I have a love/hate thing with webcomics.
On the one hand there are some damn fine cartoonists and writers putting out some damn fine comics for free and what could be better than that? On the other hand there are about a zillion webcomics out there that are really really bad and it can be frustrating to sort through them to find the gems. Having done a webcomic myself for a year (a crappy journal comic that updated daily Monday through Friday no less…daily!) I know how hard it is to put out a quality piece of work on a regular schedule for free. Okay, I don’t know anything about quality - but I DO know about the schedule stuff and the free stuff and how time consuming and absolutely unrewarding it can be – but with no disrespect intended to any hard working creators out there - I think we can all agree that not all webcomics are created equal.
One of the great things that webcomics do offer readers - certainly more than mainstream comics in many respects - is a really wide variety - everything from single panel gag strips to journal comics to superhero comics. It’s all out there, nearly anything you can imagine and most of it is free...and in this new market of $3.99 for 32 freaking pages (and really that's only 22-pages of story) it's kind of mind blowing to see so many truly talented people essentially giving their work away for free.
I was struck as I researched and wrote this post by the whole iPad/comics reader advent and how in a way it means nothing to webcomics...except maybe even more traffic? Many of the webcomics I read and many listed here have pretty successful print versions of their online material that sell well, despite the original content being available for free. What does that say? What does that mean? Does it give us hope that at the end of the day readers are interested in supporting talented creators and will continue to do so regardless of new technologies. Or maybe it means that it's fundamentally ingrained into our comics collecting brains to want print version of things we love...so that we can touch them and covet them forever on something other than a jump drive? That curling up with an iPad just won't ever be the same as curling up with a book? Lucy Knisley mentioned in one of her web strips that books were viewed as the enemy when we migrated from scrolls to books...is this the same thing? Will the print vs. digital war really just be growing pains that will one day (sooner than we all think) be laughed about and then all but forgotten?
Well...existential questions aside (to be answered by those far more qualified and intelligent than I) here's a list of 10 webcomics I love (in no particular order). There’s everything from single panel gag strips to fully realized serialized stories here, so hopefully there’s a little something for everyone.
I think it goes without saying (but apparently I’ll say it anyway) that these webcomics all meet a basic “female positive criteria” sometimes just by being pretty gender neutral, like the first webcomic on our list – the brilliant Karl Kerschl’s The Abominable Charles Christopher...
1. KARL KERSCHL'S THE ABOMINABLE CHARLES CHRISTOPHER
What it is: A weekly strip of varying sizes that updates every Wednesday, set in a woodland and populated by a variety of woodland creatures, including the titular (and mute) Charles Christopher, a gentle abominable snowman. The Abominable Charles Christopher has also had some amazing guest artists, including this awesome strip by Skottie Young.
Why I love it: The story varies wildly from hilarious to heartbreaking (yes, this webcomic has made me cry…more than once) and is one of the best-drawn comics you will find online or off. Kerschl's characters (whether bird, bee, or abominable snowman) are undeniably relatable and it’s nearly impossible not to fall in love once you start reading. Oh Townsen, I miss you.
Where you can find it: http://www.abominable.cc
If FREE just isn’t good enough: An absolutely amazing looking collected edition of the strip: The Abominable Charles Christopher Book One was recently released. The 144-page tome collects the first two years of the comics plus some bonus material and is forty to sixty dollars depending on the edition you pick. You can buy it here. Other prints and shirts are available here.
2. ARIEL SCHRAG & KEVIN SECCIA'S ARIEL AND KEVIN INVADE EVERYTHING
What it is: A long black and white strip that generally posts monthly (except for the month of February 2010 when they went crazy and posted weekly – it was awesome!) about two best friends and their adventures in Los Angeles.
Why I love it: It’s freaking hilarious. Though it has a journal/autobio vibe to it, the material is funny enough that it feels fictional (that or Ariel and Kevin are truly hilarious and epic to hang out with). Also, though it only posts monthly (except that crazy February) the strips are quite long and detailed so you’re getting a lot of bang for your non-buck. From an illustration point of view, Shrag’s really turning into a hell of a cartoonist. She’s always been talented and prolific but this (to me) is her strongest cartooning work yet by far.
Where you can find it: http://invadeeverything.com
You can learn more about Ariel Schrag here: http://arielschrag.com
If FREE just isn’t good enough: Because Ariel and Kevin Invade Everything is still relatively new there’s no collected edition as yet (though I hope there will be one eventually) but Schrag has original art for sale on her website and her books are available on Amazon and in bookshops and comic stores everywhere.
3. KATE BEATON'S HARK A VAGRANT!
What it is: A (mostly) black and white webcomic strip that is published roughly twice weekly and generally focuses on history or literary figures in some way – whether it be a four panel strip about Jane Austen’s “new book” or a series of three panel strips about The Great Gatsby - one thing that’s never missing? The funny. Tons of people have been talking about Hark A Vagrant! lately…and if you’re not already on board, get on now!
Why I love it: I think what appeals to me most about Beaton’s work, beyond her hilarious sense of humor is that her education is in history, not art or comics or the same kind of stuff you so often see covered in webcomics and so it makes her strip terribly original and a real breath of fresh air on the webcomics scene.
Where you can find it: http://www.harkavagrant.com
If FREE just isn’t good enough: Beaton has a book, Never Learn Anything From History: A Collection Of Comics which is available here.
4. MIKE JACOBSEN'S SEE MIKE DRAW
What it is: A usually full color strip or single panel comic that is heavy on the hilarious but updates intermittently at best.
Why I love it: Jacobsen has mad cartooning skills, but really it’s the joke that gets me every time – from raucously funny to disturbingly twisted – he nails the punch line beautifully on every strip. Unfortunately this kind of brilliance rarely shows up with any regularity. I was hesitant to include See Mike Draw as it has been on hiatus for a very long time – but it has recently been showing up again and it's as good as ever. Also, there’s a decent sized archive to explore, so get over there and maybe the influx of new fans will encourage Jacobsen to keep plying us with hilarious free entertainment.
Where you can find it: http://seemikedraw.wordpress.com
5. MIKE MAIHACK'S CLEOPATRA IN SPAAAACE!
What it is: A great black and white sci-fi adventure comic that updates weekly on Mondays. Cleopatra In Spaaaace! stars Cleopatra as an agent of P.Y.R.A.M.I.D by way of being a displaced teenager from 52 BC. She’s just a girl (and her best friend/teacher/cat sidekick Khensu) trying to save the world, avoid curfew, and fulfill her prophesized roll as savior of the galaxy.
Why I love it: It’s just good clean adventure sci-fi fun with an awesome female protagonist. I mean…Cleopatra and her badass cat in space? Plus giant robots and prophecy crap? What’s not to love?
Where you can find it: http://www.cowshell.com/cleopatra
If FREE just isn’t good enough: No collections as yet, but Cleopatra In Spaaaace! prints are available here.
6. LUCY KNISLEY'S STOP PAYING ATTENTION
What it is: A color journal webcomic that shows up on a somewhat intermittent schedule (sort of twice monthly) in beautiful full-page glory. Chock full of stories about relationships, growing up, making comics, playing with her cat, and all the stuff that happens in between, it's beautiful insightful stuff that also knows how to just be funny.
Why I love it: Knisley is one of those artists that manages to make even the most mundane things interesting. Between her excellent cartooning (her cat is fraking adorable) and her honesty in sharing parts of her life with her audience (whether they're pretty or not) she has created a really wonderful humorous strip that doesn’t get bogged down in narcissistic navel gazing the way some journal comics do. She keeps a perspective on her life that is both interesting and insightful…and pretty freaking relatable. The only downside to Stop Paying Attention is that there are TONS more comics than what are posted at the link…but you’ll have to go trolling through her livejournal to find them all, as only certain large pieces have been collected on Stop Paying Attention…so funny bits like the naps strip above have to be discovered individually.
Where you can find it: http://comics.lucyknisley.com
If FREE just isn’t good enough: You can buy any of Knisley’s books, including Radiator Days (a collection of journal comics and fictional short comic stories) and her new collection of journal, travel, and 24 hour comics – Make Yourself Happy here.
7. WARREN ELLIS AND PAUL DUFFIELD'S FREAKANGELS
What it is: Is there anyone that knows comics that doesn’t know FreakAngels? Well, just in case – it’s a full color/full page ongoing comic updated weekly. FreakAngels updates on Fridays with surprising regularity considering that – at a minimum – I've heard that guy Ellis has a few other things on his plate. Started in early 2008, the strip just recently hit #600 (100 episodes with 6 pages each) which is incredibly impressive. The story follows 12 young kids from England all with incredible (and similar) powers in a now dystopian England.
Why I love it: What’s not to love? Ellis’ dystopian England (Whitechapel specifically) is run by 11 gifted 23 year-olds with a hell of a lot of power who also happen to be the ones that accidentally on purpose caused the dystopian state of the world in the first place. By turns funny, sweet, sad, and completely badass the comic is undeniably cool from concept down to character design and it’s absolutely better than most print comics I read. If you haven’t been reading it, I highly recommend taking the better part of a day and reading the whole damn thing – which is what I did not too long ago – and now crave it like crack. It's a problem. Also, beware of F bombs which appear about 30 to a page (i'm exaggerating...but not by much) and definite violence, if the head with a hole in it didn't clue you in. :)
Where you can find it: http://freakangels.com
If FREE just isn’t good enough: FreakAngels currently has four printed volumes in stores everywhere via Avatar Press and content wise they’re superior to most stuff on your LCS shelves. You can also buy books, shirts, prints, and other stuff here.
8. KATIE COOK'S GRONK A MONSTER'S STORY
What it is: Well after all that cussing from Ellis, you’re probably nice and ready for something sweet and innocent…right? So here you go, a wonderful, fairly new all-ages weekly strip about a monster named Gronk that doesn’t like being a monster. Currently in the Friday updating slot of SD7 (Space Dock 7 – all good looking strips by the way) Gronk is one of the few all-ages strips I’ve run across, which is nice as for some reason the internet seems filled to the brim with porn all the time (anyone know why that is by the way? Anyone? Hmm…okay, moving on...mystery for another day!). Anyway, the strip is equal parts sweet and adorable without ever feeling cloying or lame and I can’t wait to see where Cook takes it.
Why I love it: Kitties! Okay, well, not really. Well, sorta. Everything Cook has drawn for this strip so far from monsters to kitties to kitty plushy is freaking adorable and sometimes in the harsh world of webcomics I just need some straight up adorable shit as a palate cleanser. THIS is my adorable webcomic palate cleanser.
Where you can find it: http://www.gronkcomic.com/
If FREE just isn’t good enough: As Gronk is new there’s not much to buy yet, but you can buy her work as an illustrator via her blog.
9. GABRIELLE BELL'S LUCKY
What it is: Described as a “semi-autobiographical ‘clog’ (comic-web-log) about Bell that is updated in semi-real time every Monday", this black and white strip updates in huge awesome chunks of story. Bell’s strip, like her collected work has a sense of humor about it that just works for me. The format is not ideal for webcomics reading, especially if you want to read sequentially, but the final product is well worth the minor hassle. The strip is actually currently (as of 6/9/10) on a hiatus, which I hope will be brief, come back Bell!
Why I love it: Well, everything I said in my spotlight post about Bell’s work is still true, but if I had to whittle it down to one idea it would be this: Bell’s ability to take run off the mill day to day things and make astute observations about life that are at once both poignant and completely mundane (as life tends to be) never ceases to amaze me. Also, she often makes me feel better about my reclusive nature and anything that makes me feel better about not wanting to leave my apartment is a good thing.
Where you can find it: http://gabriellebell.com
You can follow Bell on twitter here.
10. MEREDITH GRAN'S OCTOPUS PIE
What it is: A black and white slice of life strip following the lives of two women (Eve and Hanna) living in Brooklyn.
Why I love it: I’m always a bit partial to comics set in places I live, or have lived, so like Bell’s work, Octopus Pie already has that going for it, but it’s really the great Odd Couple style chemistry of uptight somewhat miserable Eve and free-spirited Hanna that works to such good effect in Gran’s strip and keeps me coming back for more.
Where you can find it: http://www.octopuspie.com
If FREE just isn’t good enough: Octopus Pie: There Are No Stars In Brooklyn, which collects the first two years of strips plus bonus materials is available at your LCS and on Amazon in June 2010. There’s also everything from shirts to glassware available at the Octopus Pie Store.
I tried to keep the list at 10, but I couldn't help adding at least an "honorable mention" or two...
Johnny Lin’s fairly new WE COULD BE HAPPY, a hilarious strip that is updated irregularly a few times a week @ http://www.wecouldbehappy.com has had me cracking up lately.
And Danielle Corsetto's GIRLS WITH SLINGSHOTS is still out there and running strong and updating five times a week...since 2004 (that is AMAZING) and is certainly worth mention: http://www.gwscomic.com/
What about you ladies and gents? Any favorite webcomics to share?