I was thinking about webcomics formatting recently. I think most people—myself included—tend to think of webcomics as falling into one of two camps: gag strips and extended, dramatic narratives. Essentially, they tend to either follow the basic format of newspaper strips or graphic novels. Both of which make sense.

But what I realized was that there was very little in between those extremes. That is, there are few webcomics that have a longer story than a single comic strip, but don’t go on for a hundred pages or more. Indeed, many of the longer narratives have hundreds of pages with archives that seemingly go on forever, and have no signs of coming to a conclusion. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, of course; that is more or less what publishers like Marvel and DC have been doing for decades.

While that is pretty standard in comics today, though, that was not always the case. Indeed, many of the early comic books were anthology books with several stories in them. Action Comics #1, famous for the debut of Superman, also had stories about Zatara the Magician, rancher Chuck Dawson, boxer Pep Morgan, reporter Scoop Scanlon, and even history’s Marco Polo! Most of the stories in that issue were either four or six pages and, while the characters did show up in later issues, the stories were complete in and of themselves with no ongoing continuity.

That’s not to say that these shorter narratives are unheard of in webcomics! Jonathan Rosenberg regularly alternates between gag strips and dramatic stories which vary in length in Scenes from a Multiverse. For each of the last few years, Gabrielle Bell has done a diary webcomic throughout, but only for the month of July.

I suspect that many creators don’t take an approach like this because they themselves feel invested in the characters, and don’t wish to discard them. As if putting in the work of creating them would be wasteful if they didn’t continue using them.

Another, more practical concern might be that developing an audience might be more challenging. It would make it more difficult to summarize the comic to others if a creator, in fact, has to summarize several different stories which might not have any connection to one another. This isn’t impossible, of course, and some creators rely heavily on their own personality and charm to attract and keep readers, but it does mean there’s one less element available to grab readers’ attention.

For what it’s worth, most of the ones I have found were through a webcomics collective of some kind. Where they used the collective itself as the primary initial draw, and thus act as more of curator. The strength of good, solid storytelling irrespective of the characters or the creators. This will also cultivate a somewhat different audience than one that might follow along expressly for affinity towards the characters or creators.

Mankind has had short stories for centuries, and while they do exist in webcomics, their frequent borrowing of strip and graphic novel formats means they aren’t seen as often as they might. They are out there, but require perhaps a little more hunting, ironically meaning they might take as much time to find as to read!

About The Author

Sean Kleefeld
Senior Editor, Comics & Lifestyle
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Sean Kleefeld is an independent researcher whose work has been used by the likes of Marvel Entertainment, Titan Books and 20th Century Fox. He writes the ongoing “Incidental Iconography” column for The Jack Kirby Collector and had weekly “Kleefeld on Webcomics” and "Kleefeld's Fanthropology" columns for MTV Geek. He’s also contributed to Alter Ego, Back Issue and Comic Book Resources. Kleefeld’s 2009 book, Comic Book Fanthropology, addresses the questions of who and what comic fans are. He blogs daily at KleefeldOnComics.com.