Something that I don’t think most people think about are comics that don’t seem like comics. That is, comics that are, at least by most definitions, indeed comics but almost no one thinks of them in those terms. In fact, I think most everybody seems to encounter comics like these in both the youth and as an adult: illustrated instruction manuals for putting things together. And the two most classic examples of those are the ones for Legos and Ikea furniture.

Think about it for a moment. You have a series of sequential illustrations, each one displaying either an action or the results of an action. Read in order, they convey instructions for how to build a spaceship or a bookcase. “Juxtaposed pictorial images in a deliberate sequence, intended to convey information” to slightly bastardize Scott McCloud’s definition. While they’re not ground-breaking in their designs, nor are their messages deep and meaningful, I think most academics would agree that they are indeed comics.

“OK, fine,” you might think. “They’re comics. But what does that have to do with webcomics? Those are printed instructions you get with those Lego kits and assemble-it-yourself furniture.”

True, but those kits aren’t generally shipped out to stores until their website has information about them online. Frequently including those instructions. They appear on the websites before anyone has a printed copy in their hands. If they debut, then, online, doesn’t that make them webcomics?

“Not so fast, smart guy! They’re not webcomics because they’re posted as PDFs. You can’t view them through a browser; you have to use proprietary software from Adobe. So at most, they’re digital comics, not webcomics! (Ha! I’ll throw your own rules back in your face, you think you’re so smart!)”

For the official Ikea and Lego instruction manuals, I’ll grant you that those aren’t webcomics since those do indeed get posted as PDFs. And I’ll even note that most corporate manuals along these lines are also PDFs—they all have to be printed up anyway, so they’re designed to be printed and making that version a PDF is the quickest/easiest way to get them online as well.

However, certainly with both Lego and Ikea, there are a great many people who use the parts that come in the kits to build something other than what the instructions suggest. And many of those people write up their instructions to share with others. “Here’s how I built my cool thing, so you can build one too!” And those are frequently put up as a series of simple image files (often photos instead of illustrations) embedded on a web page.

Which makes those webcomics. And the makers that built that cool-looking stuff from a seemingly random pile of parts from multiple kits are, without knowing it, webcomikers.

  • Instruction sheets are comics when they have drawings and are then webcomics when displayed on the web. This is an interesting and very minor point. I would prefer that Freaksugar have a webcomics column that covered the form and substance of webcomics, especially as distinct from printed comics.

    For instance, and especially pertinent to today’s column, webcomics can include moving graphics, which can clarify instructions. More globally, the ability to include moving graphics can be used for creative and artistic purposes by the writer of a webcomic, and this unique factor (there are certainly others) render webcomics as a new form with new possibilities for communicating about deeply human things. It is this quality of webcomics that I’d like to see covered in a regular webcomics column.