This year’s Eisner Award nominations were announced earlier this week and, after over a decade, they’ve finally split out webcomics and digital comics as two distinct categories! If you’ve been reading my work since… well, last year’s awards season at least, you’ll have noticed that I’ve repeatedly called out the problems in conflating the two forms. Basically, my argument is that while both are delivered electronically, they each have unique delivery mechanisms and produce different reading experiences. It’s akin to putting Smile in the same category as Chew—both of those ended up winning awards in 2011, but in different categories because they had different delivery mechanisms (a graphic novel versus a serialized pamphlet comic) and thus different reading experiences. So kudos to the Awards committee for recognizing there is indeed a distinction between webcomics and digital comics!
However, it seems to be a distinction they don’t fully understand, as two of the nominees in the Best Digital Comic category are clearly webcomics. Granted, sometimes the line between the two can be blurry at times, and it’s certainly possible that a work can be published in different formats, but neither of those are the case here.
With Jehanzeb Hasan and Mauricio Caballero’s Helm, for example, started in June of last year on their website. Updates are on their site twice a week, one page at a time. The first sentence of the comic’s About page literally begins, “HELM is a webcomic series…” The title did get later picked up by Tapastic and POP Comics, but here again, the delivery is two pages per week, slightly behind what’s presented on the main site, and it’s not presented as as anything but a webcomic anywhere.
Tillie Walden makes On a Sunbeam even more obvious. Her site’s header graphic that has the “On a Sunbeam” title also has “A Webcomic by Tillie Walden” as the subtitle. In the very same graphic! Even a casual glance tells you it’s a webccomic. And further hunting around shows there’s no other venues for getting the complete story. Walden posts snippets on her social media channels, but everything drives back to her website.
There is no way either of these should be mistaken for anything but a webcomic.
That they’ve finally broken out separate categories is certainly an improvement, but if there’s no functional distinction between them, then what’s the point? As I said above, I’ll warrant that sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether a work should be classified as a webcomic or a digital comic, but when the creators themselves are telling you right alongside the work itself that you’re looking at a webcomic, maybe that’s exactly what it is!