Sunday, March 18, 2007

Web comics

Those two Peanuts SPPs look almost identical, but they actually are from successive strips (from forty-seven years ago.)

A while ago I left a comment on the Daily Cartoonist that I thought was pretty good. I thought I should unbury it and rewrite it here. It's about webcomics. It seems there is always a fairly successful web-cartoonist bitching about not being able to get a newspaper syndication deal. I'm generalizing here, I know, but often it seems that web cartoonists are simultaneously complaining about the state of newspaper comics and the business of them, while at the same time complaining that he or she can't break into the same business he deplores. I hate this club, they say, they're old and out of touch, have no appreciation for real talent, and, what I really hate about them, is that they won't let me in.

Web comics and newspaper comics are ultimately two different mediums. They have a different form, different rules, and, really, different audiences. As for stage and film actors, being successful in one medium does not necessarily guarantee success in the other.

Also, while I am not saying that one medium is inherently better than the other (even if I personally enjoy one more than the other,) newspaper comics do tend to be more professionally executed and edited than web comics. Even a dull, creatively bankrupt legacy strip like Blondie is more consistent and fundamentally sound than 99.9% of self-published web comics.

In all web publishing (comics, music, video, and, yes, blogs,) there seems to be a misconception that editorial guidance is the same as censorship, that any suggestion or criticism on the part of a publisher somehow contaminates the art. This is not true. F Scott Fitzgerald needed Maxwell Perkins, The Beatles needed George Martin, and, er, The Game needed Dr. Dre.

What is really desired by the web comics crowd is legitimacy. They seem to feel (and maybe not say it out loud) that publication by a syndicate somehow legitimizes their work. A web cartoonist may be extremely successful in his work, earning a living with a devoted fan base, but still feels he is missing something without the “legitimization” of newspaper syndication. This is silly. If you are successful, you are successful.

For web comics to be truly taken seriously, the community itself must take itself seriously. Cartoonists and readers must demand excellence. Cartoonists must not bristle at any criticism that may float their way. Readers and critics need to read intelligently and not engage in the this sucks/this is awesome school of criticism. The web comics community must develop its own standards of legitimacy and not look for approval from a different medium that really doesn’t give a rat’s ass about them.

In the course of this blog, the biggest complaints I got where when I dared to criticize lesser known comics like Barkeater Lake. There seems to be an unspoken rule in comics criticism that it's okay and funny to make fun of the Garfields and the Marmadukes, but pointing out the short-comings of small comics with devoted web followings is off-limits. For the web-comics community to fully mature, it most learn to accept Garfield-level criticism.