Why am I doing this? Why am I writing a weekly column specifically about webcomics? After all, this whole site is devoted to pop culture and we have a whole section here on comics—why put additional effort into narrowcasting things down to just webcomics? Even for just for one column?
My personal interest in comics is as a medium. The notion of sequential images that tell a narrative. That includes comic books, graphic novels, manga, newspaper strips, mini-comics… I even have a small collection of those passenger safety cards from airplanes because I see those as comics as well. I’m happy talking about all aspects of the medium and, while some of the production specifics vary, all those categories follow the same basic rules that make them comics.
So, again, why single out webcomics? What makes them worthy of an extended discussion?
At the beginning of the 20th century, almost any discussion about comics focused on newspaper strips. That was the predominant form of comics, and the kind that most people recognized. Then comic books and graphic novels came around, and those started becoming part of the discussion as well. The eventually came to dominate the discussion in the mid-1950s, thanks to some fear-mongering. More recently, newspaper circulation has dropped radically and the associated strips have become much less part of the discussion in recent years. Suffice it to say that various forms of comics wax and wane in their popularity and influence.
Webcomics, today, have a great deal of influence. I think much more than people realize.
Did you see Matthew Inman’s comic this week taking Senator Ted Cruz to task on the subject of net neutrality? I can’t say if Cruz has seen it, or if that’s influenced him specifically in any way, but how many people other have seen it and have a better understanding of the idea of net neutrality now?
How about #pointergate from last week? How quickly was Keith Knight’s K Chronicles from February which spoke precisely to the problems inherent in #pointergate newly circulated? It drove the point home how people can claim others are throwing gang signs just because their skin color is darker, and helped to enlighten those who didn’t understand how racist KSTP was being in their coverage.
Comics, in general, are all about coalescing ideas down into something more approachable that a block of text. And webcomics, or rather the internet more broadly, is about getting people’s ideas to people all over the world in the blink of an eye, and without the oversight of an editor. Editorial cartoons have long served this basic function but, as I noted earlier, their historic platform in the newspaper has fallen on hard times. Not to mention both the syndicates and newspaper editors acting as gatekeepers.
Webcomics are important because they’re stepping in to these large voids left by both newspaper strips and, to a lesser degree, comic books. People are reading webcomics in volumes unimaginable in other venues, despite an impossible-to-quantify proliferation of webcomic titles well beyond what any issue of Previews might publicize. What, frankly, amazes me is that, two decades in, they are still only talked about as a curious aside compared to Batman and Spider-Man.
The percentage of webcomic readers that might read any given webcomic might be smaller than the percentage of comic book readers who might read any given issue of Action Comics, but the incredible reach of webcomics via the internet is so far beyond that of any print medium that the impact is much more significant. Why more people don’t recognize that is stunning, and that’s why I try to return here week after week to alert people to that.