All right. My hackles are raised. I feel that I must respond.
In a blog titled “Naked Came the Webcomic”, and in a post (that you can find here) titled “Art, ‘Art’, and Almost ‘Art’, What Qualifies as ‘art’ in webcomics?”, Jules Rivera makes some claims. I will tell you about them.
Now, her (I’m assuming here, that Jules is a girl, because I can find no evidence otherwise) post starts out well enough, talking about the many different options available to webcomics, and webcomic artists (webcomedians didn’t seem the right word). This is true – there are many mediums out there. But then she takes a nasty turn towards condescension by saying “There are many different ways creators use to circumvent the “art” creation in comics. Some methods are more acceptable than others, but some are just downright awful. What options are available and which of these options will have me calling you a lazy, talentless hack and an insult to the sequential art world at large?”
Now, I’m sorry. Maybe I missed the ferry to crazy-town. Maybe I’m reading things wrong (I’m inclined to think otherwise), but let’s not be too hasty here. I don’t know how one can circumvent art in any way by having any form of webcomic. Is one form of art better than another? Is working with sculpture better than oil paint? But I’m getting ahead of myself. I have to hold back.
Let’s move on to where she says that she will have to be calling people lazy, talentless hacks. I would love to talk about that part.
She divides the ways to “circumvent art” into four different groups – Stick Figure Comics, Photo Comics, Poser Comics, and “Hire an Artist”. Now the fun begins.
In her spiel about Stick Figure Comics, she gives the concession that the artist is at least “making an effort to draw out his or her comic”, but still goes on to call them lazy. Oh wait – I forgot the caps lock. LAZY. She calls them LAZY. She ventures that these comic creators are making no effort to improve on their art, and are instead haphazardly drawing crap and posting it to the internet. The examples of such crap she gives are XKCD, Cyanide and Happiness, and Order of the Stick. And I quote: “XKCD, however, is unabashed laziness, never even having established a regular cast, let alone a diverse one. Cyanide and Happiness is even worse because it’s far stupider than XKCD.”
Wawawawawait. Let me, for one second, say some words in defense of XKCD, which (incidentally) is one of my favorite comics – (not to mention) many of my friends’ favorite comics, and (furthermore), almost everyone I’ve ever spoken to’s favorite comic. I almost feel stupid myself telling this woman, who has obviously never read more than one or two XKCD’s, that there is in fact a regular cast, and that yes, he uses stick figures, but the art in some of his comics is, at times, downright beautiful. Some of it is so intricately thought-up and detailed that it overwhelms me in its complexity.
I won’t spend as much time defending Cyanide and Happiness. She had one thing right – it IS stupider than XKCD. But that doesn’t stop me from thinking that it’s hilarious, and every time I stumble on it I read several more.
But let’s move on, because up next are Photo Comics. Photo comics are a strange fig, which I also think is an ingenious fig. Basically, instead of drawing the frames, you take pictures, and throw up some dialogue. These – like ALL forms of webcomics – can be very successful, or very unsuccessful. The examples she gives are Irregular Webcomic, Union of Heroes, and Surviving the World. The first two, I have no experience with. They look okay. But Surviving the World is really just a dude drawing witticisms and everyday common sense things on a chalkboard while wearing a white coat. It’s novel, it makes me chuckle, and it’s been linked on the left-hand side of my blog for a few months now.
She says, in this section, “The best photo-based comics I’ve seen were actually paint-overs of existing photographs, where I wasn’t entirely sure if what I was looking at was a comic or an elaborate painting.” She goes on to say that “Titanium Rain (the link she provides is broken), while not a webcomic, is an example of how to do a photocomic right.”
I beg to differ. Please, let me differ. Titanium Rain (I Googled it) looks to be a very nice graphic novel. But once you “intricately paint over” and “add special effects to” the photographs, they’re not really photographs anymore.
This is really splitting hairs. I just don’t see how she can honestly bash something that A Softer World is an example of. Has she even read A Softer World? Probably not, since she didn’t include it in her list of examples. (This whole blog of hers is full of broken links, by the way.) A Softer World is a good example of what I would love to do with pictures, if I could take good enough pictures or come up with the jokes. They’re not even always jokes. Some of the three-panel picture captions have an incredible amount of wisdom and sadness in them. Others go for quick laughs and off-color observations that make me feel bad for laughing at, but I can’t help it because it’s true, and it feels so good to laugh again…
Her second-to-last section is about something she calls “Poser Comics”. These are comics that are made, as far as I can tell, with a software package called “Poser” that provides CG models from which to draw correctly. Some comics just use the models. I guess. I don’t know. As far as I’m concerned, if the dialogue is good enough, you can use whatever you want.
Just look at Dinosaur Comics. That’s one of the most-linked, well-known comics on the internet, and the only thing that changes is the dialogue. I’m not really a huge fan, but I can appreciate that almost everyone else is.
The last thing is “hire an artist”. Here, she lists “Least I Could Do” as an example (another popular webcomic). Now, I don’t know about this. “Commissioning An Artist” and “Finding Someone Who Can Draw To Do A Webcomic With” seem to be very fine lines to me. Now, while I don’t think hiring an artist is necessarily “circumventing the art”, I don’t really see why she loves this method more than the other two (read the paragraph she wrote about it. She loves it more than the other two). Isn’t drawing something on your own better than paying someone else to do it, even though they’re better?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s not. What do I know?
Okay. So maybe I’m being a little hard on her for being a little hard on almost every webcomic I love. Maybe she has more credentials than I do for this. Let’s look at her webcomic, Marsh Rocket. It’s very… detailed, yes. Very involved. Artistic, to be sure – but not unique artistic. To me, it’s like she took every comic book she’s ever read, and drew that. The story line is about World War Something or Other. Nuclear bombs. Fighting. Wartime. Awesome explosions. Whatever. I’m sure there’s a market for that.
And that’s the point I was looking for. There’s a market for everything. Who cares what the art looks like? That’s not what art’s about. Art is all about feelings, anyway. It doesn’t matter how detailed or simple or creative or boring a piece of art is – things are successful because people like them, and things are unsuccessful because nobody pays any attention. Quality has no bearing on what people notice – people notice unique things that pique their interest (not things like another nuclear holocaust told from the perspective of another tired Marine).
Also, some other things people don’t like? Bitter webcomic creators who would take time out of their day to bash another comic for not being artistic enough. That’s like me writing a post about how awful Neil Gaiman’s blog is. (Actually, Neil, I think your blog is excellent, and if you’re reading this, I’m very sorry about your cat – she was beautiful.)
So that’s my point. Art is art. No need to be a hater just because Randall Munroe became more famous than you by drawing stick figures and making nerdy jokes about math.
Also – just call it a comic. No need to throw around big words like “sequential art” like you’re Sage Francis or something.