The internet has become a rich repository of art, as well as information and news (some of it useful, a good portion of it somewhat useless). Many budding artists who would have previously been at the mercy of jaded, unsympathetic and greedy managers and publishers can now skip over the traditional arduous process of gaining an audience. They can instead go straight to the masses.
One art form that I think has particularly benefitted from this 'soft' medium of publishing, is comic books. The word 'webcomic', meaning a comic that is published primarily online, has become an accepted part of vocabulary (much like 'blog' and 'Google!) The best part about webcomics (for the viewer) is undoubtedly the convenience and accessibility. Traditionally, comics cost between $4-9 (in Australia). Webcomics are free. The majority of comic stores are in Perth city, meaning a trip by train or an expensive car ride. Webcomics only require you to have a computer with internet access. Hardcover comics in a continuing series are published, printed and distributed once a month on average. Webcomic series are updated everywhere from once a week to once a day.
The internet, when it first began, was a primarily free medium. Now, if the artist (I am speaking specifically about comics here, but this applies to other web-based arts as well) wants to maintain his or her creative independence (and stay on the web, free) but make the comic a full-time, paying endeavor, there are several options. S/he can choose to produce hard-copy comics, with exclusive artwork or extra panels. A lot of webcomics offer t-shirts through web-based producers like cafepress or Jinx. Original art pieces, or desktop backgrounds are often offered for people to support their favourite artists and writers. Several artists have established Paypal donation accounts in order to (successfully!) raise money for convention visits. Many popular comic artists/writers have been known to make appearances at small(er) conventions, taking with them merchandise and offering signings to fans. This usually only happens in America – we Aussies don't get a lot of conventions, unfortunately.
If you like comics, but haven't been able to find any online, these are my top 5:
1.Ctrl+Alt+Del. It's about 3 gamers (2 guys, 1 girl) who share a house, and the antics they get up to in-game and out. Mostly out. Updated every 2-3 days.
2.Girls With Slingshots. The tagline of this comic is “two girls and a talking cactus”. It's about best friends navigating life in general. It's very humorous and at times silly, as the duo encounter strange characters and deal with their other friends' general weirdness. Updated daily, except on Sundays.
3.Head Trip. I'm really honestly not sure what the premise behind this comic is. I stumbled across it because a friend sent me a link to their hilarious anti-Twilight comic on deviantart. It has since moved to its own site. Updated irregularly.
4.Looking for Group. This comic is based on the traditional MMORPG format. It's a group of characters, including but not limited to an elf, a healer and a necromancer. Lots of jokes and an interesting, if somewhat convoluted storyline. Updated a few times a week (I think).
5.Exiern. Very traditional art style, which is strange, since the main character is a woman called Tiffany, who actually used to be a MALE barbarian warrior, but was cursed into, er, 'her' current form'. A very interesting read. Updated irregularly, probably because of the huge amount of detail in each panel.
A good, if somewhat mainstream one to watch for is Dark Horse presents, an anthology of one-shots and miniseries created by a group of more well-known artists and writers. It's free to view on MySpace and can also be purchased in hard-copy from most comic stores or online. My favourite from there would have to be Sugar Shock, a slightly absurd one-shot written by Joss Whedon. It's about a band. Very over-the-top, but I quite liked it.
Comics are becoming a hugely popular story-telling medium – more mainstream and popularised than in previous years. Stories that began as movies, TV shows and even web series are being continued and/or added to in comic form – Buffy, Angel, The Guild, Firefly, Dr. Horrible, Farscape and probably a whole lot more that I don't know about. Many of the movies created in the last 5+ years have been based on comic characters and stories – X-men, Spiderman, Batman, The Watchmen, just to name a few. Even Stardust was originally a graphic novel.
My own comic repertoire is unfortunately a bit limited, but a recent find I would most definitely recommended is a series called Chew. It's a little weird and quite gruesome, but really quirky and intriguing. I purchased the newly-published TPB, which collects issues 1-5. I can't wait to get my hands on the rest of it, I want to know what happens! I really like the style of Chew – it's angular, a little bit cartoony but in a good way. The characters are all very interesting and varied. The storyline is quite fast-paced, so if you do pick it up, take your time with it.
One of my other favourites was introduced to me by a friend of mine – Deadpool. I've been collecting the latest series, Merc With A Mouth. Deadpool seriously cracks me up. He's a loon. The only thing I don't like about Deadpool is the female characters. I get that 15-30 years ago, comics were pretty much aimed at boys/men only, but that's not the case any more. It seems like nearly every comic I pick up, the women have huge tits, tiny waists and are wearing hardly anything. Now, while I can dubiously accept the fact that unrealistic body proportions are a traditional part of comic art (most of the main male characters are pretty muscular. That's why I like the main character of Chew, he's really scrawny) but where are all the involved, capable female characters? Sure, Dr. Betty in Deadpool is smart and can handle a gun quite professionally. But she's a really peripheral character.
I know I'm probably generalising based on a really small sampling of comic-dom, but even when I browse the covers in-store, I either see guys, or boobs. But if you would like to recommend a comic , whether online or hard-copy, please leave a comment.