Yesterday, the Library of Congress announced the creation of a “Webcomics Web Archive.” As the name suggests, it’s intended to be an archive of webcomics to supplement “the Library’s extensive holdings in comic books, graphic novels and original comic art.” According to the press release…
Webcomics selected for this collection include award-winning comics as well as webcomics that are significant for their longevity, reputation or subject matter. The collection includes sites such as Dinosaur Comics, Hyperbole and a Half, and XKCD. Also included are works by artists and subjects not traditionally represented in mainstream comics, including women artists and characters, artists and characters of color, LGBTQ+ artists and characters, as well as subjects such as politics, health and autobiography.
What they’ve basically done is had a program automatically go through the sites page by page, downloading all the content. Furthermore, this was done repeatedly over the course of several years, so we can see what the site looked like at various points. This is something they’ve been doing anyway, as evidenced by site captures dating back to 2007. What this Archive does specifically is present what they’d already captured through various scraping techniques and formally organizing them all under the webcomic umbrella.
This provides the obvious benefit of ensuring that, even if something were to happen to the creators and/or their sites, the comics would still be available to read and study. Several of the archived webcomics have been completed (or simply stopped updating) and the creators have moved on to other things. A busy schedule and/or simple absent-mindedness could easily result in a domain not getting renewed or a hosting service falling by the wayside. The LOC’s efforts allow those works to continue to be used even the creators are content to let them go.
Of particular interest is that they’ve also collected Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona. This is of interest because, after completing the webcomic online, it was picked up by HarperCollins and published as a graphic novel. Part of their contract, though, necessitated that Stevenson remove all but the first chapter of her work from her site. The thinking is that readers can go through the first chapter so as to become enticed by the characters and the story, but HarperCollins is concerned that being able to read the story for free online will severely undercut book sales. (This has generally proven itself not to be the case, for the record.) But with the Library of Congress archiving the site repeatedly going back to 2014, a few clicks will allow someone to read the entire work as Stevenson first published it, before HarperCollins had her take most of it down. The LOC statement says they are displaying these sites with permission, though, so perhaps HarperCollins believes their primary book sale window has largely passed.
Although I can’t find express notation of this anywhere, I get the impression that they intend to continue expanding the online collection. They’ve been captured websites generally since 2000, so they presumably have many more webcomics collected via that umbrella, and it’s largely a matter of organizing them into this new Archive.