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What the Dang Heck Is a Webcomic??

Screenshot of Sarah Andersen’s website as viewed on my phone.

Webcomics aren’t typically given much attention by library professionals — possibly because they can’t be owned or lent; nevertheless, we should be familiar with them. After all, our goal should be to connect people with materials they love, not just materials the library owns. Additionally, if we want to be deft, resourceful readers’ advisers, we need to be familiar with all kinds of reading materials, especially the kinds of things our patrons are reading.

If you’re brand new to webcomics, this post will give you a foothold in their vast, wild world. If you’re familiar with webcomics, please leave your favorites in the comments as well as any resources you find helpful!

WHAT’S A WEBCOMIC??

Webcomics are just what they sound like: online comics. They are typically free to read, come in shorter installments than issues of print comics, and tend to be updated with varying degrees of regularity. There are some popular sites that host webcomics (see below), but there are also a great many that live on their own webpages.

There are a lot of differences that make webcomics unique from traditional comics (even digitized traditional comics like ones found on Overdrive/Libby). For example, they are oriented vertically instead of horizontally. Unlike digitized versions of traditional comics, this makes webcomics perfectly suited for reading on smartphones — no zooming, squinting, phone rotating, or “page” turning required. They are also commonly embedded in digital social environments with heavily used comments sections and hundreds or thousands of ratings.

The barrier of entry to publishing a webcomic is significantly lower than for traditional comics. The general lack of gatekeeping means that creators have a lot more freedom, and that amateur creators can easily share their work. It also results in a wide range of quality. Of course, it’s not like all print comics are perfect, but webcomics generally undergo less scrutiny before publication. Nevertheless, being free to read, it’s hard to get mad about typos or poor lettering.

It’s become increasingly common for publishers to sign webcomic creators to book deals. Presumably, the thought for publishers is that these creators have a demonstrably successful product with a built-in fanbase. For example, Sarah Andersen, Randall Munroe, and Ngozi Ukazu are all successful webcomic creators who have also found success in print publishing.

POPULAR PLATFORMS

If you don’t have Webtoon on your phone, go download it right now and try it out.

Screenshot of the Webtoon app’s homepage.

Webtoon, with millions of readers per day, is one of the most popular platforms for webcomics. It’s sort of like YouTube: creators upload their work for free 

consumption, and if their comic is popular enough, they start getting paid through ad revenue sharing. There’s also a way for creators to charge for early access to their comic’s next installment.

Anybody can upload a comic to Webtoon if it meets their parameters. So, like other digital creative spaces, there is significantly less upfront gatekeeping compared to print media. Webtoon isn’t the only platform, though.

Tapas is another site that offers free webcomics (as well as novels) and an easy way for creators to upload content. They also have an app that’s free and easy to use; however, Tapas seems to lock a lot more of their content behind paywalls than Webtoon. Content can be unlocked using Tapas’s digital currency, “ink,” which can either be purchased with real-life money or earned by watching advertisements. Some paywalls do expire after a certain amount of time.

Recently, Tapas and BOOM! Studios, a comics publisher, entered into a unique partnership where Tapas published one of their series, Heavy Vinyl, as a webcomic. Part of what makes this special is that BOOM! reformatted the comic to be read vertically, and they chunked it into segments shorter than it’s print issues. The first few chapters are free to read, and the rest can be purchased. If this partnership works, we may see more webcomic platforms used by bigger comics publishers.

Hiveworks is more like a traditional publisher except they focus on webcomics. Their website is full of links to free-to-read comics, which can be sorted by genre and rating. While they do sell books and are for-profit, the site doesn’t feel like it’s constantly guiding users to spend money. They do not have an app.

WHAT SHOULD I READ

Read whatever you want! Try everything! There is an astonishing variety when it comes to genres, styles, content, character, and quality. If you don’t want to dive in headfirst, though, here are a few of my favorites.

LAVENDER JACK

Example of vertical scrolling. Chapter 1 of Lavender Jack.

By Dan Schkade and Jenn Manley Lee

Lavender Jack is a mash-up of Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, and Batman set in a Victorian-esque town called Gallery. The two main characters, one of them a wealthy vigilante, the other a legendary detective, are pitted against each other, yet both are fighting for justice. The art is top notch, and the story is full of the kind of character and plot driven developments that keep readers hooked.

VALERIE

By Rebecca Reynolds

Using fluid art and dreamy colors, this comic confronts the existential ennui of new adulthood. It’s paranormal – there’s a ghost – and mostly takes place in an abandoned mall that was the site of an infamous murder, but it’s more reflective than scary. It’s a quick read, and a physical edition of it was recently published.

THE WRATH & THE DAWN

By Renée Ahdieh and Silvester Vitale

This is an official webcomic adaptation of Ahdieh’s 2015 YA book by the same title. An Arabian Nights retelling, it follows Shahrzad, a teenager, who betroths herself to a ruler who has had every single one of his previous brides killed they morning after he marries them. She is anything but ignorant about his murderous ways: her sister was one of his brides.

-Sam Stavole-Carter, currently reading To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han