by John Seven
It was back in the early 1990s that self-publishing began to boom in the world of comics, but as liberating as it was, it could also be a prison. For every person who was able to make it all work — somehow — there were probably several who wiped out. That’s because it was a progressive idea stuck in the old format.
The Internet existed at that time, certainly, but it had not reached the sort of critical mass that it now enjoys — and it was definitely not considered one of the major delivery systems of entertainment. And so self-publishers slogged through the process of printing their work — which meant lots of money and lots of time, not to mention lots of headaches — and distributing it — which meant dealing with a cabal of comics world distributors who often dipped their toes into quality control in order to guide the market.
Self-publishing still enjoys a presence, but I also wonder if the benefits are worth it, especially since the Internet has caught up with everyone’s needs. Now, self-publishing is the easiest thing in the world if you don’t care about traditional media — it’s just a matter of uploading your work (and scanning it beforehand, if you don’t work digitally). For a minimal investment, you can put your work up there and get involved with the community that pays attention to such things in order to be seen — and unlike the doom-sayers of the distributor world who treated self-publishing as a chaotic assault on professionalism, a significant portion of what makes it online is damn impressive and more diverse than print comics. And a significant portion of Web comics creators have gone onto publish their digital creations in book form.
This online exhibit is by no means a complete sampling — offered here are several different Web comics that I admire and think serve well as an introduction to the form, merely the tip of the digital iceberg. For all the people who take a look here because they already like Web comics, there will be plenty more who have never paid much attention but — with the proper introduction — might start to go out of their to find some of the work presented here, as well as others out there that aren’t in this show but are still marvelous. And there’s plenty of that out there.
What I have found in surveying web comics for my own pleasure and for this show is that the freedom from the busy work that self-publishers can get bogged down by has provided many people with creative productivity — they can actually worry about their cartooning rather than getting back issues to the UPS store. They can hone their craft — or if their craft is already well-honed, they can experiment. And we’re the lucky ones, because we all get to peer into their labs.
The web comics creators are the pioneers of what will become the standard form of reading comics on a mass scale. Oh, sure, books will be around for a long, long time, that’s certain. The real battle will take place around a more antiquated format, as the major companies still publish their floppy monthlies with only limited outlets for their purchase. Sales for major comics have plummeted since the early 1990s, with the current numbers that are considered success about a half to a third of what was once considered the same. If it hasn’t happened already, there will be a time when self-published Web comics are seen by more people than the so-called classics and there will be more room and enthusiasm for niche markets. In the meantime, think of this as a virtual anthology compiling some of my favorites of the form