I’ve talked before about how webcomics tend to fall into one of two camps: serial dramas or gag-a-day strips. That’s a reasonable way to think about it, particularly in relation to their newspaper counterparts, but it’s not very nuanced. It’s pretty easy to find examples of either. Dresden Codak is very much a serial drama. Bug Martini is very much a gag-a-day strip. Stand Still, Stay Silent, drama. Maximumble, gag. And so on.
But there are any number of comics that float somewhere between those two ends of the spectrum. Webcomics that have a serial narrative, but have a punchline (or an attempted punchline) with every installment. Dumbing of Age, Sam and Fuzzy, Questionable Content, Evil Inc., etc. These all have relatively serious, well-plotted, ongoing stories but end each installment with a joke or gag of some kind. But they don’t all do it in the same way, which leads to some webcomics being more about progressing the story (or revealing a character) while others use the story just as a narrative hook for their humor.
Neither approach is necessarily better than the other. It boils down to the preference of the creator. But what’s interesting is that, because readers often respond more to characters, they’ll sometimes get locked up in the story and forget that it might be intended to be a gag strip.
Although I can’t for the life of me find it now, I recall reading some fans who were disappointed that a potential storyline was largely dropped in Questionable Content, and creator Jeph Jacques responded some time later that he has a tendency to drop interesting ideas or character development angles in favor of a good joke. The characters still all grow and evolve, but sometimes not as fast or in the direction they might in deference to a punchline.
Further towards the other end, Dumbing of Age is formatted more like a traditional newspaper strip, but David Willis favors the narrative, sometimes ending a day’s comic without anything even attempting to be funny. He’s tackled some serious issues, including many of the unpleasant repercussions that stem from characters making bad decisions around such issues. He’s even felt the need to include trigger warnings before some of his strips.
While it’s easy to compartmentalize webcomics—our brains are largely hard-wired for making easy labels for everything—many fall along a large spectrum, making classification somewhat difficult. That’s okay, though, because it matters less what you type of label you use for a webcomic, and more whether or not you enjoy it!