I have recently spent a fair amount of hours immersed in a variety of webcomics, which has been jolly good fun.

I have always been a fan of comics in printed form, from the British fare I consumed as a youngster (like Whizzer & Chips, Eagle and Tiger, 2000 AD) to  Mighty Marvel’s Daredevil in my teens (Frank Miller’s second stint on this comic was awesome, despite his current penchant for making crappy movies) to Japanese manga (from Doraemon to Maison Ikkoku to Deathnote) that I still read today.

Given this prediliction, it’s actually a bit of a mystery to me why I’ve never properly explored the world of comics on the web. I remember discovering and reading Scott McCloud’s I cant stop thinking four or five years ago, and being really inspired by it. I think it’s still inspiring now, for two reasons:

  • first, his enthusiasm for the web as a game-changing technology. McCloud was (and still is) a convincing evangelist for the transformative power of the internet, and was way ahead of the game in looking at how print-based media should adapt to this new environment. His arguments for micropayments remain entertaining and compelling years later – and are well worth a read.
  • secondly, I really loved his exploration of the browser window as a medium for storytelling. It is insightful, entertaining and (to me) exciting to see someone analyse how a particular media idiom works, and really bring to life what this understanding makes possible. Take a look at the panel below for a sample:

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Stuff like this is really  interesting to me.  I’m always fascinated by the kinds of interplay existing between context and content, form and function, object and interpreter- as to my mind this is where media (whatever it is) actually happens.

I don’t think enough people who work in the media industry really get this point – any given media is not simply the sum of its technology, its audience and its content: it is much subtler and much richer than that.

Every form of media is pervaded by a social, cultural and historical context- who consumes it, where and when is it consumed? Beyond that, we should ask what preceded it, what does it supercede? What does it make possible and what does it render obsolete?

(Props duly given to Marshal McLuhan)

For this reason, it’s a pleasure to observe what McCloud has forged using what he calls ‘the infinite canvas’ of web space as opposed to the printed page. I actually think that the point is made most eloquently with a simple image from his epic Zot! Online:

(click to enlarge)

zot-online1

However, despite feeling fired up by his ideas, I failed to really investigate the landscape that he opened up to me. I got distracted by other web-based things – MMORPGs and blogging for starters- and just plain forgot about it all.

I intend to make up for that, starting now!

When I started using RSS properly in 2005, I did add two webcomics, which I have stuck with ever since, namely Boy On A Stick and Slither and Slow Wave.

BOASAS is written by Steven L. Cloud, and concerns the philosophical meanderings of the titular protagonists; a strange stick-boy and his friend – a snake.

bosas

The philiosophical bent to the humour in the comic is probably not to everyone’s taste, but it tickles the bit of my brain that laughs at clever things (the bit that really wants to like QI) more often than not. Plus it looks gorgeous.

Slow Wave, written by Jesse Reklaw is really more than a webcomic. Or maybe less than a webcomic, I’m not really sure.

Each edition is a simple four-panel piece that Reklaw creates using a narrative derived from one of his readers’ dreams. He calls it “a collective dream diary authored by people from around the world”, and each featured dreamer gets an author’s co-credit. These comics have a brilliantly surreal feel, the dream-narrative having its own strange logic – or lack thereof.

slowwave

As a result, the comics are always the same yet always different, and whilst there is no character or thematic development the comics are unlike anything else on the web or elsewhere.

Reklaw is now an established star in the webcomic firmament , and as such has also contributed a guest edition of what is probably the web’s favourite comic right now, achewood.

uua60mkr8

Achewood is one of the most narratively driven webcomics I’ve come across, and whilst it is syndicated strip by strip, the characters develop into rich, rounded individuals over time – particularly the main protagonists Ray Smuckles (the cat in the the tracksuit) and his best friend Roast Beef Kazenzakis (not featured above).

It’s pretty daunting to try and explain achewood to the uninitiated, so I suggest you read the Wikipedia entry, or just jump in and try it out. I would reccomend starting around March 2002 and reading a few issues in one sitting to get a feel for the characters, the humour and the art style.

Another very well-regarded and apparently much-read webcomic is Nicholas Gurewitch’s Perry Bible fellowship.

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The richly detailed and wickedly funny three-panel comics are a visual feast, and I’m not at all surprised that Gurewitch’s first published book has been a huge success story on Amazon.

There are of course many many more webcomics out there to discover and enjoy. I need to end this already over-long post however, and I wanted to post my absolute favourite here. I’ve already put the link out on twitter, but it’s so good I had to post it twice- it’s the Bad Comics Challenge!

This series of surreal, outrageous, hilarious and manifestly not bad stips resulted from a gentlemen’s wager that author Anthony Clarke couldn’t produce two-hundred bad comics  over a weekend (to balance out his existing great work).

The results speak for theselves,  look at #198:

badcomicchallenge2

and also this, from early in the series (#7):

badcomicschallenge13That last panel is so full of pathos. And WIN, obviously.

The webcomics I’ve highlighted don’t actually all demonstrate the potential of Scott McCloud’s ”infinite canvas” that was discussed at the start of the post- for more of that check out this exciting, yet complex example by Patrick S. Farley.

I hope, however, that they do demonstrate the variety and vibrancy (is that a word?) of material out there.

Enjoy!

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