Monday, March 30, 2009

Another Long Essay

What follows is my final essay for my English 1010 class, a long winded essay on webcomics, rankings and a bit of history- not in that order.

When I get onto the Internet every morning, I have one thought on my mind before anything else, check the webcomics. The ritual has been part of my daily grind for the past 4 years and in those years I have read through almost 60 series of webcomics. If averaged out to print I'd like to say that I'd have read through the Bible 4 times. My time spent is at the point that I consider myself a knowledgeable source on the topic. Webcomics are a media that reflect the entrepreneurship of the Internet and the spirit of trying that makes the Internet such a great community. Webcomics have been around for a while and have a history and like almost all things, they can be broken down into a set of tiers, in this case Upper Level Webcomics,  Mid Level Webcomics, Low Level Webcomics and the Bottom Rung all with reasons for their popularity. To be able to understand webcomics though, one must be able to look back into time and understand where webcomics come from.

In the early days of the Internet, there was not much content out there since there was not much of an Internet community - at least by today's standards.  The largest grouping of Internet users was on Usenet. Early images and comics made by users were the first web comics but it was not until the creation of T.H.E. Fox that there was actually a webcomic (Atchinson). This was in 1986 and would by all counts be registered as the first webcomic historically but when confronted, most web comic readers would not name this as the first web comic. For many people, the answer would be either Penny Arcade or PvP, two webcomics that began in 1998, 12 years after the first noted webcomic - over a lifetime in Internet time. In between those years some of the longest running webcomics were established but they fall mainly into the category of  Mid Level Webcomics. It was not until 1997 that the Silver Age of Webcomics began. Webcomics such as Sluggy Freelance, User Friendly and Roomies! began to show up. From this point on, the webcomics boom began.

The webcomics boom was more or less caused by people having the Internet for their own use and space for hosting suddenly opening up. As some of the first webcomic hosts such as KeenSpace began to appear, the field expanded and comics boomed. The first popular sprite comics began to appear and comics began to develop fan bases. Eventually the first tiers of popularity began to form over the years. Eventually the first self supporting web comics appeared allowing creators to live solely off donations and merchandise. The boom was also marked by the birth of the overabundance of web comics. When free hosting became readily available through a variety of sources including through sites like Live Journal and Deviant Art, there was a sudden growth in the number of web comics created by people who often cared little for quality and a steady update schedule. The boom notably ended around 2006 marked by a sudden drop off of new Upper Level web comics.

The post boom era for webcomics has been heavily noted as the period in which the tiers were almost permanently established across the Internet. Webcomics such as Penny Arcade and Ctrl-Alt-Delete were offered media deals including the creation of games and animated series. Upper Level web comics were also able to begin creating their own sub cultures such as Penny Arcade creating PAX (Penny Arcade Expo). Also notable at this time was the fact that certain comics began to form their own production labels such as Topataco or Blank Label Comics which allowed for collaboration between webcomic artists and financial support. During this age, webcomics have also entered mainstream media with many comics being picked up by print publications such as newspaper or being noticed by mainline media. What is widely recognized as the changing point was the 2005 Jack Thompson controversy (see annotations) which eventually led to several lawsuits and the creation of the Child's Play charity. During this time, the Mid Level became established for the first time and a fully working tier system was fully evident.

The tier system for webcomics is essentially a self-made system I have created to be used to rank webcomics mostly based on popularity noted through views. The simple idea is that the more popular a webcomic is, the higher level it is. The levels have nothing at all to deal with content or quality of the webcomics themselves. Many well written web comics are at the Low Level solely because the art is bad or the topic may not be popular enough to attract a large audience. A few Upper Level webcomics such as Ctrl+Alt+Delete are marked for being very poor in quality by the mainstream media and yet allow the author to live off of the comic because of a devoted fanbase. The system is also imperfect due to the breakdown system as the diverse variety of webcomics makes a standard system increasingly difficult to do as one comic may have merchandise but still also be hosted on a third party site or a comic may be published in a newspaper but only gets a few views online. Either way though, it is the easiest way to explain the groupings of webcomics in a purely theoretical manner.

The bottom tier of the webcomic hierarchy is partially created by my own vindictive attitude and it is for those comics hosted on third party hosts such as Drunk Duck or Smack Jeeves. The tier actually has a sub tier within itself but is notable for being the residence of almost 90 percent of all webcomics on the Internet. These vary between sprite comics that last only 10 strips before being forgotten, 5 second doodle comics and elaborate comics that somehow have attracted a large audience and yet cannot find better hosting. There are too many to name, (possibly 100,000 or so) and very few positive or worthwhile examples that I can think of.  The basic idea though is the lack of initiative to try and stick out as a web comic.

The Low Level webcomics are those that are often just starting out. They normally have only been around for a year or so but the authors have actually decided to try and stick out their thumbs so to speak by either joining a webcomic team, making a site that is easy to find (ala Livejournal) or actually purchasing a site and some hosting. The simple act shows determination to make it in the world. These comics usually have a fan base under 500 people and are done usually with a monetary loss to the artist. The comics are purely done with devotion to the art and the rewards are usually only feedback from the readers. Comics like this currently are numerous numbering somewhere around 30,000. These comics often have yet to become huge but given time and a steady stream of updates, the comics have the potential to become great.

The Middle Level webcomics are those ones that have learned the lessons of making webcomics through time and dedication. The comics usually have two years or so under their belt and have a general fan base. The comics may or may not take donations for their work and may or may not be selling merchandise, often t-shirts or collections of the comic. The main point of the middle level though is that the comics are becoming more self sufficient, often paying for the artists to at least be able to travel to conventions and generally return something to the comic creators. Comics in this tier are also on the verge of making it to the upper tier in a few years depending on factors including name drops from High Level webcomics. In estimation, there are about 500 mid level webcomics. Examples of this level of comic include Slackerz and Dead Winter both of which have gained a fair amount of notoriety from High Level name drops.

The High Level is currently the epitome of webcomic notoriety. The comics have books that can be found in average book stores, mentioning them in conversation may actually allow other people to know what you are talking about and generally High Level comics have enough fans to make the creators become Internet recluses. The power that comes from being a High Level webcomic creator often includes the comic being a major source of income for the creators to the point that some have been able to make it their sole job. Webcomics on this tier often have several thousand readers and several years under there belt, except for a few exceptions. The comics in this tier often also have active fan communities and overall are powerhouses on the Internet. Getting a comic to this point really means that you have done something right in the comic world. There are only about 100 or so comics on this level. Examples of this level include Penny Arcade, VG Cats, Dr. McNinja and a handful of other ones. The popularity for these has been heartily proven but the question arises: where does the popularity come from?

Popularity often varies based on three factors, content, time and character. Content mainly means that the easiest way to get readers is to do something that most readers can relate to. In this case the common example is video game humor. The main problem with this though is that the market is over saturated with gamer webcomics. In fact he last gamers webcomic to make it to the Upper Level was Fanboys back in 2007. If you can create an original idea though, the comic will do well. Time is another important factor in popularity for webcomics because with time, they are able to find fans first. It is more or less a  fact that 80 percent of readers will stay with a webcomic over time no matter how horrible it becomes. As time builds up the webcomic is able to compile readers who then continue to expand the fan base. The character of the comic is the final factor and this is more than the characters of the comic. It refers more to whether or not the creator seems sociable and if the community is inviting. If you try and message the creator and he tells you to "bugger off" you will be much less likely to return to the comic. Likewise if the forum community has no respect for new members, chances are that you wont join the community.

Overall the world of webcomics is a diverse one with literally thousands of stories told by thousands of people. It is a great embodiment of the ideals of self starting, dreams becoming real and almost every facet of the American dream. There is something for everybody if you just spend the time to look and I'd suggest that you look sooner than later because each day you wait, you just get another update behind.

Come back next week for me to review some new comics again.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Disappointing State of Affairs

I suppose my habitual reviews of web comics has reached a temporary stopping point after meeting a face to face specter that was my own ego growing out of proportion to my right and stance as a minor internet celebrity. The fact where I myself see that I have an increased value as opposed to those who I review has caused a shift in my psych, weakening me with unknown side effects. I might find it the cause for my lackadaisical attitude when it comes to work, my lack of drive to get out of bed in the morning or a plethora of other things.

TL;DR, I am feeling like a jerk critiquing others work whilst contributing nothing by myself.

Now I have brushed with greatness upon the shambles of my dream that is the 40 Day Web Comic Challenge but that only brought to staggering light the hubris that I suffer so very greatly. Night after night I turn out a sub par piece of work minutes before the deadline on the promise that I will improve my talent the following day only to piss it away lollygagging while playing Defense Games. 

TL; DR I tried contributing but it turned out to be crap.

Now the question I must pose to myself is, what am I to do now that I am a defeated person slowly siphoning money to frivolous causes? The question haunts me because while I desire fame, I lack the talent and ambition to put forth a greater effort to seek it. Why I cannot simply find my great partner to assist in this project is a great quandary to me even now. If I might simply find one to so much as donate their artist talents for scaling compensation I might find the comfort which I greatly desire.

TL; DR My problem with making comics is that I hate the time commitment so I need to find a partner.

I shall be broadening my search locally at my place of education and globally across the Internet but if you are aware of any people interested in an illustration position for cheap, please contact me.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This Ought To Screw With Author Checks on Papers

Wrote this for a college English paper though I feel a bit bad for writing it after the abomination that is my 40 Day WCC.

The Internet is catalyst for change in our world. Whether it is the death of printed media, the pirating of information or the free discussion with people across the globe. Comics have been changed by the Internet also. With the birth of web comics, free from censors and syndication, there has been a boom of web comics, especially over the last 5 years at the technological crowd has grown. The biggest reason for this is that anybody can make a web comic as long as they know the steps to it. The steps to making a web comic are knowing your intent, imagining what you want to write, knowing how to make your comics, knowing how to illustrate your comic and then how to invigorate your comic. Bu knowing you want to make a web comic and following these steps, you can set off on your path.

If you've ever had to write an essay, you should know that without a reason for writing it, you will probably stop writing it once you get bored. The same idea applies for making a web comic. If you don't have an actual reason for making a comic, one to drive on your inspiration to do the comic. you are more likely to fail. To start a web comic you must look into yourself and ask what do I want to do a web comic for. It can be a desire to draw more, an urge to tell a story or the fact that people have asked you to make one; anything that does not require immediate validation such as a desire to make easy money. With your reason in hand, you need to examine your other tools, primarily your creativity.

Anybody who has ever farmed can tell you that you need a firm and rich soil to farm. Making web comics is the same way. If you don't have a strong, fresh and well thought out idea, you are going to risk having your web comic go south. A good idea varies between from person to person and something you may find dumb, a hundred other people might really enjoy. This rule is especially true for judging your own ideas. You will be your worst critic either needlessly loving everything that you do or hating everything that you produce with your pen. You need to define an idea and some features of the story. What is the basic idea of the story? Who will be your characters? What will be the problems that they face? Will your comic even have characters who reappear? Since the Internet is so diverse, you can find a comic on any subject from an imaginary sport called Boxer Hockey to a comic about an Irish doctor who is also a ninja. Some comics even change every day and rarely have reoccurring characters so the choice is really up to you. With your ideas and your will, the next step is to figure out how to make the comic.

There have been several times that the members of GI Joe once said, "Knowing is half the battle." For you as a web comic maker, the same holds true. The other half of the battle is learning how to make your comic. You need to find what medium you enjoy working in. You could make a comic in felt, you could use pencils and scan in the work, you just need to figure it out. Along with your illustration style, you need to figure out your layout. Will it be three sequential panels, a vertical row of panels or a variety of panels stretching across the computer screen? The power is yours to choose. What if you can't draw? The truth is, you don't need to most of the time since by drawing frequently, you can increase you talent base. If you don't wish for your dream to be muddled by your poor artistic ability, you still have nothing to worry about. The Internet have a plethora of artists looking for writers. If you are an artist looking for a writer, you can find them easily. Once you or your team is assembled, you need to prepare to illustrate with words and pictures.

Illustration according to Webster's dictionary is "a picture or diagram that helps make something clear or attractive." In this case though, words do a profound amount of work. A horribly drawn comic can be salvaged with witty and creative writing while a beautifully drawn comic can die because of generic slapstick writing. When illustrating with pictures, you need to be familiar with comics, figure out your influences and work with them to develop your own style. Ideally this would be referencing how to draw from your idols either personally or through tutorials. If that fails though, you can always attempt to dissect the style by yourself. If you are writing, this is your time to hit the books, namely classic novels and then books relating to your subject. Are you making a comic about cowboys? Learn the lingo, learn the personality, make yourself fully understand the world you are making for your comic. then combine your words and your pictures and begin the hardest part of all - finding your fans.

Anybody can make a comic following my steps so far. Not everybody can find a fanbase. When your comic is ready, you need to have a small buffer of extra strips. These make it easy if you are going to have to miss an update. The question hitting you should be "Where will I host my comic?" The Internet is large enough that there are a variety of hosts willing to assist you with find a home. Starting off on a site like Drunk Duck can be dangerous since there literally hundreds of comics you are competing against. If you have the money, paying for your own website (and some web design) can pay off. It adds an air of professionalism to your comic and allows you to turn a small profit from ads. With your site, you need to begin pulling in readers. The easiest way to do this is through the magic of friends and forums. If you have friends, they'll naturally b interested in whatever projects you are working on. If you are active on a forum, you can simply post a new thread advertising the comic. The only danger though is if you have neither. Then you would need to wait, hope and contact people who do comics that you like. Most of the time if you do a good job, they'll be glad to help you out and send over some fans. From this point on, advising is difficult. If you have a popular topic like gaming, you could be rolling in money within months but if you are working on a comic about applied geography and trigonometry, you might not have any regular fans for years. Still, no matter what happens, the important thing is to keep fighting along.

Web comics are still an emerging media for the most part with only a few rules and restrictions. You can let your imagination go wild with ideas as long as you remember the five steps. If you have your intent, you idea, figure out why and how to do it and then et your comic live and breath, you will have made it. 

Friday, March 6, 2009

Watchmen Film Review Mini

Just got back from the Watchmen (walking 2 miles each way - BUFFFFFFFF!). A very enjoyable film. It had the feel of the comic, a great cast and the altered ending worked well. My complaints fall mainly on the music choice (ruining moments by not fitting, being too prevalent) and a few small things I don't care to go into now. It's no Dark Knight and it won't change your world but it pays for itself. Overall it gets a B+/A-.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Boy Are My Arms Tired

Its almost been a week of the 40 Day Webcomic Project and my floor is littered with comics. Its taught me a few things, one being that I still need to learn how to draaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaw comics. Still, there are some people who can. And they get paid for it.

This week I talk about graphic novels. I'm in no way an avid print comic reader. The last comic book I bought, issues not collections, was a bunch of old B.P.R.D. comics. That was over a year ago. I'm more into collections overall but I might suggest the following novels, but you probably know them. That's why I normally read web comics for you.

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Honestly, if you haven't read it, you probably would not be reading this. With the movie, the growing fanbase (Ugh) and the fact that it is sadly the next whore for Hot Topic, its become required nerd reading. Still, if you are a weeaboo, anti-comic aficionado or you've been under a rock for the past five years, you should read the comic. A genius vision about the superhero genre and a classic piece of writing enjoyable through multiple reads and great for all ages (over 12 or so). I can't say too much. 
On a side note: I hate the new fanbase. Seriously. If you draw gay Naruto and Sasuke relations (which are apparently canon) thats fine. They are dry archetypes who will probably turn gay. Rorshach and Dr. Manhattan though? Neither of them are gay. If you are going to draw gay fanart, do Hooded Justice and Ozymandias (both gay in canon in extended universe). Except they were never around to meet. Still, don't fuck up a work of art like this. 

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore
Better than the movie which barely did the comic justice. You probably know the story already. Or the outline. Trust me though, they cut out way too much from the comic. Its worth a look.

Batman: The Long Halloween/Dark Victory by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
Very possibly my favorite graphic novel ever. Even better than Watchmen combined. Essentially it takes place in that transition period between the mobsters and the supervillains. Part mystery, part asskicking with some of the best Harvey Dent action. Spoiler: He turns into Two-Face. Its classic and if you liked the Dark Knight at all, you'll enjoy this.

Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb
Hush makes it on my list of great comics thanks to the beautiful art, great use of the villains and another great mystery that reminds you why Batman originally appeared in Detective Comics. Plus, Batman fights Superman so check it out.

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan
The idea is simple. Something kills all the men on Earth except for one man, Yorick and his pet monkey. From that points its up to him to navigate a world thrown into chaos. It grips you and doesn't let go. I need to pick up the next section though.

Short reviews I know but I have a dozen other things to do.