So, this happened at DragonCon last month...
That is, of course, Jennie Breeden’s strip The Devil’s Panties in which she takes the humorous events in her own life, and draws them into her comic for the world to see. One expects a creator to take artistic liberties with certain events but interestingly, we have video footage of the proposal on YouTube to show that she’s really not exaggerating. Except perhaps the imaginary Devil, Angel and Princess that ride shotgun in her head.
It’s not at all uncommon for creators to imbue their work with their own life experiences. What is art, but an attempt to try to interpret one’s own life or view of the world? Comics are no different in that regard. It’s easy to draw parallels between the life of Charles Schulz and what he drew in Peanuts. Harvey Perkar made a career out of showing the often humdrum experiences of his daily life. Craig Thompson won multiple Eisner, Harvey and Ignatz awards for his autobiographical Blankets.
But such personal works that are pretty clearly autobiographies (or at least emotional autobiographies) are more the exception than the rule. For every Charlie Brown, there’s a dozen Hagars the Horrible, Wizards of Id and Marmadukes. In print. On the web, there seems to be a much greater emphasis on personal stories.
Ryan Dow has been conducting ongoing self-analysis in Introspective Comics since 2007. Many of the strips revolve around personal issues he’s wrestling with, and he’s frequently seen dissecting his own thoughts with small Buddha that rides shotgun in his head. But while those types of elements are fictitious visual manifestations of a protagonist’s internal thought process, the story points around and outside those manifestations convey things that actually happened. In the strip shown here, Dow relays the conversation he had about depicting his girlfriend in the comics. It’s a real discussion and, I expect, quite similar to discussions had by many webcomikers and their close friends and loved ones.
Alex Heberling, after completing her serialized fantasy comic Garanos, started a series of autobiographical vignettes that she thought she’d work on until she came up with a new story to work on. Alex’s Guide to a Life Well-Lived has been running since June 2010 and has seemingly developed into her next comic.
These personal webcomics can succeed where a newspaper strip or pamphlet comic might not in part because of the lower costs. They don’t need to earn as much to break even. They’re also published in something much closer to real-time, so the events being depicted in these comics are what the creators are currently experiencing and dealing with. Break-ups, housing problems, moral dilemmas and the like are all being wrestled with in an open forum and readers who react feel a more direct and current connection with the creator than if they were trying to reference something that happened several months ago.
This works well for the creator as well, since fans can respond with ideas and suggestions to help them through whatever problems they might depict in their comics. That feedback can be judged and used (or discarded) in a timely manner. Readers can provide an emotional support network to show that taking pictures of pony figures is nothing to be embarrassed about, or to just congratulate someone on a happy occasion.
Many creators, not surprisingly, feel that digitally hanging “dirty laundry” like that might be too embarrassing in and of itself, or perhaps are concerned about maintaining their privacy, or simply don’t think the events of their lives are worth relaying. Whatever their reasons, they’re completely justified, of course, and there are many darn fine webcomics out there that provide little to no information about the creator. But there are a lot of other folks who don’t mind putting themselves out there, and letting readers get to know them through their comics. And whether they’re working through personal issues or sharing their joyous moments, it’s a great experience to share.