Open for Debate: Webcomics, Comics or Cartoons?


Believe it or not, the following statement I am about to make is 100% true: I have friends.

For the purposes of this article, I mean ‘friends’ outside of the webcomic community.

Or should I say, outside of comics?

I ask because none of my friends knows what the heck a webcomic is. I’ve had to explain what a webcomic is as much as I’ve explained what my comic is about. I mean if someone were to take the time to actually look at the word, I’d venture to say most half-intelligent people could realize there’s an inherent meaning in the word webcomic. The problem is, no one cares, knows what the value is and whether or not it’s an actual thing. Is it a thing if it’s not in my ‘spell check’?

According to Dictionary.com, 'webcomic' ain't a word.

My own opinion is this: I have stopped doing a webcomic or more accurately I’ve stopped calling it a webcomic. I do a comic strip. That of course, is outside of the question of whether the content I’m creating is worth anything or has an audience – I’ll let my audience be the judge of that. Getting back to my point, simply put, I choose to no longer call my art a webcomic.

Me likey...

I’m not proposing we kill the word. Nope, that would be murder. And I’m not talking about whether I think there’s a need for a webcomic community (I do), I’m talking about the marketing aspect of promoting your comic. Let’s face it, in general, most of us that are promoting our comic through social media or advertising are not strictly targeting other ‘comic’ creators. Therefore, if you’re promoting your comic to people outside the webcomic community, I’m betting that audience is in the same boat as my friends and won’t call it a webcomic – at least not without you beating it into them. I’m guessing you have better things to do than train all of the media hungry public that has access to the Internet. On the other hand, if you have the time and were looking for something to do, that might be an interesting venture.

I think webcomics is a poorly constructed word.

Generally, just slapping a prefix or letter onto an existing word is silly. Ebook? Ecommerce? Even blog is a mashup of web and log.

What’s wrong with simply using the word comics? Why webcomics? With apologies to Scott McCloud, ‘Sequential Art’ is difficult to spell and well, kind of snooty.

What about cartoons? Does anyone younger than forty refer to their art as cartoons or are they the animated shows from Saturday mornings?

Lofty childhood goal...not exactly accurate

Growing up, I didn’t clip ‘cartoons’ from the newspaper and I don’t recall ever searching for the ‘cartoon’ page in the newspaper index.

Is it just me? Am I the only one who doesn’t want to refer to myself as a cartoonist as opposed to ‘comic artist’? And I’m not suggesting anyone take themselves anymore seriously as a result…

Up for an experiment? C’mon! Science can be fun!! Try telling three different people that aren’t aware of what you do – artistically and without explaining it. Tell one you do a webcomic, tell one you’re a cartoonist and tell the third you do a comic strip (or just use comic if yours isn’t a strip). Then ask that person if they can describe what they think it is you do. I’m going to do this myself and develop a follow up article. I’m interested to see what people think outside of the webcomic community.

After all, if this can help us target and communicate our marketing more effectively, then it’s a discussion worth having. Now if you’ll please excuse me, I’m going to have to see what kind of friends I really have.

Ken Drab at the dentist's officeKen Drab (me) of RicktheStick.com has a small brain but a savant-like interest in branding, marketing and design. He better, that’s what he gets paid to do in real life. In make believe – he’s a self-proclaimed comic artist.

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41 Comments

  1. Ah, cartoons are for Saturday mornings, the “funnies” or comics were their printed counterparts. I am not a cartoonist, I am a comic strip artist. It’s a bit more of a mouthful, but it says exactly what I (we) do. So I feel the two terms are completely separate and describe two different careers.

    Webcomic is kinda a stupid word. But, it was the term everyone was using in the “industry” here, so I went along, but I mostly say in conversations that I draw a comic strip and it has a web site. Now that I’ve printed a couple books of the comic, it really no longer is strictly a webcomic.

    So I agree, the term Webcomic should go away… we do comics. By the way, they’re on the Internet. Perhaps Netcomics, like Netflix, should be the next new term!

    Great discussion. Anxious to see what others have to say.

    • Ken and Byron pretty much covered my point of view. The only thing I’d add is that I think you can drill it down even further. I do a “comic strip”, but a webcomicist doing long-form is probably better off just calling it a “comic”.

  2. I’ve run into this dilemma myself, although in the opposite way. I think of myself as a cartoonist since my material is a single gag with no back story to follow. I do use continuing characters, but mostly in a context to provide familiarity for the audience.

    I’ve done several cons where attendees look at my work and ask where I’m published. When I tell them my work is on the web, it seems to diminish the status.

    • Really? Yeah, I’ve had a few folks go “Oh, that’s too bad.” but I just ignored them. I’m not trying to draw for DC or a syndicate, so I would hope people would be a little more open minded.

      Comic strip artist or cartoonist, folks still kinda put us at the bottom of the art pile. But they manage to laugh at our stuff. So, go figure.

      • It’s an interesting paradigm because within the webcomics/cartoon community, being on the web is where it’s at. The creator has control over deadlines, content, merch, licensing, etc. The best part is interacting with readers. However, in the perception of the general public, it’s the bottom of the heap.

  3. Okay, here’s my rant.

    “Cartoonists,” were, historically, the people who do the same kind of work most webcomickers do: Strips and single-panel gags. They drove the strip, often doing both the writing and drawing, or hiring and supervising a writer or artist to work with them.

    Most comic BOOKS were done (are done) by committee, (writer, artist/penciller/inker, letterer, colorist) all under the supervision of an editor.

    Saturday Morning Cartoons were done by “animators.”

    So, to ME, a “cartoonist” is one who does it all: creates, writes, draws, etc. It is the *purer* version of the art form. ONE person, creating an illustrated story, with as few obstacles between the creator’s heart and brain and the eyeballs of the reader.

    A “comic artist” sounds like an illustrator who renders someone else’s stories.

    Confused yet?

    Some “civilians” may not get what you call yourself right away. But they may never, so why worry?
    Back in the day, if you were a “cartoonist,” you were da shizzle. The cat’s pajamas. You were J.K. Rolling and Seinfeld. You had millions of eyeballs on your work everyday—and you were paid handsomely for it. These days, not so much. But the name is still the best.

    I’ve grown less and less fond of the term “Webcomic.” I think it lowers the bar in terms of quality expected and barrier to entry. I’m torn, because I think the welcoming, “join us” attitude of the Webcomics community is a beautiful thing. But, I also think that when any shmo who’s read a comic thinks they can open up a site and call themselves “Webcomicker” or “Cartoonist” well, that weakens the title. (Funny, but the HalfPixel boys were discussing the term Webcomics and thought people should move past it now. Especially as distribution on e-readers and the like will render the term moot.)

    So: Here’s what you say at the next party:
    “I’m a cartoonist. I’ve got my own Website, which features my comic strip “________________.” Got a bunch of books and merchandise for sale. I’m available for commissions. Here’s my card.”

    • Well said John. My business card does say “Cartoonist” on it as it is easier to say and takes up less space then comic strip artist.

      Cartooning certainly is many things… daily strips, comic books, animation. But we don’t call them Warner Brothers animations, they’re cartoons and thus the creators are cartoonists… in my book. And believe me, there’s plenty of room for both of our definitions.

      I’m anal and like folks to know exactly what I do. In my video editing days, I never said “I’m a video editor.” As the first words out of everyone’s mouths were “Oh, you do weddings?” After they picked themselves up off the floor, then I said “I’m a corporate video producer.” Then the word wedding never came up again. I’m doing the same thing here by calling myself a comic strip artist. I’m no Disney animator, nor am I Charles Schulz. I’m me and I’m a comic strip artist.

      I came into this party hating the term webcomic, but it’s what we call our community, so I go along. I said 10 years ago that print was dead or dying and we needed a new term for the digital industry. I do not see us going by “Ecartoonist” so for now cartoonist is a great term to use.

      Can’t wait, personally, to start distributing my stuff on e-readers like Kindle or the iPad. I could draw for a month, put out a comic story, then draw again, etc, etc. Enough with these silly daily/weekly deadlines. Let me create my stuff and get it out there. I’m almost ready to make that move.

      I owe you a beer this year John when I hit NYCC. See you then!

    • Really good stuff John!

      I definitely don’t want to create the impression that I’m piggy-backing off of the Half-Pixel guy’s conversations. That being said, I’m sure they made better points on it than I did!

  4. I definitely identify myself as a cartoonist, even more so than as an artist. To the point where the first post on my non comic site was why I am a “cartoonist” and not an “Artist” (http://keithcsmith.net/2010/11/am-i-an-artist-or-a-cartoonist/ in case you were curious).

    @John it’s not that any shmo THINKS they can open a site and call themselves a webcomicker (also a dumb name) it’s that they can indeed do that. I don’t think that weakens the title any more than the fact that any shmo could go to kinko’s and print up a bunch of mini-comics and then call themselves a comic book artists cheapened that title. Now normally I don’t like to agree with anything the HalfPixel gang say* but in this case they may have a point. It might be time that webcomics got got abbreviated to just comics.

    I do agree with you on the point you made about the title “Comic Artist” though I get the feeling that might just be in how you and perceive it and less about how others do.

    *Mostly due to the fact I am contrary by nature. Hence the reason I give Ken a hard time about a lot of his ideas.

    • You don’t think ‘indie’ is too general or overused? I mean it literally can be applied to any independently owned business. Not to mention lefty, liberal, pinko bastardish?

      Okay, just kidding about that second part.

      Are all comics online independent? Do they have to be??

      • Well since companies like Marvel and DC have some online presence I would say no to the question of “Are all comics online independent?”.

        While I certainly don’t mind the term Indie Comics it makes me think more of that great period in the late 80’s where creator owned properties where springing up left and right.

    • Interesting article but it’s not really much different than when Dave Sim* said “No Publisher will ever pay you enough to successfully sue them.” Ok, I definitely paraphrased that, but you get the idea.

      * Not really advocating any of Sim’s other views though.

  5. I’ve never referred to my comic as a “webcomic” but a comic that can be found online. In fact, my byline next to Madbury (description) is, “The Online Comic By Jynksie”. I’ve also been fond of the term “e-comic”, just like any e-business (e-commerce), but I may be alone with that one. I refer to myself as a “comic strip creator”, nothing I say about the medium is defined with the word “web” anything. Anyhoo, thats my 2.5 cents on the subject.

  6. I didn’t read anyones responses ’cause, I’m at work and I’m trying to look busy.

    I took all reference to the word “webcomic” out of my site (except for the blog) a few weeks ago and I haven’t looked back. I draw comic strips. I am a cartoonist. Doesn’t matter how it’s displayed for the reader. Doesn’t matter if it is in a dingy, grey paper next to an ad for an injury law firm or on a computer screen next to an ad for finding local singles in my area. It’s still a comic strip and I am still a cartoonist.

    BTW, “cartoonist” is the proper word for it. An animator creates animated cartoons, a cartoonist creates comic strips. It’s confusing I know, but we can’t loose that title to the march of time. We’ve gotta fight to keep it alive.

  7. Ken: I didn’t mean to imply that you piggyback off the Halfpixel guys for ANYTHING. You’re sharp enough that you never have to do that. It was only that it seems the wheel is coming round on the term “webcomics.”

    “Indie” in comics usually means print dudes. And can run the gamut from the one-man operation, stapling his own comics in a basement, to Top Shelf, printing gorgeous hardcovers (depending on who you ask and when).

    • John, it’s ok to imply that. Ken is tough, he won’t cry when you pick on him.

      plus if we get lucky it might cause some good old fashion “webcomic” drama, which I find has been lacking in the community as of late. Where are Scott Kurtz and DJ Coffman to keep me entertained…. I demand some silly bullshit drama!!!! This is after all the perfect type of post for it….

  8. I might be a member of the minority here but I do refer to myself as a cartoonist. Then again, I go to a school that teaches animation, therefore, when I think of something like a Scooby Doo, I picture that being made by “animators.”

    When it comes to explaining to people what I do my pitch is generally something like; ” I draw a four panel comic, similar to what you would find in the newspaper, online. You can find it at {enter URL}.

    It seems to me that when you toss in the “newspaper” part, people seem to get it. However for all of you that do long form comics, I’m not sure if referring to Marvel will have the same effect for you.

    Personally, I would just love to see the word “webcomic” become just that, a WORD. I don’t think there is any inherit shame in saying that, to me I see alot of pride in it. As foolish as it may be, I think of webcomickers as being the people smart enough to realize there is no future in the old newspaper format.

  9. Keep in mind, most comic book creators don’t like the term “comic.” How many comics are far from funny?
    When I used to interview creators for a webzine (ah. THERE’S a term), I used to ask what they thought of the term “comic” and did they have a name they liked better. Invariably, they didn’t think “comics” was appropriate,’but had nothing better to use in it’s place. We’re stuck with it.

  10. I like the term. I’m keeping it. I see it as a separation from traditional media and to me, that’s a good thing. Traditional media has rules. Rules I don’t ever intend to follow. And I don’t think I’ve got the chops or talent to use the term cartoonist. People are reading my comic because the web exists. Because the webcomic format exists. It does matter where it’s read. No one would be looking at my stuff otherwise. Use all the terminology you want. I’m a webcomicker, working to get better while lowering the bar for everybody else.

  11. I’m so used to saying the word “webcomic” It would be hard for me not to use it. I think it probably needs to be added to the dictionary, TONS of people use the term. Way more than putting Sarah Palin’s made up words in the dictionary.

    • DJ, you have been at this game for a good period of time, back when there was a major need to separate traditional comics from comics appearing online. I think a lot of people are of the mind that it’s no longer as necessary to make that distinction. I am not entirely sure I agree with them but that might be because I have been at this too long as well.

      And if you want to call them webcomics, then you go on and keep doing that. I don’t think anyone is going to stop you, just don’t use Comic Sans in them, it makes Ken kind of… well, for lack of a better term, bat shit.

  12. I think the problem with marketing your comic as a “webcomic” as that it implies exclusivity to the ‘web’ , as opposed to any other form of publishing, be it e-book, iPad/iPhone, graphic novel or vanity published.

    There’s nothing wrong with saying a comic online is a “webcomic”, as casual conversation might go “did ya see that webcomic with the ____” and the ‘web’ part immediately identifies that it was seen on the internet.

    As for ‘cartoons’, I think more viewers associate “cartoons” with animated material, and comics as sequential art.

  13. I think the thing that kills people with the term “webcomic” is that for many it has taken on an almost elitist aura. The “I don’t care if you like it, it’s a webcomic, and webcomic’s don’t have rules” crowd seems to be speaking louder then ever. And personally I think that gets under the skin of people that have put countless hours studying this craft, the people who grew up worshiping Watterson and Jim Davis. And I get that. I see why they would want a separation from ht people that reuse video games sprites or simply haven’t learned to draw yet.

    • That’s actually an interesting theory, I’m not sure it’s correct, but it does have some interesting points that might be worth talking about.

      1) –The “I don’t care if you like it, it’s a webcomic, and webcomic’s don’t have rules” crowd seems to be speaking louder then ever.–
      Maybe I am deaf, or don’t spend enough time in other webcomic forums, but I really don’t hear this much.

      2) –I see why they would want a separation from the people that reuse video games sprites or simply haven’t learned to draw yet.–
      While I don’t mind being separated from the sprite users, I don’t mind being lumped in with those that haven’t learned to draw yet, because seriously can’t we all use some improvement in one area or another.

      Like I said this is an interesting theory and I would be more willing to accept it if I had some anecdotal evidence to back it up. <– note the subtle hint to provide some linkage to exhibits of the loud speaking.*

      Also note that I am not saying that such evidence doesn't exist, just that I have not found it in my own limited travels.

  14. I’m all for dumping the “webcomic” term. I have never used it.

    Byron I agree that growing up cartoons were what you watched on TV and comics were what you read in the paper (if it was in book form than it was a comic BOOK). However as most have pointed out I never thought of the guy who drew Scooby as a cartoonist but I did think Charles Schultz was. So for me I like “cartoonist”

    Now as far as “comic artist” goes, I somehow has an air of snobbiness. Besides you have done such a good job of branding this site, if you lose the term “webcomic” than you are stuck calling it “comicartistalliance”. Not the same flair.

    • Point taken and I do like to over complicate things sometimes. A cartoonist is many things including comics. In an interview later in his career, Schulz did refer to himself as a comic strip artist and said that we were the lowest of the low in the art community. I have to agree with him on that as well, unfortunately.

      Yep, if we really lose Webcomic as a term, this site is dead. 🙂 We’ll have to “reboot” as the Comic Alliance, which already exists… damn… 😛

  15. For me, there’s a hierarchy of sorts.

    First and foremost, I’m an artist.
    I use my skills to create a comic/graphic novel.
    That comic/graphic novel is available on the web.

    Logic dictates that I am a webcomic artist – but I just refer to myself as the author of El Cuervo, at http://www.el-cuervo.com. If I need an official title, I tell people I’m a Graphic Novellist. Sounds a bit more refined than comic book artist or cartoonist.

    If I did a weekly strip, and did it for a few years and had some experience, I’d be comfortable calling myself a cartoonist.

    When talking about a ‘webcomic’ I still think the name has validity for the time being. It only appears redundant when your work is distributed via different forms of media – in print, tablet apps, the internet. Then, there’s no point in calling it a webcomic, because it isn’t JUST a webcomic.

    Right now, my comic/graphic novel IS a webcomic, because it is only available on the web. If there’s a print edition available, that verbiage wil have to change – and that is a natural evolution.

  16. I’ve began calling my stuff comic strips, since most are in strip form. I’ve found that the general public really have no idea what a “webcomic” is. It’s like me saying I’m an “ultra-hero” instead of “superhero”. It all amounts to the same thing but with more confusion.

    Plus, there’s so much heatedness with print vs. web, when we’re all doing the same thing: making comic strips. I don’t call the pioneers like Watterson or Schulz “paper-cartoonists”. They’re just cartoonists.

  17. I really love the term webcomic, even if I know that it’s kind of crippling.

    I tend to say “I make comics” as opposed to giving a specific title. I used to say I was a webcomicker, mainly because while I do eventually go to printing my comics I present and design them for the web first.

    I’ll even go so far as to refer to my self as an Indie Comic artist/writer. Best bet I think is Comic creator. Its pretty direct, no? As far as webcomic as a term goes I think its fine, its like saying acoustic punk. It’s not making it less punk just describing an attribute. Nothing wrong with that as far as I’m concerned.

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