I’ve been a comics fan for many years, and back in the early 1980’s, I was a walking advertisement for “over the top.” I had over seven thousand comic books in my collection, along with various graphic novels, compilation books, and memorabilia. I could have told you anything you wanted to know about a given series, artist, inker, or writer, and I hit most conventions in my area. Eventually I stopped collecting, not because I lost interest in comics, but because it became far too expensive, and in my opinion the whole field got diluted. The publishers seemed to become aimed at “collectors,” those who were interested in collecting comic books as investments, not people who did it because they liked comics. It turned out there was a limit to just how many X-Men, Batman, Superman, etc. spin-offs/alternate histories/one-shots I could take!
This was before the World Wide Web came into being. Back then, you were limited in your choices of comic art. Your choices were from the major distributors (Marvel, DC, or newspaper syndicates), or if you were really serious, the few “underground” comics. The rise of the Internet brought forth a new group of artists who display their talents on the Web, outside of the “traditional” channels. There’s nothing wrong with the traditional channels, but they generally stay away from controversial, raunchy, or edgy. Their market is the general audience. On the Web, no such limitations exist. The down side is that there’s no quality filter . Some web comics are extremely well done, while others -even most of them- are crap. Some could easily make the transition to your daily newspaper, while others are most definitely not for a general audience. Some of the best are simply too risque, too dark, violent, or edgy.
What you will notice, if you’re used to your daily strip in the newspaper, is that the web comics vary widely in their update schedule. They range from daily, several times a week, once a week, once a month, to sporadic. A major factor in the varied update scheduling is that there is no deadline pressure beyond a self-imposed one. A syndicated comic or a comic book has a deadline, and the creator has to meet it. Publishing on the web means that the deadline pressure isn’t there, and the reader is subject to the whims or problems of the creator. The principle reason for this is that, unlike the syndicated strips, most of these artists are not making money off of their work. The number of web comics where the artist is making a living off the comic and associated merchandise can be counted in the single digits or not much above that. The rest have day jobs, with the more successful ones measuring the income from the comic as a nice second income. The vast majority don’t even get to that point. This means that when real life impacts their ability to turn out a comic, it’s the comic that gets dropped. I have a bookmark folder in my “comics” section which is labeled “Defunct.” It’s a list of web comics I liked that either came to their concluding point, or the creator just … stopped. Sometimes the artist gave an explanation, and sometimes they didn’t.
One nice difference between the syndicated comics and the web comics is the archives. If you’re looking at the newspaper comics on the web, you usually can “look back” for one to two weeks. A web comic you can read the entire series. For some of them – the ones that have been around for a while – this can be an all (or several) day endeavor. When you consider that web comics like Kevin and Kell, Sluggy Freelance, and Schlock Mercenary have been around for over a decade (16 years in the case of K&K) and are daily strips, it means that you’re looking at several thousand strips to get through.
Where to start looking for your own favorites? I’d suggest The Belfry WebComics Index, which has one of the most complete listings, broken down by category along with a ratings set – it’ll tell you if the comic is “adults only,” whether it contains nudity, violence, bad language, or combinations thereof. Another good site is Top Webcomics, which is more of a popularity poll, but you can get an idea of what ones look interesting. If you’re in the mood for a break from politics or the news, it’s a nice way to waste time.