Distracted by blogger burn-out and encroaching illness, I discovered that this week’s blog post was going to be a strenuous task. So, I thought, what do I really like about digital media? What fond memories do I have of first using the internet? And then I remembered: when I was about fifteen, and had nothing in my room but boredom and a computer (well, I guess I had a bed, too), I was hooked on Diesel Sweeties, a pixelated webcomic about indie kids and robots.
Unlike fiction or poetry, or even opinion columns, comic book format (or ‘sequential art’) translates easily to the internet and can become incredibly popular there. It is a way for web users to get their opinions, irks and interests published without bogging it down in long pieces of writing.
Webcomics, a largely free art form, began around 1992 before the internet even came into common use. Comic strips like Where the Buffalo Roam were initially posted on forums like Usenet, but had to be downloaded in order to be seen: with the invention of the internet browser, webcomics are instantly viewable and are easier to browse.
Interestingly, webcomics need not be particularly well drawn: some comics gain kitsch value from being made using nothing but Microsoft’s free MS Paint program. Ally from Hyperbole and a Half has gained a staggering audience through crudely drawn (but hilarious) paint pictures and anecdotes about her extreme social awkwardness; nevertheless, the facial expressions of Ally’s characters really lend themselves to the crazed elements of her writing. Cyanide and Happiness and xkcd use mostly stick figures, but make up for underwhelming artwork with biting wit and relatable content.
The writers at Comic Book Bin suggest that:
Since their inception during the early days of the Internet, web comics have tended to be less rigid than their printed cousins. Early readers of web comics were much more tolerant of non-traditional content while the low cost of creating and publishing web comics allowed anyone to join the party. Like any new medium, web comics have created a forum for new voices and new creative visions. More importantly, web comics have carved out a growing niche in the world of sequential art that will be evolving continuously for the foreseeable future.
Webcomics allow for greater creativity of form and extremity in perspective. It seems that if you’re getting the content for free, it doesn’t matter if its artwork seems slapdash or its opinions zany or inconsequential. I think that due to their humour and usability, webcomics have the potential (if they haven’t already) to overtake zines as a medium for young people to express themselves.