Webcomics, also known as online comics and web comics, are comics that are available on the Internet. Many webcomics are exclusively published online, while some are published in print but maintain a web archive for either commercial or artistic reasons. A few pioneering companies are also now publishing comics on mobile phones. With the Internet's easy access to an audience, webcomics run the gamut from traditional comic strips to graphic novels and beyond.
Webcomics are similar to self-published print comics in that almost anyone can create their own webcomic and publish it on the Web. Currently, there are thousands of webcomics available online. The majority of the webcomics are amateur-level work of inconsistent quality and sporadically updated. However, some webcomics have gained popular, critical, or commercial success.
While many webcomics adhere strictly to the traditional newspaper or magazine format, some artists have taken advantage of the web's unique abilities. Scott McCloud, one of the first advocates of webcomics, has pioneered the idea of the infinite canvas, where webcomics (such as Cuentos De La Frontera and e-sheep) are free to spread out in every direction indefinitely rather than be confined to normal print dimensions . Other comics, such as Kid Radd and Argon Zark!, have experimented by incorporating animation into their comics.
Because webcomics are not subject to the content restrictions of publishers or comic syndicates, they enjoy an artistic freedom similar to underground and alternative comics. Some comics (such as Sexy Losers and Fetus-X) take advantage of the fact that internet censorship is virtually nonexistent. Some comics explore niche genres such as video game-oriented comics or transsexual biographies.
Still, the most common form that a webcomic takes is the traditional comic strip, such as Penny Arcade, PvP, or Sinfest. The gag-a-day comic strip lends itself easily to popular consumption as they are episodic in nature and do not require much foreknowledge of the comic itself. This format allows for quicker, more frequent updates and allows the artist to build up an audience quickly. However, on occasion, these webcomics can have lengthy story arcs. The fact that comprehensive archives are often instantly available makes more complex plotlines and characterization possible.
Webcomics can also be presented in the same manner as traditional comic books, manga and graphic novels. These comics, such as Fans, Sparkling Generation Valkyrie Yuuki and Rules of Make Believe, come in a page form rather than a strip form and tend to focus more on story than gags.
Another format different from both the common Western newspaper strip format (4x1) and the full page is a 4-panel vertical layout (1x4), commonly seen in Japanese newspapers and known as 4-koma. Sexy Losers and Ghastly's Ghastly Comic both use 1x4. There is also a modified 4-koma layout (2x2). Megatokyo intentionally used 2x2 as a hybrid between the 1x4 and the 4x1 formats to represent a visual bridge between two cultures. While Megatokyo has since switched to a full page format, the 2x2 is still used by several other webcomics, including Okashina Okashi and Angel Moxie. Use of the 1x4, and to some extent the 2x2, is a concrete example of how web comics have been influenced by styles and techniques from around the world.
Common artistic styles of webcomic strips include sprite comic, pixel art, clip art, found art and photography. These styles can also be considered to be part of the copy and paste movement fostered by computers and the Internet. These kinds of comics have negative connotations in some circles, as the ability to draw is unnecessary. Artistic expression in these types of comics is funneled primarily into writing. Conceptual webcomics are an offshoot of these flexible and improvisational styles.
There has also been experimentation with photographic comics and 3D comics in the webcomic medium to a much greater degree than in print comics. These forms have blossomed because of the freedom and lack of editorial constraint in the webcomics medium, and also because computer art can easily present a full range of colors and tones at no extra publication cost.
Webcomics which have built up significant archives will often publish collections of strips in books. Webcomics in the form of either newspaper strips or comic books will often publish in their respective forms, although comics which have experimented with the formatting of webcomics will find it more difficult.
Many sources list Doctor Fun as the first comic published on the web. However, Where the Buffalo Roam by Hans Bjordahl had already been published as a comic on the Internet via FTP and usenet since 1991, making it the first "online comic." If only comics published exclusively on the Internet are considered (Doctor Fun had a run in a number of alternative newspapers, and Where the Buffalo Roam was a college-newspaper strip first), then Netboy could be considered the first webcomic.
Following were The Polymer City Chronicles which began bi-weekly updates on March 13th, 1995 as the first video gaming themed webcomic, Argon Zark!, which first appeared in June of 1995, and Kevin and Kell, premiering in September of the same year.
In February 2000, Chris Crosby and Darren Bleuel founded Keenspot, one of the largest webcomics portals. KeenSpot features invited webcomics artists selected for their popularity, talent and/or quality. Crosby and Bleuel also started a free webcomic hosting service in July 2000, originally called KeenSpace but renamed Comic Genesis in July 2005.
In August 2000, Scott McCloud's book on webcomics, Reinventing Comics, was published. Though sometimes controversial, McCloud was one of the first advocates of webcomics and remains one of the most influential figures in the field. His theories have sometimes led to debates about where webcomics should go and what, precisely, they are.
In February 2003, John Taylor The Fourth created a new type of webcomic that incorporates music, videos and mystery into the storyline. Taking from real life, the experimental comic uses a variety of digital techniques to accomplish the artwork.
Currently, some of the most popular webcomics include PvP, Sluggy Freelance, Penny Arcade, User Friendly, Mac Hall, Something Positive, Sexy Losers, Applegeeks,and Megatokyo. With the exception of Something Positive, the most popular strips are generally the older, more established strips. This is partially due to the growth in the number of webcomics, making it harder for new artists to stand out.
With the growth of webcomics, there is also the growth of an online community around webcomics. There are fanbases that webcomickers foster through the use of forums, fan sections and blogs. The artists themselves also create a community through exchanges of emails, links, forum posts as well as art in the form of guest filler strips and cross-overs. There are also general webcomic communities emerging through the general webcomic sites that cover news and articles in the community such as Comixpedia, which have their own general forums. Sites ranking webcomics such as buzzComix and DrunkDuck also provide a nexus for webcomic creators and aficionados to convene. In addition, there are multiple art forums where burgeoning webcomic artists can display their work for comments and suggestions. Several ezines such as Comixpedia and The Webcomics Examiner have also been established to engage in critical analysis of the medium of webcomics.
With the emergence of such communities, there are also divisions within them. There are writers and artists with further lines of specialization within these two general categories. For writers, there are various genres of interest—each with their own respective subgenres such as comedy, fantasy, science fiction and (auto-)biography. For artists, some are all-purpose while there are others who specialize in specific areas such as illustration, backgrounds, pencilling, inking, lettering as well as coloring. Of course, in the fan-based webcomic communities, there are the fanbases of different webcomics with varying degrees of interest. These communities are commonly fostered by the webcomic artist themselves with forums.
As with the Internet, the webcomic community has already seen much controversy. Since the nature of a webcomic is closely tied to quality as well as popularity, flame wars can ensue especially if a controversy involves a particularly popular webcomic and/or its artist. Many of these controversies are caused when webcomic artists post an opinionated piece, whether it is that day's update or news post. Rivalries—imagined or not—between different artists are also a common spark to the flame. The controversy can also be fanned by a particular webcomic's fanbase.
Some examples of controversies that the webcomic world has seen are the breakup of Megatokyo's founding duo of Fred Gallagher and Rodney Caston followed by an accusatory joke of Scott Kurtz of PvP who charged Gallagher with stealing Megatokyo away from Caston. Another involved the release of emails from various artists of Keenspot that included arguments over whether Sexy Losers should be moved from Keenspace to Keenspot. There have also been various "flame wars" that different fanbases have participated in. There have even been cases where upon a bad review, a webcomic artist would deliberately incite a flame war such as when Comixpedia gave a scathing review of Little Gamers prompting the creators to urge their fanbase to bombard the site with derogatory comments.
Usually, webcomics artists have to pay for the costs of art supplies, server hosting and other expenses out of their own pocket, making many webcomics labors of love rather than money-making opportunities. For webcomics who pay for their own hosting, bandwidth is a concern; the more popular the comic becomes, the more costly hosting becomes. There are a variety of webcomic hosting sites; some provide free hosting but require advertising, others are paid for and have no such requirements. Webcomic-oriented hosts will often provide software to reduce the technical knowledge required to set up a webcomic and its corresponding webpage.
There are different ways for webcomic artists to earn money, such as donations, advertising, and merchandising. Some use tip jars (through PayPal, for instance) or solicit donations through drives. Some sell merchandise featuring their artwork, or sell their artwork directly, sometimes under commission. If a webcomic has enough traffic, advertising revenue can also be generated. Some successful webcomics have subsequently been reprinted in compilations although some artists have also self-published their webcomics. Examples of webcomics in print include PVP, Sluggy Freelance, Megatokyo, and others.
Some artists are able to work on their webcomics full-time without needing a day job to support it. This group of "professional webcomic artists" includes Pete Abrams of Sluggy Freelance, Fred Gallagher of Megatokyo, Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins of Penny Arcade, Scott Kurtz of PvP, R. K. Milholland of Something Positive and others.
In addition to individual artists' efforts to profit from webcomics, there are various Internet entrepreneurs striving to develop business models as well. Scott McCloud, a long-time supporter of using micropayments to fund webcomics, is an advisor for the micropayment company BitPass. Some webcomic collectives, such as the Modern Tales related sites, use a subscription model.
 See also
- List of webcomics
- Webcomic creators
- Webcomic collectives
- Webcomic journalism
- Webcomic tracking and ranking sites
- Webcomic terms and slang
- Webcomic awards
- Webcomic genres
- Category:Free webcomics
- Wikipedia:Category:Free webcomics
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