Back in July, I talked about how webcomics apps have been on the rise, following the ubiquitous of smartphones. I noted that one primary benefit they have is that they help curate the number of webcomic titles a reader might have to sift through in order to find some they like. But try as I might, I just can’t get behind them.
It’s not that I don’t like them conceptually; as long the webcomic creators are providing their consent to have their work disseminated through an app, I have no problem with them. And that some apps cluster webcomics together to make it easier to find similar titles is nice too. But I have yet to see an app that is as comprehensive in its content as I would like. Nothing to date has come even remotely close.
I started reading webcomics regularly over a decade ago, before smartphones were a thing. I came across many that I didn’t like, and of course, more than a few that I did. And as time went on, I would periodically come across another title that struck my interest for one reason or another, and I’d start following that. I’d just grab their RSS feed, throw it in my feed reader of choice, and catch up as I was able. I think I’ve got something like 400-500 titles in my reader these days; I stopped counting at around 350. Some of them are popular names you’ve likely heard of; others you almost certainly haven’t heard of. Some are updated daily, some weekly, some on an irregular schedule whenever the creator has some time. Some are the full time job of the creator; for others, it’s merely a pastime to let off some steam. Some are flatly autobiographic; others are whimsical fantasy; others are just funny. Some are gorgeously rendered; others are little more than stick figures.
My point is that my webcomics reading list is pretty diverse. By design. I want to read a wide range of material and understand what people who aren’t like me are doing/thinking/feeling. And that is more difficult if I leave the curation up to somebody else.
That’s the nature of a curated collection, after all. You’re letting someone else decide what is or isn’t made available to you. Now whether that’s a deliberate selection process (where an app developer tracks down webcomic creators on their own and asks permission to utilize their work) or an accidental one (where creators need to ask to be included in the app) there will most definitely be a more finite list of titles to choose from, and that list could be, intentionally or not, skewed towards certain types of comics or certain types of creators.
And that type of process is precisely why superheroes dominate the comics direct market. To get a broader range of options—which, as I said, is precisely what I’m looking for—you can’t let someone else limit your choices before you even know they exist. If you only want to follow a particular niche, or a certain style of webcomic, there might be an app perfectly suited to your tastes. But so far, no one has gotten close to having the breadth of voices that I want to read about on a regular basis.
Of course, this is precisely the type of thing where I typically hold a very distinctly minority view. I’m sure there will be a webcomics app that will, probably in the next year or so, break out as the dominant player in that market. More power to whoever that might be, but I’m not likely to be one of their advocates just on the basis of what that type of app inherently does.