Over at the Comics Alternative podcast earlier this week, Derek Royal and I discussed Chris Ware’s webcomic The Last Saturday. I was at first a bit surprised that Ware worked on a webcomic, as he always struck me as much more interested and concerned about a comic’s physical presentation. I’d never heard or read where he disparaged webcomics, but his focus seemed to be very firmly in the print world. And in reading the comic online, it seemed to me that Ware was supremely unsuited to work on webcomics. The readability he pays close consideration to simply does not work in an online environment, and I found that even most regular print comics whose readability is much more conventional by virtue of their more commercial nature work better online than a Ware comic.
After we recorded the podcast, we found out that Ware in fact did not realize he had created a webcomic at all. The comic had been commissioned by The Guardian, but he was under the impression it would only be released as a newspaper supplement. It was only after the strip had been serialized online for a year that Ware learned it was being released as a webcomic first. (Which goes a long ways towards explaining why it’s uniquely unsuited to be a webcomic—it was specifically designed with not that in mind!)
But it brings up an interesting notion. A while back, I discussed the idea that an old print comic which has never been collected might be viewed by some readers online. That it’s limited availability might make readers treat it as a webcomic, even if it wasn’t one. But how about instances where a creator doesn’t even know it’s being put online? Instances like what we saw with Ware, where he was commissioned to create a comic and the organization that commissioned it chose to run it online. Perfectly legal since they own the work, but it was simply a matter of the creator not having a clear understanding of it’s ultimate use.
Honestly, I can’t think of another example like this. I’m certainly aware of creators who were commissioned to develop comics that were used online—Scott McCloud created one to introduce Google’s Chrome web browser back in 2008 and Carolyn Belefski developed some webcomics for the Affordable Care Act in 2015—but none whose work was not known to be used online. McCloud, for his part, notes that his Chrome comic was designed for print but he seemed aware that it would show up online as well.
But it remains a fascinating prospect: that a creator could develop a comic that was expressly intended to be used online, but without their knowledge of that use until long after the fact. Especially in this day and age, when pretty much everything shows up on the web!