The most basic definition of a webcomic is any kind of comic hosted on the internet and delivered digitally. Beyond the differences in medium there are, at fist, few discernable differences between a webcomic and a print comic. An uninformed observer might note that webcomics have a tendency to be of a lower quality than a print comic, being drawn almost entirely by amateur artists (who often double as the writer). And they would be, at least partially, correct. People who don’t draw comic books for a living are unlikely to come near the standards set by Alex Ross or David Aja.
In addition, webcomics have a tendency to be short and serialized, with the writer/artist producing a new strip sometimes just once a week. This schedule is often subject to change based on ongoing events in a creator’s life, and many of the better webcomics end up on indefinite hiatus, much to the grief of their fans. Again, the paid artists and writers of print comics seem to have the upper hand here.
But the webcomics have two major advantages over print comics. One is that they’re generally free. Webcomic creators subsist mostly on advertising revenues, donations, and/or the simple satisfaction of their art. The appeal of a free product is obvious, no matter the quality. The other is that webcomics are allowed a level of freedom in their content not seen since the late 1940s and early 50s, before comics were first censored. A webcomic writer is free to write about what ever kind of characters he/she likes- homosexuals, axe murderers,porn stars, psychopaths, his/her mother, him/herself, or anything else they can conceive of. Artists considered too unconventional for print syndication are free to experiment in the wilderness of the internet, a tremendous boon to the concept of the comic as an art form.
The result of all this freedom is (sometimes) incredibly innovative work. New topics and concepts get explored and the idea of what constitutes a “comic” grows ever more complex. There are still comics that revolve around the idea of comics as kōmikos but more and more are diverging from that concept. They’ve become more personal, more epic, more horrific, and sometimes, more emotional. Sometimes the experiments fail. But more often than not, they succeed. Every one of these successes is a step into a brave new world for comics. As someone who is trying to produce a comic himself, I encourage you to support them. If you find a comic that is truly innovative and breath-taking, tell your friends. Get them to read it. Proliferating the fruits of this new age of comics will help more to grow and in turn contribute to the last great art.
Lastly, a list of some comics in no particular order to get started with (PM me with more if you think of them) :
Achewood – I fail to see the appeal, but people like it. E2 link: Achewood
- A softer world- Joey Comeau is a brilliant writer, I encourage you to look at his “Overqualified” letters(not to diminish Emily Horne’s photography at all, which is central to the comic). E2 link: a softer world
- A Lesson Is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible- On indefinite hiatus but read the archives anyway. Seriously, do it. E2 link: A Lesson Is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible
- The Abominable Charles Christopher – Like a Disney movie for adults. E2 link: The Abominable Charles Christopher
- Ballad- A rather artsy but very creepy horror comic. Make sure to scroll down. E2 link: Ballad
- Butternutsquash- On hiatus until September at the time of publication, but the archives are still fun. E2 link: Butternutsquash
- The Adventures of Dr. McNinja- An Irish ninja doctor is involved. There, I explained it. E2 link: The Adventures of Dr. McNinja
- Dinosaur Comics- The same array of panels every time, but with different dialogue. E2 link: Dinosaur Comics
- Gunnerkrigg Court- A slightly childish artstyle here at times, but a highly addictive storyline. Stay away from fans though. E2 link: Gunnerkrigg Court
- Pear-Pear- Highly experimental comic detailing the life of a pear and his best friend, a mug. Worthwhile. E2 link: Pear-Pear
- Minus- Sam512 has a slight beef with this comic but it’s really quite clever. And the art is great. E2 link: Minus
- Great- This is by the same guy as Minus but it’s not the same idea. Still great stuff though. E2 link: Great
- Rumblo- The center of operations for the estimable K.C. Green, inexplicably funnyman extraordinaire. E2 link: Rumblo
- Mac Hall- The joys of dorm life drawn by a talented artist. (Finished, see Three Panel Soul) E2 link: Mac Hall
- We The Robots- A colorful comic with a simplistic style. Alternates between being warm and fuzzy or cold and sterile, making it very human despite the fact that every character is a robot. (Thanks Tem42 for reminding me about this one!) E2 link: We The Robots
- Three Panel Soul- Written and drawn by the Mac Hall guys as adults. E2 link: Three Panel Soul
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal- Your daily single panel comic. E2 link: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
- Grumps- Funny, sometimes gross comic about a retirement home. E2 link: Grumps
- Lackadaisy- And incredibly well-drawn and sometimes gripping story about cats who are also gangsters. During the Prohibition. Surprisingly bad-ass. E2 link: Lackadaisy
Captain Excelsior- Written by the SMBC guy. Drawn by the Grumps guy. Good stuff. E2 link: Captain Excelsior
- the secret knots- Abstract, loosely connected comics. See “A Lesson Is Learned…” above. E2 link: the secret knots
- Perry Bible Fellowship- Has nothing to do with Bibles, fellowships, or Perry. On hiatus, possibly finished. Author/artist left for a while after realizing how insanely popular he is and to sell his wonderful printed form of these comics. E2 link: Perry Bible Fellowship
- XKCD- A popular comic where every character is illustrated as a stick figure. Lots of nerdy science and programming references. E2 link:XKCD
Penny Arcade- If you’re familiar with webcomics, you may be wondering why I put Penny Arcade here amongst such esteemed company. The answer lies with their recent Automata storyline which breaks from their typical gaming focused work and is actually really, really cool. The first two pages are here and here (I’ll change the second pipe link when the second page is relegated to the Penny Arcade archive) . E2 link: Penny Arcade
This is just off the top of my head. There are many, many more webcomics out there that deserve your attention and love
. You just have to look.