One of the key dividing points I’ve made over the years between webcomics and, well, all other comics has been that webcomics have a different delivery mechanism. The term “comics” was first applied to the ones that showed up in newspapers, and pretty much all subsequent definitions can be summarized by how they’re packaged and delivered. A bunch of individual comics together got called a comic book. With the word “book” being used up, we came up with graphic novel for extended stories. When either comic books or graphic novels are sold electronically, they’re called digital comics. So it makes sense that we would use “webcomics” for comics delivered on the web.
Consequently, most of my discussion about webcomics, as I noted a couple weeks ago, tends to focus on the web portion of webcomics. That’s what makes webcomics stand out as unique from other comic forms. The methods of illustration and writing, or narrative structures, or characterization, or any of a thousand other subtopics can be covered under a broader comics rubric. So my intent has been to stick to what’s unique.
But that’s not the only way to think about webcomics!
Most webcomics are delivered one page at a time. Regardless of the update schedule, a new update typically consists of a single page. It might be a taller page or a wider page; it might end with a punchline or a cliff-hanger of a final statement; it might stand on its own or it might need to be read in context of other pages. But it’s still just a single page.
Comic books aren’t like that. You get a 20-30 pages per installment. Graphic novels can be anywhere from high double-digits to hundreds of pages in length. Digital comics can be anywhere in there.
But newspaper strips? Newspaper strips only come one page at a time. Whether you’re reading about Garfield or Dick Tracy, you get a single update with each day’s newspaper.
And why is that relevant? Because how a writer structures their story beats relies heavily on the rhythm and depth of their updates. If a writer knows they have 22 pages to work on a story, they can expand and contract parts of the story for emotional impact. And it’s only after they get to page 22 that they need to have something that entices the reader to pick up the next installment.
But webcomics and newspaper strips have to generate that enticement in one page. And they have to do it every page. That almost inherently means that there can’t be long, expansive sections to try to get some of those emotional responses. You perhaps don’t have to hit readers as hard with a one page installment as you might with a 22-pager, but that lower intensity is offset by frequency. And, as I said, that’s a trait that webcomics share with newspaper comics.
So webcomics, irrespective of genre of stylistic conventions, in some ways share more in common with newspaper strips than with anything you’re likely to find in a comic book shop. Something, perhaps, to consider when you pick up a printed comic—like 2016 Ignatz nominees As the Crow Flies or Demon—that started life as a webomic.