Marvel editor Tom Brevoort recently asked on Twitter for readers’ best “done-in-one single issue Marvel stories.” Naturally, there were a bevy of responses, many of which you would almost expect. “This Man, This Monster.” “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man.” The stories that were really just so well-written and well-drawn that they’ve become classics.
But I wonder, though, how much readers connected with them. “This Man, This Monster” is a very touching story but there’s some sense of removal from it. The reader feels for the Thing and maybe that nameless scientist, but it’s essentially from arm’s length. That’s essentially done for a commercial perspective. They need to sell comics, which means the stories in them need to appeal to a fairly wide audience. So you get stories that are touching, but mostly ones where you sympathize with the characters.
Lucy Bellwood recently completed a project where she drew a daily comic in which she has a series of dialogues with her demon. The little voice that’s always telling her she’s not good enough or not worthy or what-have-you. “100 Demon Dialogues” she called it. It was a personal project she started almost as a form of therapy. A way to openly discuss her doubts and anxieties. As such, the experiences she depicts—both real and metaphoric—are simply what resonates with her. She created them without any real concern about whether or not they connected with anyone else.
What’s interesting, though, is that in creating a deeply personal work, talking about her own personal demons, she really connected with her audience. Not just people who sympathized with her, but people who empathized with her. People that really understood what she was discussing at a very deep, very raw level. And they responded to her openly. So much so that she essentially changed the last week’s worth of strips to include her readers. (Not literally all of them, but she did draw a dozen actual readers into her last strips.)
A little while after she finished her 100th strip, she launched a Kickstarter to have the series collected in book form. To no one’s surprise (except perhaps Bellwood herself) the project was funded in about 26 hours. Readers really connected with her deeply personal work because they saw much of themselves in it.
And that’s one of the great benefits of webcomics: every story doesn’t have to have broad commercial appeal. They can be intimate, personal stories that may or may not have an audience. If it doesn’t connect with anyone, the only loss is the creator’s time and energy. If a printed comic doesn’t connect with anyone, there’s a pile of stapled-together tree pulp taking up space in someone’s garage.
Sure, there are plenty of webcomics out there that are trying to target a wider audience and might have some broad enough strokes that readers can only sympathize with them. But webcomics allow a greater flexibility in being able to tell personal stories that readers can empathize with. And while the stories might not be as classically memorable as “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man”, the readers who do connect with them are going to connect at a much deeper level.