In my sporadically accurate history of webcomics last month, I was forced to leave out any number of major developments, or else I’d have had a Ken Smith essay on my hands. For example, I didn’t even touch on the subject of webcomics collectives and communities. Although webcomics has been a chummy (or if you’re less kind, incestuous) scene almost from the beginning, formal collectives and anthology sites only picked up steam after the collapse of the primeval webcomics portal Big Panda. Keenspot, launched in 2000, was the first major collective, followed by Komikwerks in 2001 and Modern Tales in 2002.
As the current content editor at Modern Tales, it’s bad form for me to direct traffic to another site, but I think the consistently strongest webcomics collective has always been MT’s sister site Girlamatic. Many have criticized the name for turning off male readers—Ted Rall proclaimed the site a “ghetto for women cartoonists” when it was announced in late 2002—to which I can only say that every alternative anyone ever came up with was even worse. Personally, I like the name for its juxtaposition of squishy girliness with hard retro tech. It reflects the contradictions of the site, which, from launch onward, has always offered a strange blend of elements: cuteness and horror, comedy and melodrama, gruesome darkness and giggly light, femininity and masculinity. Maybe that’s why, starting with Ted Rall, a lot of people have never known quite what to make of it.
It’s also the friendliest webcomics site I’ve been a part of. As one of the old-timers of webcartooning, I’ve done comics for nearly all the sites in the Modern Tales family (I didn’t have a comic on Adventure Strips, but then it turned into Graphic Smash, for which I wrote Smithson), and Girlamatic has the warmest community. I’m not actively contributing to the site right now, but it’s one of my favorite places on the Internet.
Girlamatic has boasted a consistently high level of comics talent, but these, in no particular order, are some of my all-time favorites from the last eight years (has it been eight years already?) of the site.
–Bite Me! by Dylan Meconis. It was a huge coup for Girlamatic when Dylan Meconis moved the archives of Bite Me!, her popular slapstick comedy about vampires in the French Revolution, to the site. Meconis started Bite Me! in high school, and over the course of the comic she evolved from a talented teenager to the gifted, assured creator currently drawing the stunning historical drama Family Man. Ah, but Bite Me! is so goofily, effortlessly funny. When Robespierre interrupts the spree-killing vampire Claire in her revolt across Paris with, “SILENCE! I am Robespierre … and I love your work!”, well, that’s worth any number of grandmothers, as they used to say in the back issues of TCJ.
Although Bite Me! is still archived at Girlamatic as well as being available in print as a graphic novel, this is as good a time as any to tip the nib to the many comics that have gone on to wider success after temporary stints on Girlamatic, including Barry Deutsch’s Hereville, Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, Dave Roman’s Astronaut Elementary, and Erika Moen’s DAR.
–Lucas and Odessa by Spike. Before Charlie “Spike” Trotman hit it big with her alternative-universe bildungsroman Templar, Arizona, she drew Lucas and Odessa, about a cynical teenage girl and her friendship with a surly, alcoholic drifter, replete with her trademark lush brush and biting sense of humor. As far as I can tell, Lucas and Odessa is no longer available online, which is a cryin’ shame.
–The Stiff by Jason Thompson. A romantic comedy with almost no romance or comedy, a zombie story with almost no zombies, a manga-influenced comic drawn in the least manga-like style imaginable, The Stiff stood out as the least overtly girly of Girlamatic’s launch titles. Alistair Toth, a shy, uptight teenage boy, refuses to admit that he could do anything as human as be attracted to a girl, so he can’t bring himself to tell his friends that he’s got a crush on new transfer student Alice. Oh, and he hypnotized himself while sick with the flu and may now be undead. The whole thing is drawn in Thompson’s obsessively detailed, creepily horrific art style. Thompson drew hundreds of pages before putting The Stiff on indefinite hiatus, and most recently broke into print with his graphic novel series King of RPGs. I’d love to see him get back to The Stiff.
–Bold Riley and the Witch in the Wild by Leia Weathington. Girlamatic has hosted a number of great fantasy adventure comics (Rachel Moore’s beautiful Unicorn Campaign, Laura Wilson’s charming Five Star), but I’ll give the shout-out here to Bold Riley, a chronicle of the exploits of everyone’s favorite lesbian swashbuckler, by Leia Weathington, who was a student at the Academy of Art when she drew this story. Leia is working on a print collection of Bold Riley stories drawn by a variety of artists, but I like her own drawings of Riley and her world.
–Shrub Monkeys by Katie Shanahan, a.k.a. Kt Shy, and Shagster Shan. Canadian animator and Flight contributor Katie Shanahan is one of those artists, like Kyle Baker and John Kricfalusi, who just plain draws funny. Her autobio strips, sometimes co-written with her brother Shagster, are hilarious to look at and hilarious to read. They’re also shamelessly girl-nerdy. In a typical recent strip, Kt bewails the fact that she got into convention cosplay after “the carefree hot stage” and can now only play moms and airship captains, causing her younger sister to reprimand her: “Cosplay knows no rules, shame or boundaries! Check out that fifty-plus Catwoman, she’s rockin’ it!” Could this strip be the essence, the very soul of Girlamatic?
–Galaxion by Tara Tallan. I started reading Galaxion when it was a print comic in the ’90s, and I was thrilled when it moved online. Tallan moved the comic off Girlamatic last year, but it now has its own site so readers can continue to enjoy the Star Trek-influenced adventures of the Galaxion, an aging starship with a lovely Art Nouveau look, and its crew, notably Captain Fusella Mierter and geologist protagonist Aria Schafer. Tallan’s old-school manga-influenced art has been moving in a more expressive direction of late, with chunky lines and lightly exaggerated faces and figures.
–Return of the Mad Bun by Rachel Hartman. Also on the subject of cartoonists I loved in print before they started drawing stuff online, Rachel Hartman did a one-shot follow-up to her beloved minicomics series Amy Unbounded, “Return of the Mad Bun”, on Girlamatic. This made me very happy. That is all.
–Rumble Girls: Runaway Lightning Ohmry by Lea Hernandez. Lea Hernandez was the first editor of Girlamatic, and her contribution to the site was a sequel to her fun-as-hell graphic novel Rumble Girls: Silky Warrior Tansie. Now she just needs to draw more Rumble Girls. Come on, Lea!
–Witch Knots by Ira Marcks. Now off Girlamatic and on witchknots.com, this odd and beautiful watercolor strip follows a fairy-tale narrative about a young witch and the suspicious townspeople with whom she cuts deals, three panels at a time. Marcks draws great monsters and weird animals: octopuses, hermit crabs, giant bird-people. Hypnotizing.
–Li’l Mell by Shaenon K. Garrity and others. It’s unspeakably tacky to plug one’s own webcomic, but I have two things to say in favor of my on-hopefully-temporary-hiatus, not-really-for-kids kiddie comic Li’l Mell: 1. I was miraculously able to recruit a roster of artists that included such greats as Vera Brosgol, Bill Mudron, Andre Richard (whose relentlessly cute Jeepers has been running on Girlamatic since launch), my husband Andrew Farago, and, less enticingly, myself; and 2. one time I got bored and just started drawing pastiches of Henry Darger, and that turned out surprisingly well. So my objective opinion is that Li’l Mell is awesome. And I can’t imagine it anywhere but on Girlamatic.