As a longtime webcomics fan, I was very excited to think about the sub-medium for this class. While I thought Bayou and Shooting War were both enjoyable comics, I felt that neither really utilized the medium of webcomic as my experience had led me to expect. Just as Dickens trained his audiences to expect and enjoy the serialized format through his insanely popular magazines, so I’ve become emotionally attached to two distinct styles of webcomic, neither of which are really imitated by either of the readings this week. Furthermore, despite the polish of Bayou’s flash interactive layout, it lacks the brilliant design of Scott McCloud’s experimental “The Right Number” (http://scottmccloud.com/1-webcomics/trn/index.html), which uses flash or a flash-like software to not just imitate turning pages, but transitions you could never hope to achieve in paper and ink, such as multidirectional panel closure, and zooming into an image to the next one.
The two formats I’ve become accustomed to in webcomics are perhaps best exemplified by two webcomics I read fairly frequently: xkcd (http://xkcd.com/) and Marry Me (http://marryme.keenspot.com/main/2007/02/14/page-1-ex-boyfriends/). The former is a decently popular comic for nerds, utilizing a stick-figure aesthetic and extremely narrow cultural and scientific references for humor (when it doesn’t get classy and make sex jokes). The latter is an attempt to attract attention from production companies to make a movie based on the storyline, first published as an online comic page by page, and now available in stores as a trade paperback.
xkcd (the name stands for nothing in particular) epitomizes the idea of the one-off comic – sometimes the updates are only one panel, like a Family Circus cartoon. Each tends to be unrelated to the previous or subsequent update, with rare occasions of a week-long storyline, or occasional recurring characters or events. The webcomic is unified by the sensibility and artistic style. The creator, Randall Munroe, also makes a humorous use of the medium by including a “mouseover” text in each of the strips, which usually elaborates on the punchline or adds a funny remark. While this kind of addition is not nearly as experimental as McCloud’s foray, I think it more creatively utilizes the format of the webcomic than even the slickness of Bayou. Furthermore, xkcd also has spawned a large community, not only on the sites own forums, but also being linked on blogs, facebook, and even inspiring sites which are devoted to antagonistically picking the strips apart. In my mind, part of the appeal of a webcomic is not just the place you read it, but the fact that instead of having to wait to talk about the story or joke, you have a read-made community because the text is automatically online, available to all for free.
Marry Me functions quite similarly to Bayou. Both are basically advertisements for their creators, with the former attempting to sell both the storyline as a film and the trade paperback. The latter clearly intends to hook readers into purchasing the rest of the issues. However, Marry Me utilizes a method of storytelling that Bayou tends to eschew. Because it was updated a week at a time, each page builds to a moment of humor, not always an outright joke, but a miniature emotional climax, which leads to a sense of satisfaction at the end of each page. Bayou is structured more like a traditional print comic, with the climax being restricted to the end of the page sequence. I think the limitations the serialized format places on the creative team really allows them to hone their art, as Dickens did. Actually, I’ve been kind of sad that we’ve not really talked about the effect of serialization on the comics we’ve read – since structurally, serialization is the way most of the comics we’ve read function, even though we read them in one long trade paper or hardback.
All in all, I think webcomics offer hope for the future of comics, as they open up realms of genre not generally published (as Kacy notes about manga). The self-biography study, the slice of life, the fantastic, the mudance, the romantic, the historical, the romantic comedy – all these I’ve found in webcomics with art and writing to rival or better much of the dreck Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, IDW, and their competitors churn out in the superhero and scifi genres. Not that I wish to smack either of those genres – some of my favorite stories have been told in them – but there is so much more to comics than men and women in tights or with ray guns. People create webcomics that mirror their lives, from screencap parodies of nerd culture (Darths and Droids – http://www.darthsanddroids.net/; DM of the Rings – http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=612) to dark fantasy stories (Garanos – http://www.garanos.com/pages/page-1/) to absurdist but sweet and often depressing hipster chic (Questionable Content – http://questionablecontent.net/). Here’s to that future.