I was pointed recently to Hyper Epics, a new anthology webcomic led by Tom Hoover and Thomas A. Tuna. Each update consists of a self-contained three-page story, none of which have any relation to any of the other stories. The creative teams change from update to update, as do even the genres themselves. As I scanned through them, I realized that how very few webcomic anthologies I’ve seen. The last one I came across, I think, was Flashback Universe but A) that comic hasn’t been updated since 2015, and B) it less an anthology and more a connected universe after the DC and Marvel mythologies of the 1960s and ’70s. Split Lip is usually promoted as an anthology, but those stories are all written by Sam Costello with the varying artists following his basic story direction. I suppose that the actual definition of anthology simply means a collection of individual stories, and they don’t all need to be by different creators, but I think most people associate “anthology” with a variety of contributors.
So why aren’t there more webcomic anthologies? After all, many creators who work in webcomics contribute to print anthologies; why wouldn’t the same apply to their online work?
I suspect part of the reason is that it’s a harder sell to readers. With a print anthology, you can usually point to a definitive list of creator contributions in advance. A reader would go in knowing there’s, for example, an eight page story by their favorite creator. With a webcomic, you could point to the people who have already contributed, and maybe the next couple who’ve got something lined up, but with an ongoing series, it would be hard to say, “Stick around; your favorite creator might do a short story next year. Or not.” The finite nature of a printed book gives the reader a more solid sense of what to expect.
Webcomics are often successful because of the creator(s) behind it. Readers won’t necessarily know where the narrative is headed, but they enjoy the creators’ work and trust that they will continue to do so. The expectation is one that’s built up by the creators over time. Unless you had a group of creators on a regular rotation (something akin to how the newspaper strip Six Chix has the same six artists contribute in the same cycle, week in and week out) it would be difficult to generate a sense of reliability with the readers. Maybe the next installment will be great; maybe it will stink. In a webcomic anthology, the reader has no real way of knowing in advance so reading on an ongoing basis becomes something of a ongoing crap shoot.
I suppose a strong editorial direction, and a group of individually talented creators could overcome that, but the odds of that happening are minimal. Compare how many times have people tried to re-capture the lightning that was Marvel Comics in the 1960s against how many were successful? Heck, Martin Goodman couldn’t even do it again when he created Atlas/Seaboard!
Even if webcomikers don’t consciously think in these exact terms, I suspect they innately know that the draw for most webcomics is, at heart, the creator themselves. If not them as an individual, then the specific expression of their work. And I think they likewise innately know that that’s not really transferable to a digital anthology type format. I don’t say all this to dismiss the folks working on Hyper Epics—I wish them the best of luck—but I think it does speak to why more people don’t try their hand at webcomics anthologies.