I thought maybe it was just me. I thought maybe I had some kind of blinders on for the past decade or so that prevented me from seeing everything. I thought I came late to the game. But Ohio State University professor Jared Gardner posed this observation earlier this month…
A survey of the webosphere suggests that most webcomics review sites go dormant after a matter of months, maybe a year or two. And most of the major comics review and journalism resources online give haphazard or occasional attention to webcomics at best. In scholarship, the story is no better.
He goes on to wonder why there are no critics, reviewers, and scholars. In particular, he notes that in the comics classes he teaches, his students that read comic books number in the 5%-10% range while those that read webcomics compose almost the entire class, with many students citing five or more they read daily. (Newspaper comics don’t even register for these students, by the way.) His concern is that if there is effectively no critical discussion of webcomics going on, then anyone trying to discuss comics (the overall medium) in a critical manner is eventually just going to be talking to themselves.
I’ve tried for years to get a greater discussion of webcomics going. I started regularly writing about webcomics back when I worked at MTV Geek in 2011 and, like I said, I thought I was really late to the game. I brought my webcomics discussion over her to FreakSugar in 2014, and began co-hosting a webcomics review podcast at Comics Alternative last year, but there’s still precious little beyond that. There’s a few creators who talk about working in webcomics, but that is primarily shop talk; Gary Tyrrell blogs about some of the day-to-day highlights in webcomics, but usually doesn’t add much by way of analysis or extended discussion. As Gardner notes, pretty much everything else is either fleeting or sporadic.
When Gardner posed the same question on Facebook, a couple of scholars came forward noting that they had work in some stage of review or had plans for their next journal article. I was fortunate enough to have just signed a contract myself for a textbook on the subject. But academia moves slowly, so those pieces are all a little ways out. While academia demands a level of rigor that prevents it from moving faster, that’s not true with independent online sources like, say, FreakSugar! And while that academic rigor is useful, it doesn’t mean that others working more rapidly online can’t still apply some measure of critical thought and assessment to the medium.
I’ve been calling for more critical discussion on webomics for years. As have, I think, many webcomikers themselves. But now we’ve got university professors calling out the critical thinkers for their absence in this field! Who’s going to step up?