Thursday, August 18, 2011

So what are webcomics?

Welcome to the final installment of the So What Are...? series. We finish off with one of the newest comics formats: webcomics! (To read previous articles in this series, check the tag.)

So what are webcomics?
Webcomics, as you may have guessed, are comics . . . on the web! Webcomics are posted directly onto the internet, usually with no previous form of publication. They've been around about as long as the internet itself, with the earliest comics debuting in the mid-1980s, but really started taking off in the late 1990s. Today there are countless webcomics out there. (Seriously, any attempt to count them all would take ages.)

Webcomics are typically published one page at a time on a regular schedule - Monday-Wednesday-Friday is a pretty popular setup. Of course, since most webcomics are published as a hobby, the "regular" schedule can and often does slip, if a creator's job or life situation gets in the way.

Best of all, the vast majority of webcomics are available for free! This doesn't exactly lead to a glamorous life for creators - only a few are able to make a living off their work, and the list of "rich" webcomickers is probably shorter than this paragraph - but it does allow for their work to be enjoyed by a very wide-ranging audience.

What are webcomics like?
A lot like print comics, for the most part! Most of the super-popular webcomics, like xkcd and Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, are similar to the strip-style or single-panel comics seen in newspapers. Though, as a glance through the archives of those comics will show, the subject matter is often a bit more niche (and the humor occasionally much darker) than what you'd find in your local funny pages - Marmaduke is cute, but he's nothing special among his online cousins.

A typical xkcd strip. Just wait until you see the atypical ones!

While strip-style titles dominate the webcomics landscape, there are plenty others in the full-page style you'd see in a comic book or graphic novel as well.

Some webcomic creators go the extra mile, doing things with their work that can only be accomplished online. While most artists stick to a plain-and-simple presentation, others have been known to add music, motion, and even entire animations to their work, sometimes to spectacular effect.

How do I navigate a webcomic?
Without any pages to turn, the question of how to get from one piece of story to another was sure to come up. Webcomic creators have come up with many solutions to this problem, but one of the most popular comes in the form of arrow buttons:

<<   <          >   >>

This setup is familiar to anyone who's ever used the fast-forward button on a remote control. The buttons on the left side take you towards the beginning of the comic. The double-arrow takes you to the very first page, while the single-arrow takes you one page back from the page you're on. The buttons on the right are the same, but in reverse - the single-arrow takes you one page forward, and the double-arrow takes you to the most recent page.

Some webcomics are set up differently - many skip the button iconography and simply have links that say "next page" or "today's comic," while others come up with their own custom controls.

One thing that is (mostly) consistent is the placement of these buttons - they're typically found at the bottom and/or top of each page.

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