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print feels so old, web feels so ne-ew-ew
online comics make me feel like a kid again
by steven goldman
3.6.03
pop culture


It was so much simpler to be a comics reader at the tender age of 7. I had two ways to get my fix: save up my allowance until I had enough for Spider-Man, X-Men, and maybe a Hulk or five from the quarter bins; or go for the cheap thrill, the Sunday funnies — For Better or For Worse, Doonesbury (which I didn't get*), Dennis the Menace. Every weekend, I could binge out for a morning or afternoon (barring rereading), an open box of Kix by my side, and then go back to the world of homework, computers, and Godzilla showing the Transformers who was boss of my bed/battlefield.

Around the early 90s, my tastes got more refined. I went for the mature readers' stuff: Slave Labor, Dark Horse, DC/Vertigo, hell, anything by Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, or Grant Morrison. Criminal Records in Atlanta (my college shop) carried zines and minicomics ad nauseum, and I invariably dipped into each semester's book money for records and comics on hot afternoons while ditching the world's most mind-numbing anthropology classes.

But like Richard E. Grant in "Hudson Hawk," I've gone and got myself a new goal: WORLD DOMINATION! I mean, um, digging into the world of online comics!

My eyes were opened to this wild and woolley (and usually free) phenomenon at the 2001 San Diego Comic-Con. My brother and I were there on business, pitching our hearts out to disinterested editors and artists who snorted at us for wasting time they could have spent earning cash, drawing sketches of Wonder Woman with extra cleavage for guys who pay to have their picture taken with Vampirella.

While we both love comics, four days is a lot of time to be selling yourself, so we took a break one afternoon and ducked into Scott McCloud's panel, "Digital Comics." McCloud's the author of "Understanding Comics" and its follow-up, "Reinventing Comics" — which tackles, in depth, the concept of taking comics to other mediums and how they'd distinguish themselves — so it was a safe bet it'd be enlightening.

McCloud gave the briefest of preludes and quickly made way for six up-and-coming but primarily unknown talents:

Cat Garza and his Magic Inkwell, which first drew Dan and I to his body of hallucinatory, Disney-influenced dream comics;

Demian.5, a Swiss laddie, presented his online graphic novel, "When I Was King," a brightly-colored, whimsical story about a king who loses his pants, the camel who loves him, and the lengths to which said king will go to cover up;

Tristan Farnon, whose Leisure Town is a mix of Gumby-style toys posing, digital photography, and a foul, foul imagination;

David Gaddis, whose "Piercing" is a sad, silent, and beautifully simple story, bringing to mind the work of Paul Pope and Scott Morse, yet with a dark edge all its own;

Patrick Farley, creator of e-sheep.com, a gigantic body of work including his current project, "Delta Thrives," far-flung futurism through the eyes of a city dwelling programmer who talks to whales and invents her own sex toys;

and last, Brent Wood, whose "Bramble Town" lets you peel back the story of a small-town murder from the perspective of each of its characters.

McCloud wanted to show that just shifting pen-and-ink drawings to the Web, slapping links and an e-store on them, and calling it funnybunny.com did not online comics make; these people were pioneers, doing the experiments, bending the rules, seeing much you could cram into an online comic strip, have it load fast, and yet still be engaging. Panels run up, down, there and back again, and a select few are even animated to show looped motion, though animation on the whole is discouraged.

And that was in 2001. What you can find today online runs the gamut, from simple daily 4-panel comic strips like Sinfest and Something Positive** (not to mention the entire run of Doonesbury) to the gorgeous aforementioned Delta Thrives, a computer-drawn, highly intelligent blog of a story whose individual chapters would run as long as most reprint volumes of manga if printed out and laid end-to-end. True fans (okay, be fair, junkies) can subscribe to sites like Modern Tales, James Kochalka's American Elf, and Serializer.net, and read not only daily or weekly updated comics, but also entire archived works, like Cat Garza's Cuentos de la Frontera, a longform piece weaving Mexican mythology with Garza's memories of his grandparents.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg of talent out there.

Granted, you might have eyes the size of tea saucers by the time you're done digging through everything on even one of these sites, but it's a small price to pay, right?


* For all of the Hunter S. Thompson (AKA "Uncle Duke") acid references and the Reagan-era political humor.
** If you can call a comic featuring a hairless, boneless cat simple, that is.


ABOUT STEVEN GOLDMAN

Brachiation is the key to species Goldmanicus Steveniosum's way of life. He bounds from tree to tree, occupation to occupation like he hasn't a care in the world...and who knows? Maybe he doesn't.

more about steven goldman




COMMENTS

erik myers
3.6.03 @ 5:31p

** If you can call a comic featuring a hairless, boneless cat simple, that is.

Murrr.

This can only be explained, thusly.

russ carr
3.6.03 @ 5:47p

Sluggy Freelance. Because your world may be a crotch, too.

With no more Calvin and Hobbes or Far Side or Peanuts, where else can you turn for original, inventive comics? I love the web stuff.



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