Webcomics Roundup: Pushing the Boundaries

What makes something a webcomic? For the most part, the answer is obvious, but the actual significance of webcomics might not be as clear-cut as their literal definition. I first realized this years ago when a comment on the short story site Hitherby Dragons said that most people visited it as part of their daily webcomic rounds. I’ve fallen years behind on Hitherby’s stories (tragically – it used to be one of my favorite websites), but that thought has stuck with me.

Here are a few other sites that stretch the definition of webcomics.

Hobo Lobo of Hamelin is, if anything, a demonstration of webcomics’ potential. Each chapter is a single wide page made up of many overlapped images that move at different speeds as you scroll to the right. This parallax (or cheap 3-D) effect is more than just a gimmick; it’s fundamental to the way the story is told. Not only does new information arrive from the right as it scrolls on to the page, but as the foreground images move to the left faster, they uncover more information as well. This creates the feeling of curtains opening on the new panels, as if they are blossoming onto the screen instead of flatly scrolling by. It’s used to great effect in the opening panels, as an innocent storybook facade is stripped away to establish the comic’s atmosphere (a sort of fractured fairytale version of The Pied Piper of Hamelin), and when it switches from panel-by-panel storytelling to large scenes (such as the rat gathering in the currently-updating chapter 3), it’s a much more immersive experience than most paper comics could provide.

Hobo Lobo’s main flaw comes from the format, as well: Creator Stevan Živadinović needs a long time to create each panel, and most of these individual updates are too small to be worth reading on their own. The best way to experience this comic is to return every month or two in order to read a decent-sized story addition. Fortunately, Živadinović seems willing to buck webcomic convention in order to emphasize this story-heavy comic’s strengths. The main page of the website starts at the beginning of the story, which is what new readers need to see first, rather than dumping a reader onto the most recent panel without context.

So far, Hobo Lobo is a fun but very light story. However, the presentation makes it a must-read, but for technical achievement and as a cutting-edge comic experiment. (Just don’t try it on an iPad or mobile phone. Mobile devices don’t send scrolling events as reliably as traditional web browsers, and the parallax effect won’t work properly on them.)

Similar to Hitherby Dragons, We Are Become Pals updates with regular prose stories instead of comics. It straddles the border a little more, though, with a picture included in each update. It also has a strong webcomics pedigree, being written by Joey Comeau and illustrated by Jess Fink. I’m sure that most of the readers were already fans of their comics, and just added We Are Become Pals to their daily webcomic list without worrying about precise categories.

Fink is best known for her porn comics (NSFW, obviously), and while Comeau’s most famous work is A Softer World, he has also written about sex. This defied my expectations, though, telling vignettes about two best friends who bond over their outcast status and their (childish and harmless) fascination with criminals and super-villains. The chapters are loosely connected, though they definitely build a story, and the characters grow up quite a bit over time. I’m not sure yet if it is going somewhere serious or is content to focus on the fun silly adventures of youth.

Honestly, the story is mostly notable for its famous creators and status halfway between webcomic and prose story. As a story itself, it’s been worth subscribing to the blog, but it’s nothing outstanding. Comeau has a gift for picking moments in time that define a character or an event, and this captures the nostalgia that goes along with the thought, “Oh my god! I can’t believe we used to be that stupid!” Fink’s art establishes the characters as human but also as silly and cartoony, and so far the story hasn’t seemed inclined to delve deeper than that. If this is going anywhere, I’m not sure yet if I’ll be invested in the characters by the time it pays off.

Una the Blade (most links in this section are NSFW) occupies a different sort of gray area near the world of webcomics. In this case, it highlights the arbitrariness of the distinction between that world and print comics. Writer and artist Steve LeCouilliard previously wrote Much the Miller’s Son, an irreverent take on the Robin Hood legend with a vaguely British approach to humor. This new comic is based on the high concept of a woman juggling the roles of a barbarian warrior and a single mother, and while LeCouilliard is not afraid of nudity or farce, he’s made it clear that he wants to bring a respectful sensibility to a usually-exploitative genre.

It’s an interesting approach, and LeCouilliard has the skill to write fun genre twists. The actual comic isn’t available to judge yet, though. The link above goes to the Tumblr that documents the creative process, and LeCouilliard has announced that the story itself “is not going to be a webcomic“. To fund it and to avoid the pacing problems that come from posting one page at a time, he is releasing it as a series of donation-based e-books.

As someone who reads all sorts of comics, and who wants to see the creators make money, I don’t have any problem with this approach. I still can’t help but think of it as a webcomic, though. The Tumblr updates with daily content that helps to explain the world or the thoughts behind it, and I visit it just like a webcomic. When the story arrives, it may be a file instead of a webapage, and I’ll have to pay some amount of money (that I choose), but that still feels firmly on the “web” side of the web/print divide.

Obviously, though, my choice of terminology differs from the creator’s. But that’s ok. I may put up these categories on my blog so that someone who only cares about board games doesn’t need to read about punk rock, and vice versa, but in reality I prefer boundaries that are always being tested. It makes me happy that “webcomics” is such a fuzzy term, and I think that the culture will be a lot healthier as long as it defies strict expectations.

(One more webcomic note: I was going to wait until next month to talk about The Terrible Death of Finnegan Strappe, since it doesn’t fit this article’s theme, but I just realized that its funding campaign ends next week. So I’ll link to it now in case anyone is interested. Perhaps that’s for the best: There are only a few comic pages up now, so you can see it yourself as quickly as you could read my explanation, and it’s probably better to see the first few pages unfold without any preconceptions. I will just say that Jordyn Bochon has a beautiful, expressive art style, and that this comic does contain a little nudity. I’m not sure why that was a frequent theme in this month’s links, but it is not the focus of the comic.)

  1. October 29th, 2011
  2. November 23rd, 2013

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