of this blog; thanks to Dave Kellett and Holly Post, respectively, for their wise words. Dave and Holly both opine that the use of “webcomics” as a word that distinguishes from “comics” is silly², as it distinguishes a model of distribution as being distinct from medium itself³. I fully expect that I will continue to use The W Word well past its generally-accepted sell-by date, turning into a latter-day example of your embarrassing great-uncle whose vernacular is stuck 50 years in the past; I apologize for any future offense I may give.
  • In fact, let’s broaden out from “webcomics” by pointing out that Pittsburgh’s ToonSeum has an interesting show opening next week, one whose press release scared the crap out of me because the subject line read

    Funky Turns 40 at the ToonSeum

    which immediately made me think it was an exhibit of Funky CancerCancer. In fact, it’s about the first wave of positive black animated characters in the 1970s, which means one thing: Fat Albert, possibly including the early episodes which borrowed heavily from Cosby’s standup routines4. Funky Turns 40 is co-curated by Pamela Thomas of the Museum of Uncut Funk, which is the greatest name for a museum ever; the show opens 18 January and runs until 10 March.

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¹ But please do spare me any See? They’re just making it up as they go along in order to screw over [insert grievance here]! We’re doing our best to work out kinks (cf: yesterday’s post, the part about perfect and done), and you can bet that every other NCS division award went through these stumbles, but it was so long ago that nobody remembers.

² A opinion I have expressed myself in the past and am entirely sympathetic to, if only I could come up with a short, obvious word that identifies the things that I write about here. I love all kinds of comics, but this page concerns itself almost exclusively with independent, creator-owned, self-distributed examples of such, and a signifier is just useful. I swear, come up with a term (or even an acronym) that’s brief, and I’ll use it.

³ Not that such distinctions are always worthless; I listen to a fair number of radio shows as podcasts.

4 Rousing game of Buck Buck, anyone?

Back in the halcyon days of my youth or at least last fall when writing anything at all was an option, I actually publicly discontinued using ‘webcomics’ in lieu of just plain ‘comics.’ It got some reaction — mostly negative — but I stuck to it and if writing ever becomes possible again, I will stick to it then.

If nothing else — consider this. When I read any DC comic, Marvel comic, or Newspaper Syndicate comic these days, I read it through my computer screen or my tablet screen. It’s rare I even buy a graphic novel these days. (Though the Marvel Nook/DC Fire war seems to want to maintain stupid artificiality as long as humanly possible.)

I digress incoherently — needless to say, we’re now just discussing ‘comics.’ Which has the weird effect of making me the whippersnapper taunting you as the old man, and that’s just plain silly.

Of course I’ve said this to both of you before, but I don’t mind being repetitive: I think there is still value in the term “webcomic” as an identifier of medium, just like “newspaper comic” means a comic found in newspapers and “comic book” means (usually) the 4-color print publications that the comic companies are traditionally known for.

Just like the term “ebook” means a book in digital format. It has value because it identifies the means to access — and I feel like I have to caution you: just because you guys only access your comics through the web, I think it’s dangerous to assume everyone else does too. Print comics may be in decline in terms of actual numbers, but that doesn’t necessarily translate over to the general public as “they think of all comics as being on the web now.”

Now, that said, there is a tactical, rhetorical advantage to doing away with the term, but it has nothing to do with how webcomics are perceived by the “new guard” of whippersnappers who are used to everything being digital, and it doesn’t even really have anything to do with the self-image of people who are using the web as their primary distribution medium. It has to do with the old guard of comics institutions who are still struggling, apparently, to come to grips with the “legitimacy” of “those web comic things.” Take away the “web” from “comic,” point to PvP and then point to any newspaper-published comic–which also has a website these days–and people in the old guard will be hard pressed to tell you the difference between them. And that is a legitimate tactic for dealing with institutional inertia — if they are resisting what you’re doing and keep repeating the same phrases over and over again, change the conversation so that those phrases never come up. That makes perfect sense. Assuming it’s worth your while to actually have that conversation, and put the effort into changing those minds, then yes, that is a sound tactic.

But no one is saying that! Dave Kellet came closest in the article linked above. The other article is focused squarely on “web comic type people” rising up and casting off what is apparently our self-imposed linguistic shackles, but that makes it all about us.

I don’t have any objections to using language to re-frame an idea in order to make it easier for a target audience to understand and accept. That’s what language is for (though it can be misused, to both horrific and hilarious effect). But if that’s what’s actually going on–and over the past year I’ve started to think that yeah, maybe that really is what’s going on–I’d prefer everyone just come out and admit it. I wonder if there’s an unspoken fear that coming out and saying that will make somehow make it less effective. If so… oops! I just screwed everything up!

erm… sorry for the wall of text. I got carried away…

At the risk of attracting the ire of my webcomic fellers… no it isn’t the same. No, it shouldn’t be.

If I heard that, for example, Jhonen V was making a webcomic, I would be tremendously excited. More so that if it was just a “comic”. Why? Because I have come to expect certain things that, while are not set-in-stone, have been associated with webcomics. Raw authoral vision. Periodic updates. Freedom of graphic and narrative format. A direct interaction with them. A closely-knit fandom community.

These are all things that I love about webcomics, that the comics in paper can’t or are not expected to give me.

I happen to like the term. No, scratch that. I cherish the term “webcomic”. For some of my colleagues it means discrimination or contempt; for me means excitement. From the very beginning.

[...] The improvement process has already begun, with a clarification made by the NCS changing the income language to Creator must earn the greater part of their living [...]

For what it’s worth, I see the term “webcomics” becoming synonymous with “independent comics.”

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