Webcomics 101

Okay, confession time: I read way too many webcomics. I started a short little list of the comics I read in an average week, and then added a list of ones I read in the past but have wrapped up (I’m still lowkey mourning for Dr. McNinja, which was one of the very first webcomics I ever read), then added in comics that I check up on every few weeks, and now I have over twenty–and I know there are some I’m missing. While I pride myself on reading a lot of “real” literature [read: on paper. no pictures.], I’ve got to admit that I have a webcomics obsession.

How do I love internet comics? Oh, let me count the ways:

1. I can read them in bed.


2. Long story arcs

Not since being a kid and reading The Magic Treehouse and The Series of Unfortunate Events have I spent literal years consuming series of discrete stories about the same set of characters. Yes, there are books for grownups that do this–the Jack Reacher series, Game of Thrones, Dune, the Fifty Shades series (listen, this is a judgment-free zone)–but who wants to sit down and read about the same characters every night for a year? Because an update for a comic might take less than a minute to read, it’s less of a commitment to read five ‘books’ of a comic that’s released a page at a time, three times a week, than it would be to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

3. Low barrier to entry (for readers) 

Reading printed Marvel and DC comics as a preteen, I was often flummoxed by boxed-off editors’ notes that said “see vol. 19 issue 8: the final battle, part III–Ed.” Did the writers really think I had every edition of Captain America stacked in my bedroom, and the time to hunt back twelve issues just to remember why this C-list villain was so ticked off at Bucky? In webcomics, this sort of note is often hyperlinked beneath the comic (like this note from writer John Allison reminding readers of a drunkard puppeteer of yesteryear), and at the very least you can click right through to the correct story arc in an archive or table of contents and remind yourself exactly who foiled whom. Plus many writers include new reader story guides to help you figure out where to jump in.

4. Low barrier to entry (for writers)

Lots of people start off in webcomics by putting their shitty drawings on the internet and seeing what happens. What this means is that voices that wouldn’t get heard in traditional comic or mainstream book publishing are developed and honed over years of work, while writers get to build up their talent and find a niche for their work. Concepts that seem like they’d never sell–like Kate Beaton’s Hark, A Vagrant, which is mostly jokes about classical literature and historical figures, or Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics, in which the exact same clipart series of dinosaurs carries out goofy and existential conversations five days a week–end up finding loyal followings on the net, and both of these comic creators have since sold New York Times bestselling books. Thanks, Internet!

5. Variety!

Some of these writers don’t give a shit about their art. Randall Monroe of XKCD started off drawing stick figures and has progressed only to cleaner, more elegant stick figures. Zach Weinersmith of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal often makes his own artistic deficits the punchline of a joke. Taking a different tack, John Allison of Bad Machinery has honed his drawings into an effective, funny style that push at the limits of narrative art: his characters are cartoonish and bendable, but his drawing style always pushes to heighten drama, intensify jokes, and demonstrate expression and movement.

Towards the other end of the spectrum lies Vattu’s Evan Dahm, whose rich colors and gorgeously composed panels serve to illustrate a fantastical, complex world filled with alien races and foreign mythology. Dahm focuses on art so intensely that a whole day’s update may include no speech, with little time passing; as his current project updates thrice a week, this can mean that six months of updates illustrate a just single week in story time, but Dahm’s worldbuilding and fascinating characters always keep me hooked. Octopus Pie’s setting is much closer to home–Meredith Gran’s story is about twenty-somethings figuring out life in New York–but also includes inventive art to push at the limits of comics. Check out this loooooong strip showing a character’s lonely journey away from the girl she likes towards a sulk session in her bedroom, and I’m not going to even describe this strip but it’s amazing and really stretches at what belongs in a comic strip. In terms of subject material, there are existential joke comics, porn comics, fantastical adventure comics, slice of life comics, and comics about queer and transgender robots in the future that will break your heart. There are comics whose story arcs span decades, and comics that start and end a fresh idea every day. Whatever you’re looking for, someone is doing it, and it’s probably amazing.

Now go forth, my friends, and read comics on the internet.

Auntie Wesley’s Fresh-Picked Internet Comic Recommendations:

  1. O Human Star by Blue Delliquanti

A brilliant inventor dies and is resurrected in a future where his inventions have reshaped the world. This has some of the most skillful storytelling I’ve seen in any comic.

2. Bad Machinery by John Allison

Sassy British schoolchildren solve mysteries in their cryptid-filled town.

3. Any of Emily Carroll‘s Creepy Stories

Carroll’s short stories are filled with murderers, ghosts and creepy dolls, as well as gorgeous art and interactive layouts that take full advantage of the fact that you’re reading on a screen instead of a page.

4. Octopus Pie by Meredith Gran

Young adults in New York hook up, have adventures, sell drugs, and learn about themselves. These hijink-filled stories have a serious heart in the uncertainties and fears of the nearly-grown-up.

5. Vattu by Evan Dahm

This is a fantasy epic in comic form, filled with very real discussion of colonialism, appropriation and oppression. The art is stunning.


[Images from O Human Star, Octopus Pie, Emily Carroll’s “Some Other Animal’s Meat,” Bad Machinery, and Vattu.]