One the appeals of comics in general has long been a sense of subversiveness. While it’s not often made an express key selling point, comics have often had this aura of being something that you weren’t supposed to read. While that idea was made more explicit in, say, Tijuana Bibles of the 1920s or underground comix of the 1960s, more often there was just this notion that comics put strange ideas into readers’ heads. “Radical” ideas that might disrupt the status quo.
That idea has held less sway in recent years as comics have become more mainstream. Whether that’s recognition via comics winning Pulitzer Prizes or a string of widely successful movies based on comic franchises or something else, there’s a broader acceptance of the medium and, thus, less of a stigma of subversiveness.
Webcomics held onto that feeling in some senses, though. With print comics, there was a gatekeeper or gatekeeping system of some sort. Maybe editors who have to appease corporate shareholders, or just an inefficient distribution system like selling your comics out of a baby carriage on a street corner in San Francisco. But with webcomics, the doors were wide open for anyone with an internet connection. Anyone could post anything. Comics could be subversive again.
But, here in the U.S., we’re about to have a Presidential administration that has already been openly hostile to and actively threatened formal news organizations for publishing news they didn’t want distributed. I’ve seen and heard a number of journalists express legitimate fears of sweeping censorship of any negative views of the administration and cracking down on outlets that don’t act expressly as government propaganda machines. In that type of environment, it’s reasonable to expect censorship of any type of dissenting messages, whether through legislature or pressuring online outlets like Facebook and Google to repress such messages. This is one of the reasons why the Internet Archive opted to quickly move all of their material to servers in Canada.
Ultimately this all makes the web less conducive to subversive messages. It’s not hard to track down where files are uploaded from, for example, without taking a ton of precautionary measures and, as implied above, it’s not beyond belief to expect hosting companies to bend to administrative pressures to ban certain types of messages or users.
Hopefully that won’t be the case. Hopefully there are so many webcomikers out there creating material that it’s functionally impossible to shut down all those that try to promote unwanted messages like “the incoming administration is traitorously corrupt.”
But this administration, even before taking office, has shown that it doesn’t care about individual rights, free speech, or even the illusion of fairness, so I wouldn’t put anything past them at this point. And because of that, I might have to concede that maybe print comics—with their sometimes inefficient hand-to-hand informal distribution method—might have an edge over webcomics when it comes to disseminating information this new administration doesn’t want you to see. Boy, I hope I’m completely wrong about this.