Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Private Buffoons

Allen Varney | 4 Nov 2008 12:53
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Anyway, do we really want "new"? Happening on You Suck at Photoshop, you gulp down all the episodes in two side-splitting hours and then frown at the screen, discontent. But you can lose yourself for days with Diesel Sweeties, Sinfest, Scary Go Round or Irregular Webcomic. Over time, too, long-lived sites tend to become friendlier to novices, with navigable archives, "For the New Reader" featurettes and improved usability.

Of course, even these titans were once new. There's an excitement, a feeling of privilege, in discovering something that later becomes great - and, even more, in producing that something.

Which is why, to recap, tracking all this stuff is like naming germs.

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Cultural corruption? An epidemic of crap? In his July 2, 2008 Zero Punctuation, Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw declared, in his customarily measured way, that if you start a webcomic, "you're a talentless cultural pollutant who deserves to suffocate to death on a bag of porridge." That episode's forum topic has, at this writing, nearly a thousand comments.

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I don't see it Yahtzee's way. Sure, he's attacking the thoughtless me-too amateurs who are transparently unclear on this whole "humor" idea. But the alternative is professionalism - and where has that gotten us? America's full-time professional newspaper strip cartoonists, supplicants to the gatekeepers at King Features Syndicate, are senile mass-market dodderers, mercilessly deconstructed by Marmaduke Explained and Comics Curmudgeon.

True, some comic-book pros are finally following pioneer Scott McCloud onto the web: Phil Foglio with Girl Genius and Warren Ellis with Freakangels, among others. Family Guy creator Seth MacFarland is moving online big-time. Then there are the slick promotional sites, like Diamond Shreddies and cartoonist David Reddick's Legend of Bill, the latter hosted on the dating site Soul Geek. Sean Tevis used an xkcd-style strip to raise funds for his campaign for Kansas state representative.

Yahtzee notwithstanding, I find the amateurs more exciting. At least they're going for it, you know? Legendary animator Ralph Bakshi, interviewed at San Diego Comic-Con 2008, implored young creators to skip working for "some asshole studio." They should just start making a film themselves, he said, but they don't because they're "lethargic, uninspired, terrified." The web's best creators are energetic, driven, brave. Their universal motivation seems to be sheer love. Enthusiasm is a good start, but the only lasting reason is love. Webcomic host NightGig Studios has the motto, "It's not about what you do to live, but what you live to do."

(Good thing, too - the other way to say "after all these years, I'm still making new converts" is "for years I've been laboring in obscurity." Joel Watson of HijNKS Ensue has been chronlicling "The Experiment," his ambitious attempt to support himself doing webcomics. It's not going well, but he clearly loves his job.)

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