It may seem like an ironic time to discuss this element of the webcomic world, but in many ways the recent events have only underscored my beliefs regarding this subject.
All areas of media and entertainment attract their share of fans, admirers, and commentators, both professional and amateur. Book review clubs form in libraries. Conventions are held the world over. Students analyze and discuss everything from poetry to graphic novels.
Many of those discussions find their place on the internet as well, in forums, websites, and the like.
So what is it about the webcomic community that stands out?
Personally, I’d say it is the interaction between creators and readers, as compared to all those other fields.
There are many amateur comics on the web. Many of those, nonetheless, find themselves with a following and a degree of influence. Similarly, there are numerous webcomic review blogs that enter the field without credentials or connections – just ordinary folks having their say on the topics.
Many of the webcomics that rise to ‘fame’ do not have authors that are rolling in piles of dough. They have respect and make a living doing what they like – that simple goal is the aspiration of most of those in the field.
The people making these comics often have their own forums and emails where they will chat with their readers. Some of them will include nods to others in the community, or to their own fans. Many of those forum boards develop their own nature, and the fans of one comic or another might even get a nickname for being part of that following.
And yet, despite the connection – despite the fact that many of those authors are ordinary Joes (and Janes!) – a lot of them do have significant ‘power’, at least in the form of their hordes of fans.
There is a degree of interactivity among all these areas, in the weight the readership has on the creators, the creators have with the readership, and the various creators have between each other. There is no test or trial to move from one area to another, and anyone can publish their own webcomic, regardless of quality.
And yes, in some ways that means there is a lot of amateur elements out there. And favoritism, and, of course, drama.
But in most such communities built up around elements of entertainment, the community is formed entirely of the fans. Movie stars don’t hang out with their adoring public, they wave to them from afar.
In webcomics, the creators and the fans not only interact, but in some places, the line between the two can blur entirely. That’s a valuable thing. That’s pretty damn unique.
They visit each others sites. They give advice, and sometimes band together to face the forces of evil. Some stay independant, others work together. They talk with their readership, and sometimes rightfully tell the people ‘advising’ them to shut the hell up – and sometimes they see inspired comments and take them to heart, and one reader’s words might result in a flourishing change in the comic.
And of course, the community has drama. With the ability to toss out so many opinions, and have so much response between parties almost immediately, with so many outside folks weighing in on the subject, of course drama rears its ugly head. But it passes as quickly as it springs up, most of the time, and quickly enough becomes just a matter of history.
Look at the latest drama, regarding the “History of Webcomics.” Most of the hubbub has died down. Aside from the odd late-arriving anonymous poster over at T’s blog, the discussion there has turned to matters of looove. The thread over at Websnark has degenerated into webcartoonist slashfic. The hurricane has passed, and everyone is back to their normal depraved behavior.
T has posted his offer to take final comments and advice on his work. It will still be produced, and maybe some of the issues people have with it will be removed. So, a day of drama, and the result being something that may actually be… handy.
Now, that isn’t to say the entire thing couldn’t have be handled better – how much better would things have been without the insults and flames and rhetoric, and just the rational questions and concerns? That would have been just fine and dandy with me.
But in the end, the fact that even though we might be stuck with one, we still have access to the other, is inspiring. I like the fact that there are people in the community that can look at the situation and simply be reasonable about it. I can listen to them, and I can ignore the others.
There are a lot of things that make webcomics unique. I’m sure plenty of others could come up with answers beyond the five I’ve talked about, as well as go more in depth into these topics.
Each of these areas has the potential both for good and for bad. The ability to experiment with infinite canvas yields both impressive successes and awe-inspiring crap. The ability to self publish yields edgy, wicked humor as well as sketchy, illegible typos. The ability to communicate at the speed of the interweb yields both constructive discussion and degenerative rambling.
But I’ll take the good with the bad. Given how webcomics are doing these days compared to when they started, and the pace they are going at… I’ve got this funny feeling that other folks may feel the same.
The problem with the close interaction between fans and creators is that the creators can sometimes get complacent, or get a swelled head. Whereas professionals have editors to go between them and the companies and tell them when they’re fucking up, webcomic artists just have fans for feedback, and that can create some horrible things.
It can almost create a vicious circle with some creators – they accept only the feedback of their dedicated fans, who in turn accept the creator’s word as law. It can be scary seeing a legion of fans unleashed as part of a personal attack, and it worries me some times seeing that sort of behavior on the behalf of authors.
But like I said – I can’t expect it all to be good, and thats pretty much an inherent result of the creators and fans being able to directly communicate… which, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing.
But yeah, that is definitely one of the dangers. It isn’t one unheard of outside of webcomics – but usually a movie director or author or whomever needs to have a lot of success and build up a sizable fanbase before they reach that point.
It makes you wonder what will happen when really REALLY big stars realize that they can have this power over large groups of people. If about 200 people can bring a lot of fury on behalf of their idols, think of what about 2000 people can do.