I read a lot of webcomics

I often say that I didn’t have time to read during college. What I mean is, I didn’t have time to read any books for fun. All my proposed personal reading projects would be stranded between vacations, and since I was often preparing for exams or essays over week-long breaks, the only times I read novels were winter and summer, when I had fully extricated myself from the reading demands of the semester.

But this is a little misleading. It’s not to say that I didn’t have time to read at all. I came into college reading a few webcomics, which expanded into a hell of a lot of webcomics and online graphic novels by the time I was wrapping up undergrad. Every time I hit my stress critical mass (often at 3am while working on a lengthy assignment), I would start rereading favorite parts of comics I already read and start jumping to their links, to their links, so on and so forth.

And so it was that I came to have a list of eleven different things I kept up with regularly.

That’s certainly not to say that there aren’t more out there that I might be interested in, and it’s certainly not to say that I don’t look for them periodically. There are also plenty of things that I quit reading or don’t read at all that tons of other people are interested in and I find boring or abhorrent for some reason.

My interest in webcomics and online graphic novels extends beyond looking for laughs or captivating stories. Online illustrated stories or strips are a unique part of what it means to publish in a digital age, and the standard business model for these kinds of works is one that is fascinating–many people don’t make a living publishing art online, but some are beginning to (although often in addition to supplementary income garnered from commissions and other projects). Publishing a comic strip or graphic novel online is deeply similar to just writing online, and I feel as though I have a lot to study and learn from these kinds of works as I seek engagement and employment through writing.

That said, I’ll spend some time giving you a taste of the things I like to read and why. Note: I started to tag some of these as NSFW, but that is kind of misleading as it would be on the basis of swear words and sometimes mildly suggestive content or naked people. Then I thought that you guys can’t/shouldn’t look at webcomics on a work computer anyway (don’t do it!), and I am not responsible for your behavior. So, since you should be checking these out on your home computer, I only indicated if something involved actual sexual explicitness.

Anders Loves Maria: a graphic novel about what it means to grow up. Be warned–this comic finished in February 2010, so go to it from the link I’ve got here (it goes to the first page) unless you want everything spoiled all to hell for you. I love Rene Engström’s art, and her characters are compelling. She is unafraid to let them wander into difficult situations and botch decisions against our natural, naive desire that everything work out peachy in all circumstances.

Chester 5000 XYV: Warning–totally adult content. An ongoing graphic novel about a woman, her too-busy scientist husband, and the robot he builds. Jess Fink does great work with panels, swirling borders and partitions naturally into the action of each panel. Additionally, Fink is excellent about expanding our understanding of her characters and their emotions, something that should extra points with readers because she does it so perfectly without any words at all. Chester also deviates from the standard procedure of other erotic comics and graphic novels online–it remains free of charge.

Hark! A Vagrant: stand-alone comics often focusing on cultural and historic figures and periods (in addition to other assorted silliness). Once again, I have to say I adore the art in this comic–Kate Beaton knows how to induce laughs simply through variance between stern, rigid lines and physically impossible, cartoony motions, poses, joints, and expressions. Her choice of material and dialogue between characters will make you feel smart while you roll on the floor with laughter.

Johnny Wander: an adapted anecdotal stand-alone occasionally interrupted by whimsical, unrelated fictional short stories. Different from the others I’ve mentioned so far in that it is written and illustrated by two different people, instead of one author doing everything: Ananth Panagariya from AppleGeeks writes and Yuko Ota draws. Apparently I have a sense of humor such that I find this comic much funnier than does everyone else I seem to know. THE LIBRARY

Penny Arcade: The gold standard for me (and likely for many, many others) in strip-oriented standalone webcomics, video game/technology webcomics, and funny comics. Penny Arcade is great for a number of reasons–it is always updated on time three times a week, Mike Krahulik’s art continues to improve, the accompanying news posts are just so Jerry Holkins that others parody his signature style, and most significantly, this comic is always funny. Few comics can say that.

DAR: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary: an anecdotal journal comic by Erika Moen, which ended in 2009. Something that speaks to another way comics and blogs can be used.

Rice Boy and Order of Tales: Rice Boy is a graphic novel that was originally published online and has also been released (and is being re-released) in print by a gentleman named Evan Dahm. His latest endeavor, the ongoing Order of Tales, is set in the same universe as Rice Boy, though the two are fully separate stories. I recommend both very highly–Rice Boy is a surreal and richly allegorical tale centered around the search for purpose, while Order of Tales expands the world of Overside more and and is less symbolic in its adventure. Rice Boy was the first published copy I have ever purchased of a webcomic/online graphic novel I have read, which indicates interesting conclusions about the effect of giving things away for free online. Rice Boy begins here; Order of Tales begins here.

Sin Titulo: a noir-ish graphic novel dealing with some strange and scary shit that begins with Alex Mackay’s dream. Written and illustrated by Cameron Stewart, a Shuster Award winner and illustrator of Batman & Robin and Catwoman. The great use of black and white art, visceral artistry, and exciting storyline all make up for the fact that Stewart sometimes doesn’t update on time.

Templar, Arizona: a deeply involved ongoing alternate-universe, slice-of-life graphic novel that I have mentioned before. The level of detail Spike has developed is impressive and fascinating–the world is equally as compelling as the characters involved in it that the story primarily focuses on. Religions, cults, activists, more-gaga-than-Lady-Gaga eviscerating gossip television, drug addicts, and people just trying to make lives for themselves–that’s Templar, AZ.

The Meek: another graphic novel with an expansive underlying history and background for the story at hand. A girl struggles to help her grandfather as war looms on the horizon. Der-shing Helmer writes and illustrates this hilarious and harsh work and, like Sin Titulo, grabs you so roughly by the collar that you overlook the somewhat spotty update schedule. Please note: in circumstances when I say that, I often get exasperated by inconsistent updates solely because I am ravenous for them–these works will sink their hooks deep into you and not let go. Also, in Helmer’s case, it’s not as though she’s breaking with a update schedule she listed herself–she constantly warns of her high level of work outside of creating The Meek, so it’s not as though I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I can’t say I’m much better about my own writing schedule.

The Phoenix Requiem: a Victorian-inspired fantasy graphic novel that takes place after a war between some powerful supernatural forces. After the appearance of a mysterious man, people begin coming down with a strange illness, making us wonder if things between these other forces are as wrapped up as everyone imagines. Interesting illustration by Sarah Ellerton. Cool story with a satisfying bit of predictability between characters–the kind of thing you need to read when you’re burnt out on “literary fiction.”

Pictures for Sad Children: A comic that once was story-oriented, but has since become standalone. A comic for a post-Catch-22 era, or in John Campbell’s own words, “it is about a bad feeling you get when you are feeling good, or a good feeling you get when you are feeling bad.” Laughing at situationally awful things.

Comics that I read off and on because I read too many other things consistently:

  • Godseeker: Prehistorically-inspired fantasy graphic novel with decent art and budding, mysterious storyline
  • Tiny Kitten Teeth: Surreal, painted graphic novel with cute Tigerbuttah comics in between story updates

Some other comics I used to read and stopped:

  • Least I Could Do: A slice-of-life strip-style comic that I used to find funnier
  • Toothpaste for Dinner: One-panel humor comic that I enjoyed for its ridiculousness, but it became too self-aware
  • Natalie Dee: Read the above comment, same stuff
  • Dueling Analogs: Strip-style video game comic that isn’t as consistent in humor, effort, or timeliness as Penny Arcade
  • Fanboys: Strip-style video game comic that never updates
  • VG Cats: Strip-style video game comic that never updates

Some comics I feel ambivalently about that people seem really into:

Rene Engström

About Chelsea
I'm currently pursuing my MFA in Writing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. My ideal career path involves using writing, publication, and writing education to enact progressive social change.

5 Responses to I read a lot of webcomics

  1. Terry Blauer says:

    Thanks for the mention. Nice to be in such distinguished company! :)

    • Chelsea says:

      No problem! I feel like my description was so misleadingly blah (I was in hurry while finishing this), I should change it. I get the feeling I’ll read more consistently as the story progresses instead of playing catch up all the time like now. Keep up the great work! :)

  2. Kevin says:

    That’s a fantastic list. You have given me some new ones to check out.

    Here are some of my favorites…

    Player vs Player: Along with Penny Arcade, one of the gold standards of successful webcomics. PvP started as a gaming comic, chronicling the adventures of the employees of a gaming magazine, but diverged into an ongoing character story as Scott Kurtz started expanding outside the genre. It’s best to start in the substantial archives to get a feel for the characters before diving in. (Note: Scott Kurtz is the poster child for making money off webcomics without selling your soul. He does this full time, has successfully built a little empire in the form of Blank Label Comics, and he makes tons of appearances around the country. His blog posts alone are good information for people wanting to make money off of free content on the internet.)

    Cyanide and Happiness: A simply drawn comic full of awkwardness, irony, depressing situations, and gore. You laugh in spite of yourself.

    Sheldon: A day-in-the-life comic about a 10-year-old billionaire who owns his own software company, his cantankerous grandfather, and his talking pet duck.

    Dinosaur Comics: I know you mentioned this one, but it’s brilliant so I have to include it. The artwork for this comic has not changed during its entire run; the only thing that changes is the dialog, but Ryan North makes it work and doesn’t let the gimmick get old. The conversations among the dinosaur characters are something between a philosophy lecture and a pot-addled musing about the nature of awesomeness.

    Sinfest: An adorable comic about the dichotomy of eastern and western religions, drugs, and boobies.

    Ugly Hill: A quietly genius comic about two completely at-odds brothers who live in the slums of their monster-filled town. This comic completed its run last year, so starting at the beginning is recommended.

    Starslip Crisis: This comic follows a museum curator… in space! Captain Vanderbeam and his crew run the Fuseli, a museum ship of the future, as they travel around the galaxy Star Trek style. The story lines are solid sci-fi, and the characters are fantastic.

    xkcd: Geek comic drawn entirely with stick figures. When I say “geek”, I mean it: Randall Munroe is a former rocket scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs, and the amount of calculus in this comic is sometimes startling. Nonetheless, Randall’s a sharp wit and excels at seeing things in new and amusing ways. Be sure to read the pop-up alt text for each comic image; it’s like an afterthought for the comic. The commenters in his blog are also some of the smartest people on the internet.

    • Chelsea says:

      On a weird note, my internet actually told me that the Cyanide and Happiness was a “known dangerous website” and wouldn’t let me access it. Anyway, I kind of feel like C & H is a little overrated. I feel similarly about xkcd–although they both certainly have their funny moments. Dinosaur Comics earns my ambivalence because it is, for me, less reliably funny than either of the previous two comics.

      You are totally right aboutPvP though–I should have mentioned them at the very least, though they still are somehow not something I read on a regular basis.

      I love all the connections–PvP to PA, Starslip to both. I find that with a lot of other comics, too…perhaps it depends on the genre.

  3. Pingback: Add it to your reading list « What the Fidd

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