(Byron’s Note: This is a guest article from Scott Jenkins.)
The winds of change are continuing to blow through the comic making universe and there are a lot different opinions about its direction, its future and its viability as a medium. However, there is one thing about the comic strip that is still the same, it’s a comic strip. I find it implausible as to why the name of what we call it needs to change, when all that has changed, is its presentation, distribution and marketing methods. Why are we re-branding an entire art form, simply because the way we deliver it to consumers is evolving?
We no longer need to syndicate our work, or find publishing houses to market our books for us, the digital age has allowed us all the opportunity to open our own doors, rather than relying on the desires and the trends set by corporations as to what the public may, or may not be interested in reading, or buying. If the desire to create is within you, you have an ability to reach an audience and create something with unfettered abandon and limitless possibilities. We can put our comics on the web, we can create e-books and go paperless, we can offer subscriptions to our content and we can even self-print a book if we want, however, no matter how it’s packaged, it’s comic strip. It’s not a web comic, its not a comic on the web, its not an online comic, you are creating something that those before you did with paper, pencil and ink. Their comic strip making window to the world was known as a newspaper, or a magazine, but you, your window to the world is grander, wider and more fluid than theirs, yet, you are still making, what the greats before you made, the comic strip. What has changed, is the new and more innovative places for them to be seen and discovered.
When I talk to my adult peers about comic strips and web comics, many aren’t aware they are one in the same. Telling people I make a web comic has them going “a web-what?” However, saying I self publish my own comic strip, well, that’s something that resonates far more effectively than this term “web comic” has been doing so benignly over the past 15 years. Walk up to any kid today and ask them if they know what a comic strip is and then ask them if they know what a web comic is, you’ll immediately see that saying “comic strip”, continues to be understood, without further explanation as well, the power of those two words still define what we make with instant clarity. My 11 year old niece was the proof in the pudding for this when she showed me a comic strip she made for her art class and referred to it as a comic strip like uncle makes. So, testing her, I told her that what I made was a web comic and what I got was a scrunched up nose, a perplexed look and another vocal “web-what”? Kids are far more aware of branding and buzz words than anyone, web comics do not resonate with them in the same way comics strips do. If you have to explain what a web comic is, it’s already failed you in the same way you have to explain a joke, when someone fails to get it. I’m done explaining what a web comic is, when saying I make a comic strip garners far more understanding and respect and a lot less time to explain.
Coke and New Coke, “new-what?” It never caught on.
Technology will always have us wondering what the next step in the evolution of our creative endeavors are, regarding how to reach an audience and in what capacity to offer them content, but when we sit down to draw, whether its on paper, or digital, we are making, say it with me now, a comic strip. We need to get back to the roots of what it is we’re creating when we sit and draw, or even when we read them. When you think of the influences of all those successful comic strip creators, whether it’s the greats of the syndicated era, or the trailblazers of independent content, its a comic strip that was made. Those independent trailblazers, for whatever reason, renamed our beloved comic strips, New Coke, erm, I mean, Web Comics and I think it’s time to admit, it’s not working. I want my comic strips back.
It may be time to divorce ourselves from words like “web comic”, or “online comic”, those aren’t what we’re really making. Musicians sell their content digitally, they post their video’s to YouTube, so why aren’t they e-musicians, or web-singers? What about independent authors, why aren’t they e-publishers, or web-authors? Just because the delivery of our content has changed, musicians are still musicians and writers are still writers, so to me at least, comic strip creators, are just that, comic strip creators. Shouldn’t we emulate the medium we love by embracing what it is, while learning the process of how take the comic strips we make to a new and evolving audience. We read comic strips and we draw comic strips and we do it in conventional, unconventional and emerging ways, but they’re comic strips and they always SHOULD be.
I no longer desire to diminish their cultural value by calling them something that doesn’t give them the respect and the dignity of their influence and value in our lives. I love comic strips and I thank every artist who’s ever given me the joy of reading their work, whether in a newspaper, a magazine, a book, online, via e-mail, mobile device, cave painting, or carrier pigeon. You inspire me with the words you write and with the pictures you draw in your comic strips. You are the reason my inner child remains within me, a little man waiting for the sun to rise and a comic strip to read!