Issue #11

The new buzzword in online conversation is "content." Everyone's gone Content-crazy in the last few weeks. Content has been tossed around with vague resolve over the last year or so, but the AOL-Time Warner copulation kicked it into serious intensity. Suddenly, everyone wants Content. AOL Time Warner, and the repercussions rippling off from that fusion, so the Wisdom goes, will put another umpty-billion people on the net over the next couple of years, and they're all going to be looking for stuff to entertain them. The Wisdom has it that, no, they won't all go to Usenet and download free porn. No, they'll all be looking for narrative entertainment experiences, just like the TV taught them to. The Wisdom suggests that all these zillions of people shout at the radio for not having pictures and stab their magazines and newspapers to death because the pictures don't move and talk, but there you go. Apparently, we approach all media as if they were television now.

Anyway, we're now in a position where every Internet start-up on the planet is looking for story material to charm the new users with. And I'm getting a lot of emails about this, because, of course, the simplest, most direct and richest way to communicate in words and pictures is... comics. I've got a bonus on my side because, in addition to being Master Storyteller and beloved the world over, I've got a little experience in writing very short animation sequences (for the PC game HOSTILE WATERS, coming to a store near you this summer, and all that). This helps, in an online world where, most often, we're not quite talking about comics. We're talking about Webcomics.

What are Webcomics? Nobody knows. In the same way that "comics" is just such an utterly wrong label for what the comic is, "Webcomics" doesn't get close to the form under discussion.

Probably the best Webcomic I've seen so far is Jenni Gregory's ABBY'S MENAGERIE. I urge you all to go and look at it. It's at http://abbysmenagerie.com. As you'll see, it's really just a comic, told panel by panel, using the animated-GIF technology to time the appearance of the speech balloons and captions. Simple, clever and elegant. It nods to the new medium for its distribution without making concessions to it. Researching Webcomics has turned me into a bit of a purist, and I love ABBY'S MENAGERIE for its uncompromised strength.

[Abbys Menagerie]

But, as I say, it's on the "pure" end of the scale. The further the other way we go, the less like comics Webcomics look. By the time we get to http://www.stanlee.net, we're not really talking about comics at all. Stan's said in print that what he'll be showing on StanLee.Net aren't comics. What they are, are little movies, using the limited animation available to 56K-and-under viewers via the Macromedia Flash technology. This is the biggest, most-capitalised and most corporate of the webcomics sites I've seen. Only preview material relating to the intended three series are available, all of which look rotten, and belie the supposed involvement of intelligent people like Steve Gerber. Stan stakes out the "debased" end of the scale, and has people questioning the condition of his after-all-no-longer-young brain, with this and his other big deal, http://www.backstreetproject.com, wherein he turns vile identikit clone-pop creatures The Backstreet Boys into superheroes. I'd've been more impressed if he turned them into humans.

Also on this full-motion, soundtracked end of Webcomics are things like Jonni Nitro, available at http://www.jonninitro.com. Check this out. The animation, derived from live-action filming, is chiaroscuoric, reducing the filesize and making the thing easily viewable to anyone with a crappy 28K connection (like me). The actual stories so far haven't been much cop. Evidently Marc Silvestri and Scott Lobdell are getting together to direct and write an episode, which will at least make the visuals more challenging and the dialogue snappier.

I can be contacted by email about this column at warren@comicbookresources.com. My website, currently undergoing an update, is http://www.warrenellis.com. There is a COME IN ALONE discussion area here on CBR.

INSTRUCTIONS: Read ENTERING SPACE by Robert Zubrin (1999), listen to PLAY by Moby (1999), and hit space.com at, unsurprisingly, http://www.space.com. Today's recommended graphic novel is CLOCKWORK ANGELS by Lea Hernandez (Image, 1995, details at http://www.divalea.com). Now begone.

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