Open for Debate: Using the Term Webcomic

debate_head

Question: Do we still need to refer to our work as a webcomic now that there is an increase in digital versions of standard comics & new opportunities emerging through Comixology and other promotion and publication apps?

Before you answer that, read this article and do some heavy thinking. (You should have had ample time to get over that New Year’s hangover. It’s time to get back to work and use that brain of yours…)

A while back, the gang here at WA had a conversation about the term “webcomic” and whether or not it is still applicable now. (Not to be confused with Ken’s articles on getting rid of the term from a business/traffic perspective and on how to explain it to other people.) Actually – the conversation started around me asking the group whether or not we should consider dropping the Webcomic part of WA in our name.

Did that ever open up a can of worms!
Can of worms

It wasn’t because of the investment we shared in that name, but on a different level; we all had separate opinions on what webcomic meant to us. Then we realized – the ‘webcomic’ term isn’t something that will go away any time soon and frankly, doesn’t need to.

Below, you’ll find 5 different types of opinions on the term – webcomic. Give them a read and find out if you fit under one of them yourself, or you may find yourself aligning with bits & pieces of different ones. You’ll note that the types vary from extreme to neutral and back to extreme.

Detrimental

annoyed-kid

People of this opinion generally feel that the term webcomic does nothing more than place a negative label that diminishes the quality of their work. This comes from a general lack of understanding about the medium (by the layman/viewer) and from past experience with other authors of lesser notoriety and poorer standards. Since the barrier of entry into webcomics is quite easy to breach, the perception is often seen as something that “anyone can do.” Given that conclusion, webcomics could be interpreted as a field where there is a lack of skilled workers and a glut of mediocre to poor workmanship.

Progressive

minority

People of this opinion feel that the term isn’t necessarily harming the quality of the work, but hampering its ability to move forward and remain relevant. As authors of this type of content, we all understand the semantics – the comic is published digitally, therefore it is a ‘web’comic. But what happens to the comic as you progress beyond the world of the internet – into apps for mobile devices and other digital publication methods? The progressive opinion goes against the use of the term “webcomic” in order to allow flexibility of the delivery of the content instead of appearing to be tethered to the Internet.

Apathy

apathy

People of this opinion just don’t care. They don’t see the term harming or helping – it’s just a name. They’ve been able to get over it and move on, and in time, the name will be discontinued as new ways of delivering content in the future take centre stage.

Balance

justice

People of this opinion believe that there is still some validity in the use of the name. Semantics play a large part in this decision (it’s promoted and published on the web, so it’s a webcomic, right?) But those who favour balance also see the benefits of the term’s eventual dropping for a more suitable term. Riding the fence is often the safest bet, and will lead to less ruffling of feathers – but doesn’t offer much in the way of change or remaining status quo. Personally, I suppose it depends on how YOU are feeling on a given day – (today = webcomic does not describe what I do, yesterday = webcomic does describe what I’ve created).

Support

community

People of this opinion fully support the use of the term “webcomic” for a variety of reasons. It could be semantics, but it may be more than just a title. For some, the term represents more than just pixels on a screen – it could be the representation of everything that surrounds it. Folks who create a webcomic are part of a fraternity – one that promotes and cultivates growth personally and artistically. There is great support, camaraderie and friendships, all created through the love of comics, stories and mutual likes and interests. Where do all of these people meet and find these commonalities they can share and express with one another? Online! Therefore, you can still use the term and be proud of it. You’ve created a comic for the web and crafted a community around it and created friendships within that community. That is the spirit of webcomics – its more than just drawings and updates every second day. It’s a lifestyle!

The Final Word

The arguments for and against the use of “webcomic” as a descriptor for our work will continue on as long as the debate over ‘print vs web’ will. We probably won’t see a full death of print just as we won’t see a mass exodus from the use of the term “webcomic.” What we do know is that the term means something different to each and every person. The five types I’ve wrote about are just simple categories you could find yourself aligning with, but doesn’t necessarily mean that you must believe each part of the position they take (this isn’t politics or religion folks – we ARE flexible, you know…)

Now, based on what you’ve read and the basic criteria – which of these opinions do you find yourself siding with? Got an opinion? Let us know in the comments! Keep the discussion going – chat us up on the Webcomic Alliance FB page or on Twitter!

PS: To answer those folks who were wondering what we agreed upon: We agreed to disagree, and the Webcomic Alliance is still the Webcomic Alliance. And I drew the short straw in trying to write an article about the discussion from the e-mail chain.

Andrés ‘ Drezz ‘ Rodriguez is the author of the neo-noir Online Graphic Novel El Cuervo. He provides WA readers with periodic articles (like this one) to help improve their comic skillz so they can pay their bills. Feel free to follow him on Twitter at @DrezzRodriguez

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28 Comments

  1. When I tell people I make comics. They ask me how can they read it. Can I buy your book from secret headquarters? Can I order it from Amazon?

    “Nay! It’s free on the Internet – it’s a… Webcomic!”

    Then I sink down, defeated – I exaggerate a little bit but, its also somewhat true. Making art free on the Internet, turns it into a hobby. Not having a publisher, or an editor, makes it so there are no standards, and because of that Webcomics look HORRENDOUS, compared to any book inside a comic book store. I mean, let’s face it, 98% of Webcomics have photoshop gradient backgrounds. That’s the kind of lack of effort, and talent that gives Webcomics a bad name.

    That said, I love making Webcomics, but I love buying comic books and reading those.

    • Seeing as ‘webcomics’ are emerging from their infant status and working towards being something more credible (indies and large publishers have embraced the format) eventually, the general comic-reading public will come around and understand that webcomics are no longer the red-headed stepchild of the comics industry.

      I just tell people I make a comic or an online graphic novel. Generally you’ll get the response of “COOL!” or “Oh, that’s nice.” and that is where you can gauge the level of interest. I don’t fly the webcomic flag as most folks don’t get it, or have negative reactions to it.

  2. Well, I’m sure in the next half century the term, Webcomic, might become redundant. But besides that, the spirit of webcomics, the freedom to create and publish your work for everyone to see without any bottlenecks, should hold strong for generations to come. It better had! It’s just too good for many people to pass up.

  3. Every night before I go to bed, I put my tv remote down on a book, “How to Make Webcomics,” and I love the word “webcomics.” It’s the last word I see every night. It’s a mantra and a manifestation to me. I love the word.

    • It’s great to have focus. If it’s a motivator, then definitely continue using the term. It’s all about what works for you and keeps you positive and productive.

  4. Until you can approach a random person, tell them you do a comic and they ask for a URL instead of where can I read it, I think the term Webcomic has meaning. It’s a location, a business model and our foundation for creativity.

  5. A webcomic to me is a comic series that got it’s start on the web and still derives the majority of it’s readership from the internet. Any expansion beyond that is fine but it’s still a webcomic

    Kinda like how Mario is a video game character even if he expands into toys, cartoons or comics.

    • I think once you hit a certain level in popularity, you’ve transcended the categorization. Mario is more than just a video game character now – he’s pretty iconic and stands alone.

  6. Due to the first category up there, I never use the term webcomic when I do conventions. People are already walking around with blank looks on their face, so I don’t need to add to their confusion, and I certainly don’t need to turn that blankity blank in to a sneer.

    Asking someone at a con if they read webcomics, (which I used to ask before knowing better) is kinda silly anyway. It’s like asking someone if they like music. You’re only there to sell them on your own creation, not the entire concept. 😉

  7. The latest installment of Watchmen won’t be in the newspaper, and one does not venture out to the local comic shop to catch up on Mother Goose and Grimm. But nobody denies they’re both comics. Which is why we have terms like “graphic novel” and “newspaper strip” to differentiate them. “Webcomic” feels like it should have a similar place in the glossary.

  8. What the — That “Detrimental” kid looks like he was drawn by Kevin Nowlan!

    Like it or not, in my opinion, “webcomic” is a term that is here to stay, at least for the next 50 years or so. Some facets of the comic book business are still trying to STOP readers from saying “comic book” or “comics,” because “graphic novel” sounds more accessible to the mainstream public. The term “comic book” doesn’t even legitimately describe 90% of the titles on the racks. There’s nothing comical about them. Decades ago, the first, printed comic books were collections of comic strips from the newspapers, which were very often intended to be humorous, and yet the term “comic book” remains to describe books like Judge Dredd, or The Punisher, or The Walking Dead.

    So, like it or not, the term “webcomic” is going to be around for a long, long time…

  9. I just think back to all the complaints that the term “comic book” was outdated. It’s still around after decades of trying to change that term. It’s been re-invented and re-imagined, but there will always be some that don’t use the term. But even Will Eisner couldn’t stop them from calling his “Graphic Fiction” books “comic books”.

  10. I haven’t thought about it much, but…

    I used to use the term webcomic more frequently and it seemed to confuse people.

    I think the point is well made (somewhere up there) that the webcomic is part of the path to paper. I’m not really there yet, unless you count my Staples photocopied and self bound book from last year (sold maybe 40?), but have realized that my goal is print in a book. I’ve expanded my work into a few new comics, and creating an online location gives me a testing ground for reactions, etc.

    I’m getting my main comic rolling again after several months of not, and these thoughts help me relax a bit when it comes to things like keeping a schedule and pimping the darn thing all over the internet.

    I do think that the term is important, but mainly to each of us individually. The power of language and vocabulary is closely tied to our thinking, and the connotations we each have of those terms will affect our outlook about our work.

  11. I’ve never been fond of the word “webcomic”, it’s like calling a newspaper, or news organization a “webpaper” or “webnews” because it’s only found online, like say, the Huffington Post. Comics, are comics, even if they are most likely of an independent nature and not published by a syndicate. We don’t call syndicated comics found digitially online and in news print “webcomics”, why would the independent nature of creating them change what they are?

    I simply say the comic I create has a web presence to enhance it’s ability to be found in the digital age. [wink]

    -IF- we have to assign a name to comics made for an online presence, why not go the book route? Books are called e-books when offered digitally, why wouldn’t a comic simply be an e-comic then?

  12. I’ve ceased describing my series as a webcomic primarily because I feel the the term is now limiting. To an outsider, it hems my comic into a tiny arena.

    I’m more prone to tell an average person that I’m a cartoonist. Their response is usually, “Oh yeah? Where?”

    I reply, “You can check it out on the internet easy. Here’s my card” (with the url and email address).

    I have discovered that, regardless of how technologically advanced we’ve all become, your average person is still kinda intimidated by the web. Just saying that something is internet-specific gives them the willies and the impression that finding it would be too much work and way over-their-head. Plus, some people think that if it’s “only on the web”, it can’t be any good, right?

    Another reason I just resort to calling my series a “comic strip” instead of a webcomic is because the term is essentially non-functional now. We don’t even really say “cell phone” anymore. It’s taken for granted that we all have one and we merely refer to it as our “phone”, no more accenting descriptors necessary.

    In addition, we no longer say “text message me”, we just say “text me”. The net has become commonplace enough for those who use it ever day all day, that we don’t need to refer to it.

    Think of the last time you’ve heard someone supply a url with “www”. We figure you already know that.

    I don’t think the term “webcomic” is a bad thing, I just feel that it’s swiftly becoming unnecessary.

  13. I noticed that when I would try to contact journalists or bloggers to see if they were interested in reviewing my work, they were a lot less responsive when I said “webcomic.” The sad state of affairs is that some people, particularly in the professional comics world who have a very negative opinion of “webcomics,” so in the interest of promoting my work, I do what I can to avoid the term.

    I use the term “online graphic novel” to describe my work. Yes, it sounds horribly pretentious but it gets me more positive responses, and it more accurately describes what it is I do. My comic is a long form graphic novel, not a strip. It also appears online. Online graphic novel. It just fits.

  14. I agree with Jules- when talking to other people I prefer to call my work an online graphic novel because i feel it’s a better description for a long format comic – if I say comic/webcomic people tend to think I do strips.

    I have also heard the pretentious argument for the term “graphic novel” before and i think its just not true. From what I gather its just an attempt by some professionals to delegitimize the work of creators on the web.

    But I do love the word “webcomic” because I feel like its a nice broad term that represents this wonderful community of creators. I consider myself a “webcomic creator” if that makes sense and I would be sad to see the word go away.

  15. I definitely fall in the “semantic” side of the debate. Like Drezz, I generally just tell people I make a comic, or a comic strip. Webcomic, as a term, to me seems more about the method of collection and distribution, so when it’s relevant to the conversation, Odori Park is a webcomic, but when I’m talking about the book collection, for example, I describe it in those terms. When I want to discuss the business models and challenges of web-publishing, it’s a handy term to self-identify.
    I agree that there’s a stigma attached for some people–and a badge of pride for others. I’d like to see a day when the term loses most of its non-practical associations, but if comic strip, comic book, and graphic novel still elicit value associations, then I suppose “webcomic” will always have similar baggage.
    I wonder, on the other hand, is that a bad thing?

  16. For me, it breaks down like this:

    1. If I’m excited about my comic and where it’s going, I simply refer to it as “a comic”.

    2. If I’m done on my recent work and/or feeling a bit intimidated, I tend to refer to it as “a webcomic”.

    That should tell you all you need to know about the two phrases.

  17. I am in the support camp! I love the term webcomic, I love the community it implies and I adore the fact that so much of what we do is – on the web. We’re a comics community on the web!

  18. Simply put people who put content on the web, including mobile, for web consumption, are creating New Media Entertainment. Webcomics were New Media before New Media was New Media.

    The argument now is do we keep calling the internet “New Media” when its competing (often winning” verses regular media or “Old Media.”

    The answer is call it what you want. If its catchy and works for branding then call it what ever gets someones attention.

  19. It’s funny, because although I *think* with the rem “webcomic”, I don’t know if I’ve ever used it to refer to my work when telling people about it… I frequently refer to Average Joe as a webcomic online however, but the audience I’m talking to is always going to understand the term (and are usually coming at it from the angle of a creator anyway). When I’m *talking* about it, I tend to refer to it as a cartoon or comic strip as people will immediately get the style from those descriptors.

    I generally like the term ‘webcomics’ – but I think it’s got to be used in the context of your audience’s understanding. After all it’s THEIR opinion which will determine whether the word is a good, or bad, way to describe your work; not the word itself.

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