The Curious Solitude of the Webcomics Reader

I’ve never been a very good traditional comics reader. I’ve never bought a single issue; I only occasionally buy trades. I’ve never had a pull list in my life. I wouldn’t even know how to go about setting one up. I can count on both hands the number of Big Two comics I’ve read — at least, I think I can, but I get so confused trying to understand timelines and alternate universes and different runs under different creative teams that I lose track of what I’ve actually read. Heck, I’m even crap at keeping up with graphic novels for young adults and children, and that was one of my main areas of graduate study.

This is not to say I eschew print comics entirely! Whenever I’m in a library or a bookstore, the comics / graphic novels section is one of the few I’m always sure to visit. And if I pass a cool-looking comic store, I’ll be in the door before you can blink, even if I’m guaranteed come out empty-handed. But the vast majority of my comics reading, the part that makes me feel able to even call myself a comics reader, comes exclusively from webcomics.

Being a webcomics fan is not at all like being a print comics reader. News doesn’t get written about the genre on any regular basis, if at all. Creators don’t belong to publishing houses, they usually have to do all the writing and drawing work themselves, and they almost never get paid. And even though webcomics all hosted freely on the internet, that great digital melting pot (cesspool?) of social interaction, it can often feel curiously lonely, being a webcomics fan.

Sure, there’s fandoms for certain comics, if you go looking, and many of them are extremely vibrant and active. (I can tell whenever Check, Please! has a new update just by the spike in over-analytical fan theory posts on my Tumblr dash.)  But unless you go specifically looking for fans, or spin the roulette wheel of reading the comments section, it often feels like you’re the only person reading a certain webcomic. Or any webcomic.

I admit, there are some very nice things about the solitude. You have to actively tune in to hear about fandom drama, instead of desperately trying to tune it out. There’s no one around to gatekeep and check your Fan Credentials(TM) every time you have an opinion about the latest page. And when you do have one of those rare encounters with a fellow fan who’s read even just one of the same webcomics as you, it makes the interaction all the more sweeter.

But it’s also frustrating, the solitude. Because, well, sometimes you want to sip your tea and eavesdrop on the fandom drama. You want someone to squee with about your favorite character’s successes, and sigh with about their failures. You want someone to with whom you can have some civilized, thoughtful discourse with about the fantastic use of color in panel four, page 334. Or maybe just someone to cry to when your favorite sitcomic about boozy 20-somethings comes to a perfect conclusion after running for a measly 11 years, leaving a talking-cactus-shaped hole in your reading life that you will never be able to fill. (*sniff* yes, I’m following the colored reruns.)

Besides, there’s just so much to love about webcomics! We’ve got philosophical dinosaurs and queer cyborgs and pie-baking hockey players! We’ve got talking-animal retellings of Gilgamesh and snarky Canadian history lessons and classic Garfield strips reprinted without, well, Garfield. We’ve got drawings both in pen and in digital, both simple and magnificent, that do things with the power45s of the pixel canvas that’ll knock your socks off. We’ve got creators who are usually amateurs, sure — but that doesn’t mean they’re any less talented or less dedicated to their craft. And, yes, we’ve got superheroes too. They just tend to wear less spandex.

But perhaps most importantly, webcomics are self-published. They’re all indie passion projects when they begin, even if they grow into something bigger and more sustainable. Webcomic creators answer to no one but themselves and their fans. They’re making comics about whatever, and whoever, they want, without the threat of cancellation from any powers-that-be. And if I have to put up with irregular update schedules and slow-as-death, impossible-to-navigate websites get a diversity and freshness that too often seems lacking from print comics, that’s a trade-off I’m happy to make.

I love webcomics. I love their variety, their creativity, their diversity, their freshness. I love their easy accessibility, and yeah, I love that they’re free (though all the more reason to try and support your favs however you can.) And, yes, I even love the solitude. But that doesn’t mean there’s not room in the genre for all of you. Come on in and join me.

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