It’s an old notion that any artist worth their salt will believe, upon looking at their old work now, that everything they produced five or more years ago is crap. As a creator, they want to become better than they were before. They continue to learn new techniques, and further refine the ones they already had. To an outsider, this is most evident in the artist’s formative years, when the gaps in their knowledge and skill are vast. It becomes less noticeable as they get better—Neal Adams has been vocal recently with how much he hates what he did on the cover of Superman #233, one of the most iconic covers in comic book history, but most fans can’t tell the difference between that and his more recent recreations.
Historically, this wasn’t a big deal for comic artists. Their work was considered emphemeral. Newspapers were thrown in the trash, and comic books were circulated among friends until they fell apart. But, as I’ve noted many times before, one of the benefits of webcomics is having the full history and archives of the strips at the readers’ fingertips from whichever installment they first come across. This can be particularly useful when telling long-form stories, as new readers jumping on late in the comics’ development still have ready access to the previous installments and can catch up fairly easily.
But this also can highlight a creator’s ongoing artistic development. If a strip has been running for a decade or more, readers will inevitably see changes in the art, possibly so many that characters might be unrecognizable from the first to the latest strips. While this might not be too big an issue with gag-a-day strips with little or no ongoing continuity, this can be more impactful for dramas that follow a single storyline for years on end.
Compare, for example, the two panels shown in the featured image above. On the left is a panel from Jeph Jacques’ first Questionable Content strip, featuring Marten and Pintsize. On the right is Marten and Pintsize again, still drawn by Jacques, but after a decade-plus of experience. The basic designs are unchanged, but there’s a world of difference in their execution.
I’ve known some artists who’ve either intentionally deleted or “not bothered to update” their archives, removing their earlier works from circulation. I’ve seen others who end a strip, only to start a new one, in part to keep each strip reasonably consistent artistically, even if they don’t much care for their older work any more. And others, of course, who keep everything online, proudly sharing their improvement over time. There’s no right or wrong approach, but it’s interesting to note which ones creators opt for. A webcomic creator has to keep their eye on at least the Now, if not the Future, but whether and how they look at their Past can say as much about them as their comic!