One of the self-evident benefits to webcomics is the world wide reach that they have. A creator can post something online, and it’s available to anyone in the world with an internet connection. And with more and more people gaining access through smartphones, you can literally read these stories in remote locations that don’t even have electricity. And there are multiple benefits that come out of that global reach.

One “genre” of webcomics are those that help to demystify and/or normalize frequently misunderstood conditions or concepts. A few years ago, Elaine Will crafted a fantastic story titled Look Straight Ahead about what it’s like to suffer a mental breakdown. She’s left the story online for free despite having it published in print, and she recently noted that was expressly to help broaden awareness and encourage others to empathize with the mentally ill more readily.

More broadly, the team over at Empathize This looks at a range of issues, many submitted by readers. What it’s like to be minority in certain situations. What it’s like to suffer bipolar disorder. What it’s like to be asexual. Regardless of the specifics, the idea is to present the reader with an experience unlike their own so that they might be understand and appreciate what difficulties others face.

But another angle to that broad reach is that people who do share those same experiences can see that they’re not alone. Leelah Alcorn committed suicide a little over a year ago, just a few miles from where I used to live, because she felt alone and rejected and bullied for being transgender. Had she come across some of the webcomics that relay others’ societal challenges with trans issues, she might have seen that she wasn’t as alone as she felt. Teenagers particularly feel isolated and misunderstood enough as it is, and discovering others who have shared or are currently sharing the same experiences can help.

The creators, too, who use such comics as a form of catharsis as they deal with their own emotional baggage can find validation in connecting with readers. While they might not have as universal appeal, since their experiences might be extremely uncommon, that uncommonness also tends to mean that those who do share those experiences will respond that much more enthusiastically. As those readers are discovering they’re not alone, they’re simultaneously validating the creator’s work back to them.

One of the big problems online, and in the world more generally, is that people don’t often have much empathy for one another. While having webcomics out there tackling these types of issues certainly isn’t going to solve all the world’s problems, it can definitely have an impact on individuals who simply didn’t have any better information before. Will ever webcomic like this work in the same fashion? Of course not, but that any are out there at all making any impact at all (and I know they’ve certainly impacted me at least!) is bound to make the world a better place. If only in a small way.