By Sean Kleefeld

A few weeks back, I took a look at guest strips in webcomics, where other creators chip in to help provide a little break for the regular creator. In those cases, though, there is a regular creator whose tone and style are a large draw for the strip. Viewers come back, in part at least, because they appreciate what the original creator is trying to do; while the side trips with guest creators are fun, readers know that the strip will return to what they expect in short order. But is it possible to do a webcomic where readers don’t know what to expect with regards to creators?

I first stumbled across Flashback Universe back in 2008. The overall idea was ambitious, even in its deliberately scaled down form: to create a new comics universe with the same sense of wonder that folks had when they were first discovering Marvel and DC comics back in the 1960s and ‘70s. There was a world out there with dozens of superfolks, and they all interacted with one another whether in cameo appearances in each others’ books or when they joined forces in the JLA or Avengers. Part of the fun, as a reader, was exploring those worlds for the first time. They wanted to recreate some semblance of that.

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How does a staunch punk rationalist with a Charles Darwin tattoo deal with a Lovecraftian tar-like horror from the depths of hell? Well, maybe her unique interests are why she's the right girl for the job. In Aaron Alexovich and Drew Rausch's webcomic ELDRITCH!, said Darwin-fan Anya is put at odds with her demonically-possessed folklore-loving brother, all against the backdrop of generic suburban sprawl.

ELDTRITCH! is emblematic of the struggle between "believers" (in this case, believers in "The Old Ones" of yore), and those who embrace a more rational, scientific approach. This is symbolized by the first page of Darwin heading down into the watery depths in his bathysphere. Rationalist Anya is being plunged into the dark world of the occult and unknown -- can she fight something she doesn't even really believe in? Or will the seemingly-disparate worlds of Science and Magic find a common ground?

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By Sean Kleefeld

So what do you do when you’re reading a webcomic and have a question about it? Well, you ask, obviously. In an earlier column, I noted that webcomic creators are generally very approachable, so it makes sense that if you’re interested in what they might think about a particular topic, you can go ahead away. What’s really cool, though, is that there are any number of ways they can respond.

One of the most obvious ways of asking a question is right in the comments section of the comic itself. Not only are you pretty well guaranteed the creators will see it, but they’ll immediately know exactly what you’re referring to since the actual comic art is on the very same page. In this exchange, we learn the main source of inspiration for one of Eddie Pittman’s spaceship designs in Red’s Planet...

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By Sean Kleefeld

A few weeks back, I noted that all forms of art evolve, including webcomics. But another interesting angle on the same idea is that artists themselves evolve as well! Any artist worth his weight in salt is going to be perpetually looking at how they’re working and how that might be improved. Artists, as a rule, don’t like getting bored with their work and they often try exploring different approaches to see what other styles and techniques work for them. So it should come as no surprise that many long-running webcomics don’t look the same now as they used to.

Let’s start with an easy, popular example: Least I Could Do. Here’s a strip from 2003...

And here’s another from just a few months later...

The same characters, but wildly different looking. Now this case, though, astute readers will note that two different creators are listed in the comics’ credits. Trevor Adams helped launch the strip with Ryan Sohmer but only worked on it for about six months before Chad Porter took over on art duties. But two years later, Lar deSouza took up the reins from Porter and each artist brought their own approach to the characters.

But look at what happened as deSouza worked on the series. Here are strips from 2006, 2008 and 2009 still featuring the characters Rayne and John...

Perhaps most noticeable, the characters become more stylized and streamlined. But they also become more internally consistent. The specific contours of the characters’ faces become more regular as deSouza gets more accustomed to drawing the characters on a daily basis. He’s figured out ways to make creating his art better (a subjective measure, of course, but I think it’s safe to presume that deSouza isn’t trying to make his art worse!) and making his creation process smoother. Read More...

Comics legend Stan Lee recently helped comic collective ACT-I-VATE close out their Panels for Primates charity webcomic with his collaboration with Emmy-winning artist Dean Haspiel, "Even Gorillas Have Pride!"

Here's the deets on Panels for Primates -- then read the webcomic! Read More...

By Sean Kleefeld

When I was in seventh grade, several of us took an extra-curricular class at the local community college for a semester. This particular class was on sign language, and we spent the term learning the basics of American Sign Language (ASL). I’ve never had any practical use for it, but I do remember a little, in part because the instructional book we were given was a comic. Not just a “comic” in that broad McCloudian sense of the word, but there was a legitimate, illustrated story broken down into panels over the course of 30 or 40 pages. It was about a deaf kid who starts at a new school, and how he’s able to make friends by teaching them sign language. It wasn’t a particularly good story, but it included any number of sequences in which the hand signals were drawn out in a decidedly explanatory fashion.

I know I held on to that comic for years, but I seemed to lose track of it sometime around college. At this point, I couldn’t even tell you the name of the book, much less who wrote and/or drew it. But I was pleased to recently discover a new webcomic called That Deaf Guy, a comic about a regular guy who happens to be deaf, and how he deals with a world around him which, for the most part, can hear perfectly fine.

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By Sean Kleefeld

Back in 1997, Universal Press Syndicate convinced many of the cartoonists they represent to switch strips as a somewhat meta-textual April Fool’s Day joke. Shoe was by Mort Walker. For Better or For Worse was by Mike Peters. Luann was by Dan Pirarro. You could immediately tell that the characters all looked different; they weren’t in the style of their usual creators. More interestingly, though, these “new” creators didn’t always stick to the usual formula of the strip; they would apply their own sense of humor.

But it was essentially a one-off event. The Great Comic Strip Switcheroo, they called it. The cartoonists held on to their strips, often not letting anyone else play with them until they were well and completely done for good. And even then, they were most often only passed along to relatives. Tom Wilson passed Ziggy along to his son in 1987, and Dik Browne gave Hagar the Horrible to his son a little over a year later. The Family Circus, Hi & Lois, Beetle Bailey, The Wizard of Id and B.C. were also kept in the family after their respective originators left, though the transitions were more gradual. Read More...

What do you get when you mix the creative talents behind such properties as Invader Zim, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Disney's Haunted Mansion, and the cult gothic comic Sullengrey -- plus a hearty helping of Cthulhu mythos?

You can find out now by reading the first nine pages of Aaron Alexovich's and Drew Rausch's Zuda-winning digital comic Eldritch! -- download a PDF of it here for free!

"ANYA SOBCZEK is a snarling science major with an arm full of Darwin tattoos. Her brother OWEN is a sensitive young thing in a coven of teenage occultists. The Sobczek sibs have always been brutally competitive, but now that Owen’s blood has started BUBBLING with ancient tentacled abominations, their rivalry’s about to enter a vast new dimension of cosmic terror…"

Then, starting June 15th, 2011, Eldritch! will be released in six 24-page installments every sixth week to every digital device known to God, Man, and Shoggoth alike, including your desktop, iPad/iPod/iPhone, Android, Nook, Kindle, and eNecronomicon (pending). You'll be able to get it at comixology and Graphic.ly, and the issues will be priced at a reasonable $0.99 each. Read More...

A "modern-day mythological romance," Sam and Lilah blends a timeless tale of romance with manga-styled technicolor flair. Written by Jim Dougan and Hyeondo Park, ACT-I-VATE's webcomic makes its debut today on MTV GEEK!

"It's a story of two young lovers who find that their destinies are affected by an ages-old gypsy curse," Dougan told MTV GEEK in a video interview during this year's NYC's MoCCA Fest. "And it's about what they do to fight through that and learn to grow and love one another."

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By Sean Kleefeld

Back in the early days of American comic strips, creators were lauded on high pedestals that most people didn’t even dream about ascending. Name like Hal Foster and Alex Raymond were said in reverence. Guys like George Herriman palled around with Hollywood big shots on the famous Roach Studios lots. Milton Caniff was featured on the cover of Time magazine. They were considered unapproachable celebrities in much the same way actors and rock stars are. You don’t just “hang out” with Lady Gaga and comic strip creators were viewed as just as removed from the general public, despite showing a deep understanding of popular sentiment in their comics.

When I was 12 or 13, I wrote a fan letter to Reg Smythe, creator of Andy Capp. This was, of course, prior to the web so information was a little harder to come by. Part of why I chose to write to him was to find out something... anything about him. In fact, I didn’t at the time even know if “Reg” was short for “Reginald” or “Regina” and I recall trying to be very careful to avoid personal pronouns in my letter! But the other aspect to not having information easily available was that I had nowhere to send the letter to! Even with my parents’ help, the only physical address we could find was the local paper in which Andy Capp ran.

So I sent my letter off to “Reg Smythe c/o The Plain Dealer.” They then had to forward it on to his syndicate (at the time, I believe it was Publishers-Hall). They had to forward that on to The Daily Mirror, who had to pass it along to Smythe himself. Amazingly, the letter indeed got to Smythe and he wrote back a short note on Mirror stationery charmingly answering my questions. But that response letter arrived in my mailbox several months after I had first written.

Despite his cordial response, there were couple of things going on in that simple letter that enforced that barrier between creator and fan. First, and through no fault of Smythe himself, the lag time in getting letters across the Atlantic Ocean meant that timely communication was out of the question. If I dashed off a letter praising a particular strip he had done, it wouldn’t arrive until at least a month or two after he drew it. Second, that he responded with a typed letter on Mirror stationery suggested a more formal exchange. Unlike his main character, he didn’t seem like the kind of guy you could just meet for drinks at the local pub. Read More...

Graphic designer and illustrator Omar Angulo's impressive resume includes designing album cover art and posters for such musical artists as Against All Authority, Alice Cooper, Bad Brains, Beyonce, The Cool Kids, Danzig, Dethklok, Gogol Bordello, The Melvins, The Misfits, and Q-Tip:

Now, in collaboration with webcomics collective ACT-I-VATE, he's created the one-shot comics story "Hurricane Wilma" -- which you can read now for free! Check out this funny and touching story of how a bunch of disconnected neighbors come together in the face of a natural disaster right here, only at ACT-I-VATE!

Related Posts:
Video Interview: MTV Geek Launches ACT-I-VATE's All-Ages Fantasy 'Farseeker'
ACT-I-VATE's 'Revolution Will Be Televised'
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By Sean Kleefeld

All art forms evolve over time. Sometimes a new technology becomes available; sometimes a new technique is applied to an existing technology. I expect it was considered revolutionary among the earliest hominid cave painters when someone first realized that pigments could applied on the wall where one’s hand was, leaving a negative image instead of the usual positive one achieved by simply brushing the rudimentary paints on the rocks. So it should come as no surprise that webcomics evolve as well.

Take a look at the home page of Argon Zark! as it looked in 1996...

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By Sean Kleefeld

You’re probably familiar with any number of newspaper comic strips. Hagar the Horrible, The Wizard of Id, Mary Worth... You might not read them regularly, maybe you haven’t even seen one of them in years, but you’re at least somewhat familiar with the premise and maybe the main characters. That’s because A) they used to be the only comic strips available for generations and B) most of what’s being run in newspapers today has been in print for at least the past several decades. The newspaper comics biggest asset, collectively, is essentially longevity.

Webcomics, of course, don’t have that working for them. The very earliest ones only date back to the mid-1980s, and the longest running success stories are barely over ten years old. They are, relatively speaking, the new kids on the block, using different styles and techniques than their print counterparts. In fact, they’ve got an entirely different mindset about comics that has led them into clashes with the old guard of newspaper cartoonists.

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By Sean Kleefeld

So you’ve found a webcomic you really enjoy. You really like the art and the stories are entertaining. You’ve backtracked through the archives and read the entire thing from the beginning. The comic updates are part of your regular routine. You’ve even logged onto the comics’ forum and chatted with the creator and other fans. Then, one day, instead of seeing the normal comic update, you find a message that says the strip is ending.

Maybe the comic was designed to have a finite story and the creator just reached the end. Maybe life got in the way and the creator isn’t able to maintain it anymore. Maybe the creator didn’t like where the comic was going from a creative perspective. In any event, there won’t be any new installments of the comic for you.

With many (but certainly not all!) printed comics, the characters and stories are owned by a large company. If Dan Slott stops writing Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel can just hire someone else to write it. That kind of financial flexibility isn’t an option for the vast majority of webcomics. Besides, most webcomic creators see their creations as deeply personal expressions and wouldn’t want others in control of them anyway.

Frequently, the creator will not simply end their webcomic but will provide a sincere, if not always detailed, explanation. Mark Ricketts ended Moose Mountain Comics after a hiatus this way...

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By Sean Kleefeld

If you’ve been following along with this column, I’m hoping that by now you’ve started to at least browse through a few webcomics. Whether they’ve been ones I’ve mentioned or ones you came across from somewhere else, you’ve probably noticed that they tend to fall into one of two camps with regards to formatting. They either look like they’re designed to drop nicely into a standard newspaper funny pages layout, or they’re the same size and proportions as a typical monthly comic book. One might ask: where is that alleged “infinite canvas”?

For those unfamiliar with the phrase, “infinite canvas” was coined by Scott McCloud in Reinventing Comics. He was referring to the fact that a webpage does not have any physical boundaries the way a piece of paper does. A comic strip or book can only contain artwork in a format that fits on the piece of paper it’s printed on; a webpage, by contrast, can continue scrolling in any direction indefinitely. The comic artist, therefore, is not required to format his/her work to any particular set of dimensions. The digital canvas will allow the work to fill as much space as it needs and, for all practical purposes, is infinite.

So with an infinite canvas readily available, why do so many webcomic artists duplicate formats meant for print?

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