Webcomics, also known as online comics and web comics, are comics that are available on the World Wide Web. Many of these web comics are exclusively published online, while others are published on paper but maintain a web presence or archive, for either commercial or artistic reasons. Web comics run the gamut from traditional cartoon strip styles to an electronic emulation of manga or graphic novels and beyond, using the web's inexpensive costs and low entry barrier to begin publication, seek an audience and, in some cases, advance sequential illustration as an art form.
Webcomics differ from published comic strips, in that almost anyone can start his own comic strip and publish it on the Web; there is no longer any need to for a creator to meet the approval of a publisher or syndicate. Currently there are hundreds of web comics, most of which are low-quality and sporadically updated. However, a number of web comics have endured, and the best web comics rival their newspaper and magazine counterparts in quality and quantity.
Many webcomics are little different from traditional print comics, but a few webcomics artists have taken advantage of the web's unique abilities. Scott McCloud has pioneered the idea of the infinite canvas, the idea that webcomics should be free to spread out in every direction indefinitely, rather than confining themselves to dimensions that would fit on a piece of paper. A prime example of this principle would be the latter-day installments of T Campbell's Fans, or Cayetano Garza's Cuentos De La Frontera, as well as several stories by Patrick Farley of e-sheep.com. Other artists have experimented with the incorporation of animation into their comics (although purists may believe animation has no place in comics). Critical analysis of this medium can be found at Comixpedia, an online magazine (ezine) covering webcomics.
The web has, at least potentially, several advantages over the conventional form of publishing. It has removed many of the traditional barriers that prevent an independent comics artist from having his work published (in this sense, web comics are a continuation of the independent comics movement that began with underground comics, and later alternative comics). As stated above, the restrictions of the usual comic format are lifted, though for functional reasons most still follow it. While newspaper comic strips have to be comprehensible to the average reader, the huge potential audience provided by the Internet allows much more specialization, as can be seen in the rise of such genres as video game-oriented comics or transsexual biographies. The fact that comprehensive archives stretching back to the very start of a webcomic are instantly available to the reader at all times can help make much deeper plotlines and characterization possible. And, of course, some comics (such as Eric Millikin's Fetus-X) delight in the fact that very few things short of blatant breaching of international law will lead to censorship.
To the criticism of many (especially established cartoonists) computer technology has made it no longer necessary for a webcomic artist to actually be a skilled artist. One popular form of webcomics that have become feasible due to the proliferation of video game sprites are sprite comics, in which existing images of video game characters are pasted into panels and dialogue is added in the form of speech balloons. These types of comics should not be confused with ones that use pixel art, an artform where the artist draws his own low resolution artwork from scratch. Other similar approaches involve using clip art, found art, or photographs.
The prevalent form that the webcomic appears in is in a strip or page form, usually humor-based. Popular examples of this gag-a-day form are Penny Arcade, PvP, Sinfest, CTRL-ALT-DEL, and others. The comic itself can be a simple three panel strip or a multiple panel page. The gag-a-day comic lends itself easily to popular consumption as they are episodic in nature and do not require much foreknowledge of the comic itself. However, on occasion, these webcomics can have various story arcs that elaborate on situations presented in the strips. Usually, these arcs are motivated by the wish of the artist to explore the boundaries of the medium or simply to carry a joke even further.
This same motivation can lead to a "Cerebus Complex"" — a term popularized by Websnark, a webcomic blogger. The Cerebus Complex (named after Dave Sim's comic Cerebus the Aardvark, which started life as a broad Conan the Barbarian parody, but wound up a dark and complicated drama) is an attempt of a humorous gag-a-day comic to morph into a character- and plot-driven comic, usually with more serious overtones. The Cerberus Complex usually points to a successful attempt although failed attempts are more than possible. Failed attempts are usually then labeled "First and Ten Syndrome." Attempts that are deemed successful depend on one's subjective opinion but various webcomics have attempted this transformation, to varying degrees of success: Megatokyo, Sluggy Freelance and College Roomies from Hell!!! as well as many others.
Webcomics can also be presented in the same manner as traditional comic books, manga and graphic novels. This is still rare and at the time of this writing, the episodic humor webcomics are more common - but that is subject to change. The manga and graphic novel-influenced webcomics are usually driven by plot continuity, storylines and character development. That is not to say that a humor-based comic can't have story or character development but usually, story is secondary to the humor. In these continuity-driven webcomics, panels can vary in size and shape. These comics usually come in a page form rather than a strip form and can also be posted in a multiple page format such as chapters.
With ten years on it's track record, Kevin and Kell is generally considered to be the first comic strip to be published exclusively over the Internet.
In February 2000, Chris Crosby and Darren Bleuel founded Keenspot, today probably the largest webcomic portal and hosting service on the Internet.
Currently, some of the most popular webcomics include PvP, Sluggy Freelance, Penny Arcade, User Friendly, Something Positive and Megatokyo.
With the growth of webcomics, there is also the growth of an online community around webcomics. There are fanbases that artists foster through the use of forums, fan sections and blogs. The artists themselves also create a community through exchanges of emails, links, forum posts as well as art in the form of guest filler strips and cross-overs. There are also general webcomic communities emerging through the general webcomic sites that cover news and articles in the community such as Comixpedia, which have their own general forums. Sites ranking webcomics such as buzzComix and DrunkDuck also provide a nexus for webcomic creators and aficionados to convene. In addition, there are multiple art forums where burgeoning webcomic artists can display their work for comments and suggestions.
With the emergence of such communities, there are also divisions within them. There are writers and artists with further lines of specialization within these two general categories. For writers, there are various genres of interest each with their own subgenres respectively such as comedy, fantasy, science fiction and (auto-)biographical. For artists, some are all purpose while there are others who specialize only in pencilling, inking, lettering as well as coloring. Of course, in the fan-based webcomic communities, there are the fanbases of different webcomics with varying degrees of interest.
As with the Internet, the webcomic community has already seen much controversy. Since the nature of a webcomic is closely tied to art as well as popularity, emotions can run high especially if a controversy involves a particularly popular webcomic and/or its artist. Many of these controversies are caused when webcomic artists post an opinionated piece, whether it is that day's update or news post. The flames of controvery can also be fanned by a particular webcomic's fanbase, especially if they are rabid.
Some examples of controversies that the webcomic industry has seen are the breakup of Megatokyo's founding duo of Fred Gallagher and Rodney Caston, Scott Kurtz of PvP's accusation of Gallagher of stealing Megatokyo away from Caston and more. There have also been various "flame wars" that different webcomic fanbases have participated in. There have even been cases where a webcomic receiving a bad review would cause a flame war such as with Comixpedia's scathing review of Little Gamers prompting the creators to urge their fanbase to respond with derogatory comments.
Commercial expectations for webcomics are relatively high — whether they are realistic or not remains to be seen. This industry was first started by various hobbyists who took advantage of the Internet's ability to broadcast content to a mass audience. The older, more established webcomics are the most successful as well as the most popular. Usually though, artists have to pay for the costs of art supplies, server hosting and other expenses out of their own pocket. Thus, many webcomics were intially labors of love. However, with the growth of webcomics, there are several free options for the new webcomic. There are free webcomic hosting sites such as KeenSpace, Xepher.net, or The Freehold , as well as link sites and forums for webcomic artists to advertise or "plug" their webcomic. There are webcomic services for artists who are willing to pay for it such as KeenPrime , the premium version of KeenSpace (both parts of KeenSpot) as well as commercial webcomic sites such as Modern Tales, Serializer and PV Comics.
There are different ways for part-time (amateur) webcomic artists to try to support their hobby. Some use tip jars (through PayPal, for instance) or sell merchandise featuring their artwork. If a webcomic has enough traffic, advertising revenue can be generated. Banner ads are the preferred form of advertisement as pop-up ads detract from the reader's experience and are easily blocked by many modern web browsers such as Opera and Mozilla Firefox. Some successful webcomics have subsequently been reprinted in book-length collections, just as a successful print comic might be.
Through these various methods of generating revenue, a select group of webcomic artists are able to work on their webcomics full-time without needing a day job to support it. This group of "professional webcomic artists" includes established giants like Pete Abrams of Sluggy Freelance, Scott Kurtz of PvP, Fred Gallagher of Megatokyo, Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins of Penny Arcade, and others. There are also some moderately popular webcomic artists who are starting to or attempting to make the transition from being amateur to professional.
One recent notable example is R.K. Milholland of Something Positive. After receiving constant complaints about his irregular updates, he dared fans to donate the equivalent of his then yearly salary of $22,000 to allow him to work on his webcomic full time. Within days, he had collected the full amount, and is now working on Something Positive full-time. In addition to individual artists' efforts to earn enough of a profit from webcomics to make it a livelihood, there are various Internet entrepeneurs striving to develop business models that will guarantee a profit. These efforts have also received the endorsement of different webcomic artists such as Scott Kurtz of PvP.
Recently, during a comic convention, Kurtz declared that he will offer a year's worth of PvP strips without charge to newspapers for syndication. It is assumed to be a demonstration of the quality of webcomics and its commerical viability. Some PvP strips have appeared in newspapers as a result.
- Comixpedia, an online magazine focused on coverage of webcomics
- Dayfree Press, a free online webcomics network
- DrunkDuck, a webcomic hosting service combined with a top list.
- JellyCreations, free webcomic hosting and comic artist's community.
- Keenspot, a company that hosts webcomics on individual domain names.
- Keenspace, an arm of Keenspot that hosts many webcomics as subdomains of Keenspace.com
- ModernTales, subscription-based site of professional webcomics
- PVComics, a subscription-based and free webcomics site
- Serializer, subscription-based online alternative comics anthology
- The Belfry Comics Index, a list of webcomics
- buzzComix Top 100, a top-100 list of webcomics determined by voting by readers.
- Don Markstein's Toonopedia, a good source for further information
- Websnark, a critical commentary site largely devoted to informal analysis of webcomics.
- Create your own comics and view that of other people