June 24, 2011

, ,   |  

Digging into Digital: World of Webcomics

Believe it or not, there was a time in my life where I basically read no webcomics. Despite their existence for as long as I've been on the web, I wasn't all that interested in reading images on a screen, primarily because I had dial-up internet until essentially 2007.

Yes, I was the guy still trying to nurse his modem long after it made any sense to do so. Ironic, given my general love of technology and pathetic given I had ample opportunity to add DSL just about anytime I wanted to once it came out. Please keep the laughter to a minimum as I continue.

Sure, I knew they existed, and even read a few here and there. I'm pretty sure Sinfest was one of them, and I think Diesel Sweeties, too. If it wasn't that comic, it was one with a similar look to it. Eventually, I fell out of the habit and only read comics when I was linked to them, primarily by my friend Noah.

I started reading them again, slowly but surely, around the time I started up Panel Patter. Starting in late 2009 and continuing into 2010, I made a point of reading them, and featuring them in an ongoing feature called "Webcomic I Like." Slowly but surely, the number of webcomics I read has increased.

I didn't realize how much it had increased until I started thinking about why my reading list was so light for June, despite the fact that I felt like I was still reading a lot of comics. The answer is that I *am* reading a fair number of comics--they're just webcomics, which I don't tend to track.

As I've slowly moved towards reading more things digitally and spending more time talking to other webcomics folks on Twitter (or at least following along with their feed), I keep collecting new webcomics to try. I don't keep every one on my feeds, but I do tend to give all of the ones I hear of at least a trial run. (The big advantage to webcomics is that anyone can do it. The big disadvantage to webcomics is that anyone can do it.) After awhile, that's a lot of webcomics, and no matter how quickly you can read, keeping up with them can easily zap hours of reading time.

Not that it's a bad thing. Many of the webcomics I read are just as good if not better than things I've also read in print. I don't consider it wasted time at all. I'm always excited for new Cleopatra in Spaaaace! or Wondermark or Bug or Atomic Laundromat or Gronk or Awesome Hospital or any of the large quantity of webcomics that I read on a regular basis. (Sorry if I didn't name-check you, I just rattled these off the top of my head.)

When I start to read the well over fifty webcomic feeds I have on my list, which does not include the sketchblogs like Comic Twart, Project Rooftop, Covered, and others of that ilk, the World of Webcomics can turn into just as much of a timesink as that other WoW that involves killing elves and trolls and stuff--except that I think webcomics are a heck of a lot more entertaining!

Now, not all of those feeds are active. I tend to keep them on if I liked the comic, hoping something new will show. But as more and more artists take their wares to the web, I could easily see my webcomic reading going into three digits. After all, I've stated that my primary goal is to read more good comics. If they're happening online instead of through a print publisher, why should I care? It's reading for pleasure, regardless of the medium, and best of all, it's free (though I try to buy things from creators I like or get a sketch or something). Why is there a nagging concern that I am reading too many webcomics?

I guess part of me likes to track things, and since reading webcomics wasn't a big part of my reading, I didn't care much. But now that I've started to notice that I am reading more of them and taking more of my reading time each evening to catch up on my favorites, the fact that there's nothing really physical to track is bothering me a bit. How do you know how much you are reading in the webcomics world? Track individual strips? Track number of comics you subscribe to? Tally up the chapters? I can't think of a good system, and I am betting most people just don't care. Heck, I don't think *I* should care, but the part of me obsessed with knowing my reading habits just won't let this go.

When you join World of Warcraft, they give you a set of rules. There are no rules in the World of Webcomics. That's definitely a large part of its appeal, both to creators and to readers. I think as we move into a different world for all involved, there's going to be a need to re-examine some of the ideas we take for granted, or at least I need to do that. I've never put much stock in page counts, going back to when kids in summer reading club used to beat me because they'd read Berenstein Bears and I was reading American Civil War biographies. Now maybe it's time to worry less about how much I am reading and just read.

The World of Webcomics is a new paradigm that I think is really starting to change things. I feel glad to be a part of it now, before it becomes the defacto way new, cool artists bring their skills to the public. I think I need to just relax a bit, and see where this new world takes me. Erica will tell you I sometimes overthink things. That's probably the case here. If for some reason you aren't reading webcomics right now, try some of the one I linked to above. You're definitely in for a great ride!

How many webcomics do you follow? Do you track them? How? Let's talk about this world of webcomics together in the comments. I'm especially interested to hear from those who either work in webcomics or primarily read webcomics.