Friday, June 6, 2014

Webcomic Categories Revisited

The first article I posted on this blog was my attempt to define the categories webcomics, I felt, fell into.  I then made almost no reference to it for the next 4 years.  Heh.  Anyway, looking back on it I think it's time to revisit this article, and it might be a recurring series, we'll see.

So how does this article hold up after all these years?  Well, not bad, though the examples don't quite work any more, but the ideas behind them do work.  That said, I think I'll recreate the article using some new ideas and much better examples.  Ready?  Too bad.

Stand Alone Comics

In the original article they were "classic" comics, which fits pretty well actually.  I like this new term better though because it's a lot more open.  Anyway, the key feature here is that each strip basically stands alone.  The reader needs no, or very little, backstory to understand any single strip.  There's no overarching story, no complex character relationships, no great villain, no great hero, just a series of short jokes or observations.  Occasionally there might be a short "story" that takes place over the course of a couple weeks (or a dozen strips) that has no impact on the comic as a whole.  Thus why I called them classic comics, as most newspapaer comics, from Garfield to Calvin and Hobbes are basically this kind of comic.

On the webcomic front, Bug Martini, Book of Biff (when it updated), Wonderella and Cyanide and Happiness are but the start of the chain for these kinds of comics, and I suspect there are many, many more out there besides.  As I speculated in the original article, I think MOST webcomics start life as a Stand Alone comic, only to grow into other comic forms, sometimes more quickly than one would think.

Adventure Comics

The main thread of the original article was that one kind of comic grew into another, and Adventure comics are often the mid point.  The key difference between Adventure and Stand Alone comics is that Adventure comics have continuity.  In some way, shape or form, a past story in an Adventure comic WILL have an impact on future stories.  It may not be much, maybe just some minor character reveal or reinforcing a characteristic, but it will be there, and it will last well into the future.  That said, they are still independent of each other, even if they might be sequels are make references to past events.  It's usually easy enough to start any given story and not have to know much more beyond that story to understand it.  Beyond that the stories are often much, much longer.  Two weeks worth of strips is barely a scene in most Adventure comics, and single strips often can't hold up on their own as well.

There's actually a LOT of examples of this kind of comic, even within newspapers.  Prince Valiant, Annie and all the soap opera comics follow this format.  It even bleeds out into comic books (DC and Marvel main universe comics are all Adventure comics), novels and even television shows.

That means there's a lot of Adventure comics on the web right?  Well, kind of.  I mean, they are out there, for sure.  Bohemian Nights, the Whiteboard, Devilbear, and UnCONventional are just a few on the list that fit that model, but there are others ride a line out into the other kinds of comics.

Epic Comics

Epic comics are Adventure comics taken to the next level, in a way.  All those stories that make up the many adventures of the Adventure comic are linked together in some substantial way.  Often this can be seen as some grand villain directing or manipulating more minor ones to do various things that the good guys have to bring down.  Which is basically what the Wotch has been for a long time now.  Though it's not always the hero/villain dynamic at work, but it's always there.

Epic comics outside of the web are a bit harder to find, but most often are in comic books.  The infamous Clone Saga from Spiderman probably counts as one as it was a series of smaller stories built around the clone theme for the comic (and had a big villain directing things and such).  Sometimes a TV series will pull it off, but the biggest example is the Lord of the Rings, film and books, which basically defined epic.

Within the webcomic world it's hard to differentiate Epics out from their Adventure brothers and sisters due to the fact that the "hidden menace" often doesn't make itself known for a long time, often years.  Sluggy Freelance was, for a long time, JUST an Adventure comic, then it introduced the fate web and with the conclusion of the most recent storyline, solidly linked the entire comic together as one grand Epic.  Of course, in being Epic, it leaves room for it to become the last kind of comic.

Novel Comics

Novel comics do exactly one thing differently than they other three:  They have a planned ending.  It's not that the comic ends, Sluggy will end eventually but it will never be a Novel comic, it's that from the first strip, there was an ending in mind.  Even through all the random adventures, the battle with epic villains or whatever, the comic was meant to end from day one.  Nothing more separates it from the pack.

Which also makes it hard to figure out.  After all, the only way to know if a comic is meant to end is to ask the artist, and they may or may not tell you.  I very much doubt Abrams planned on Sluggy ending back when he drew the first strip in 1997, but others are a little harder to figure out.  Gunnerkrigg Court, for example, is certainly an Epic comic, but is there an ending planned from the beginning or not?  No way to know.

Non-webcomic examples are, well, everywhere, even in a world of sequels and spin-offs, most novels, movies, graphic novels and even video games have a planned beginning, middle and end.  It's easier to think in short terms and add on to it later.  In webcomics the same occurs.  Shadowgirls started life as a Novel comic, as book 2 wasn't added on until much later (though that was never finished).  Our Time in Eden is definitely a Novel comic since it's all told in flashbacks (so we're at the end kind of reading backwards).  I'm pretty certain that Errant Story had an ending planned as well, whether it was the ending we got or not is another story (and one that may have to wait while until Poe continues the commentary/reediting process).

So like the whole thing with genres I did a bit ago, the same problems persist:  it's kind of arbitrary and causes some weird things to happen.  For example, Short Stories, despite looking like it should be an Adventure comic isn't because there's no continuity between the short stories, so it's actually a Stand Alone, despite being nothing like Garfield.

Still, it works to quickly identify them in some grand way.  Not that I've used this idea much over the length of this blog.  The thread of evolution from Stand Alone to Adventure to Epic is apparent even now, and once again my Standard, Sluggy, acts as the key representative.  I like the redefinition a bit more here as it goes into more detail and further refines it down.

I may dip into revisiting old articles like this in the future, depending on what I can come up with.  We'll see, until next time kiddies.

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