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Books, Resources, and Reviews
Webcomics are the ultimate grassroots medium—they are almost all self-published by creators of all ages who work independently. “It’s all decentralized, like a medieval town of crafters before the rise of guilds,” says Gary Tyrrell, who runs the webcomics news site Fleen. “There are informal networks of friends, but that’s about it.”
Blockbuster graphic novels, including Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese (First Second, 2006), Raina Telgemeier’s Smile (Scholastic, 2010), and Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona (HarperCollins, 2015), to name a few, started out as webcomics. Vera Brosgol, creator of the Eisner Award–winning Anya’s Ghost (First Second, 2011), began her first webcomic when she was 16—because all her friends were doing it. “It looked really fun, putting a story online and building an audience,” she says.
Webcomics are, literally, comics published on the web. Almost every one has its own website, and readers can simply access them via their browsers. While many end up in print eventually, what sets webcomics apart is that the web is their primary means of publication and distribution—as opposed to digital editions of print comics. Because anyone with an idea and an Internet connection can post a webcomic, it’s a rich, diverse medium where young creators learn their craft and established creators branch out in new directions. The web also allows artists to make comics that cater to interests and niches that aren’t well served by commercial publishing. For instance, many young creators start out drawing their favorite characters (fan art) and making their own comics based on their favorite stories—a process similar to writing fan fiction. Often, this turns out to be a stepping stone to creating their own characters and stories.
Read on for an inside look at webcomics, strategies for finding and following them, and tips for would-be webcomickers from creators who started young.
The youth continuum
For young creators, webcomics can provide exposure, feedback, community, and more. “It was a great motivator knowing there were actually people who wanted to see each page,” says Brosgol. “My friends and I drew fan art for each other’s characters and would hide little cameos in the backgrounds of our stories.”
Stevenson was also in high school when she began the first iteration of Nimona, and she started posting it as a webcomic in college. “I was making a lot of art on Tumblr at the time, and I’d gained a pretty big following through that, so this felt like an extension,” she said in an SLJ interview. “I shared everything I did very freely with the Internet, and I wanted [people] to see what stories I could tell.”
Creating a comic also helped Brosgol level up. “It wasn’t a self-indulgent ‘practice book’ the way my sketchbooks were. It was a finished product for public consumption,” she says. “While I was mostly making it to amuse myself, I did have to keep an audience in mind.” She also learned about advanced plot development. “When it’s online, you can’t really go back and revise,” she says. “Now, I do much more planning and finish writing the entire story before I show anyone.”
Faith Erin Hicks won an Eisner Award for the print edition of her webcomic The Adventures of Superhero Girl (Dark Horse, 2013). But she learned to draw by making her first webcomic, Demonology 101, started in college. “It was a great way to dive into doing comics without there being any stakes, no money involved, nobody paying me,” she says. Demonology 101 began as a personalized version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that kept the elements of Buffy that she liked and eliminated ones she didn’t. “I wanted to see a teen girl character who was funny and [provided] comic relief,” she adds. “I wanted a female Xander, so I made my Xander character a girl.”
Making a webcomic helped Katie O’Neill, creator of the webcomic Princess, Princess, go from sketches to stories. “I’ve always created characters and developed their histories and relationships and drawn them in my sketchbook,” she says. “Until I made a very short [eight-page] comic, I didn’t realize that I actually was capable of telling a story with them.” O’Neill started out posting a short comic on Tumblr. “Before that, I really didn’t have much of an audience,” she says. “The way the site allows people to share content easily gave me my first ‘break.’ ” O’Neill also likes the creative freedom of webcomics: “There’s an audience for every story, including—especially!—the ones skipped over by mainstream publishers, often because they focus on or are created by minority groups.”
The webcomics world is full of creators who garner a huge online readership but are little known outside the format’s circle of devoted fans. Consider Andrew Hussie’s Homestuck, which has over a million readers. A Kickstarter campaign to fund a game based on the comic raised almost $2.5 million, and a few years ago, Homestuck cosplayers were a notable presence at comics and anime cons. Even better-known comics, such as Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant and Randall Munroe’s xkcd, are self-published and stand alone on their own websites.
The lack of gatekeepers and publishers cited by O’Neill is a blessing and a curse for readers. One price of that independence is that webcomics can be hard to find and classify. There’s no “webcomics section” of the Internet, webcomics equivalent of a distributor’s catalog, consistent age ratings, or even any guarantee that the webcomic you’re reading today will still be online tomorrow.
So how do you find them? If you’re looking for something like an index, check out Piperka, a list of webcomics with a bookmarking feature so you can keep track of where you are in a comic’s archives. No webcomics list can be complete, but Piperka’s is pretty long and includes keywords and other information, such as when the comic started and was most recently updated.
While most popular webcomics stand on their own, some portals and platforms, such as Tapastic, Line Webtoon, and The Duck, carry an array. These sites allow users to search by genre and age rating, and they use features such as reader favorites and staff picks.
The best approach may be to think virally: readers can start with webcomics they like and check other comics the creator links to, on the comic’s site or on social media. Chances are they will have similar themes and styles. As Brad Guigar, creator of Evil, Inc. and author of The Webcomics Handbook (Toonhound, 2014), points out, it’s a good way to avoid the duds.” He adds, “If I find someone I do like, I try to follow them on social media. A lot of times they point you to other people at that same level.”
Twitter and Tumblr hashtags are also effective search tools. The #comics and #webcomics tags yield an incredible miscellany of comics, but if fans tailor their searches with more hashtags correlating to their interests (#bicycles, #vampires), they’ll narrow it down.
Finding webcomics for children and teens can be a challenge, because most don’t carry age ratings. The exception is all-ages webcomics, usually denoted as such, either on the main page or the “about” page. (At the other end of the spectrum, comics that contain nudity and explicit sex are usually—but not always!—marked as NSFW, for “not safe for work.”) Piperka includes ratings information in some descriptions. In any case, the ratings are probably self-assigned by the creator, so standards may vary.
That leaves reviews. While there’s only a handful of webcomics review sites, webcomics are starting to get more coverage in the mainstream media. A Google News search for “webcomics” turns up plenty of articles from Wired, NPR, BuzzFeed, and other mass-audience sites, and a “webcomics” Google alert will send a steady stream to inboxes.
How teens can get started
Webcomics are an easy, potentially rewarding outlet for creative teenagers. Guigar recommends that beginners start out with Tumblr, because they can set up a blog in a matter of minutes, for free, and the social media features make it easy to share and find an audience.
Young people should also consider a strategy for managing audience comments, good and bad. “It’s hard to quantify exactly how being so closely plugged into my audience affected the comic’s path,” Stevenson said in her SLJ interview. “I read all the comments, but I never commented myself, because I didn’t want anyone to get spooked and not feel comfortable voicing their opinions. Most of the feedback was positive, but I did take certain things very much to heart and tried to address them.”
O’Neill was taken aback when one of her comics was harshly criticized on Tumblr. “It hit pretty hard,” she says. “But I learned a tremendous amount from the experience. Being negatively criticized is an extremely important opportunity to grow and expand your viewpoints—the worst thing you can do is dismiss any dissenting people as haters…. It’s far better to be open, listen to people’s concerns, and learn, so that in future you can be more thoughtful and wiser.”
Guigar has three pieces of advice for budding creators. “Number one, it’s impossible to get worse at something you do every day. Number two, there is no such thing as talent.” Beginners should focus on skill, which improves with practice, he adds.
“Number three, don’t try to do the thing that you think will be popular,” he says. “Do the story that you would want to read, no matter how weird, dumb, or uncool it is. I guarantee you there is a legion of people just like you, dying for someone to write that story.” Not only will young people find others interested in their comic, he notes, it’s easier to stick with it when the going gets tough if they are genuinely interested in the topic.
In the end, there’s only one secret to making webcomics. “It’s like anything else,” Hicks says. “You have to make the decision to commit to it and put your butt in the chair and draw the pages.”
Books, resource, and reviews
The Webcomics Handbook by Brad Guigar (Toonhound, 2014)
This comprehensive guide covers everything from drawing basic anatomy to the gritty details of making a living as a webcomics artist.
The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing Comics: How to Create and Sell Comics, Manga, and Webcomics by Comfort Love and Adam Withers (Watson-Guptill, 2015)
This comprehensive, detailed book includes plenty of useful information and lots of tips from webcomics creators.
The History of Webcomics by Shaenon Garrity
A Guide to Webcomics An introduction to webcomics, with links to other resources, created for a general adult audience by librarian Sarah Liberman.
Fleen A news site with a strong webcomics focus. Blogger Gary Tyrell updates almost daily with information about new projects, Kickstarters, and general comings and goings.
Piperka A webcomics list and bookmarking site.
Making a Tumblr Webcomic An explanation of how Tumblr works for webcomics, with links to more instructional articles.
Webcomics 101: What You Need to Get Started A writeup of a webcomics panel at the 2015 Intervention convention, featuring Thom and Kambrea Pratt, creators of Shadowbinders, and Michael Terracciano, author of Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire.
Currently, there don’t appear to be review sites geared to webcomics for children and young adults. However, here are some dedicated webcomics sites and a good handful of nerd-culture sites that cover them regularly—good starting places for your hunt.
Non-webcomics sites that cover webcomics regularly
Roundups to get you started
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