Three Kinds of Webcomics I Can’t Believe I’m Not Seeing

Around the time my webcomics reading list included one comic about two married female itinerant laborers in space, one about eighteenth-century Bavarian religious politics, one that was at the time devoted to drawing gag strips based on Nancy Drew book covers, and one with a holiday installment entitled “The Year Kenny Loggins Ruined Christmas”, I started to suspect that Rule 34 had officially extended from pornography to webcomics, and there was now a webcomic on literally every subject conceivable to the human mind. That was two whole years ago.

And yet, despite all the thousands of comics knocking around in the tubes, some genres remain surprisingly underrepresented. Not entirely unrepresented, of course; in a field where math comics become mega-blockbusters and something as bizarre as “Homestuck” attracts cosplayers and slash fiction, there really is something out there for everyone. And yet there still exist near-virgin territories of webcomicking into which the enterprising artist could make considerable inroads, and here are three that strike me as particularly hopeful.

Children’s comics

Kids have been on the Internet for a long time now, mostly looking for porn. But now, with every other parent handing their kids smart phones and tablets to shut them up at restaurants, the time has never been better for online comics aimed at children. Hell, with Axe Cop on the scene, there are even hit online comics by children.

The internet already has a small canon of classic kid-friendly comics, including Adrian Ramos’s Count Your Sheep and Christopher Baldwin’s Little Dee. Kid-comics portal Kidjutsu offers a library of long-form comics which, although not necessarily designed for kids, are appropriate for younger readers, like Sarah Ellerton’s fantasy epic Inverloch and A.P. Furtado’s comic fantasy Elf ’n Troll. Of the current crop of kid-friendly webcomics, I’m a fan of The Last of the Polar Bears, by Lindsay Cibos, which follows the lives of two polar bear cubs born in a near future where their species is nearing extinction.

Little Dee, from June 7, 2010.

With mobile devices blowing the kids’ digital book market wide open, many publishers, programmers, and San Jose startups are competing to introduce kids’ comic apps to the market. Mobile apps definitely seem like the ideal way to bring webcomics to young readers, but it remains to be seen which providers will live and which will die. In the meantime, this is the time for kid-friendly cartoonists to get online and start building an impressionable young audience.

Political comics

Back in October of 2001, I thought political webcomics were starting to be a thing. I’d been following clip-art cartoonist David Rees from the days of My New Fighting Technique Is Unstoppable and into its office-themed follow-up, My New Filing Technique Is Unstoppable. Post September 11, Rees suddenly launched a new comic, the hard-R-for-language political strip Get Your War On. As with the Onion September 11 issue that had hit a week or so previously, it felt like permission to laugh. In the wake of mass slaughter, you can only take so much sober commentary and color-coded government doublespeak; sometimes what you need is a guy willing to reframe the debate via a clip-art businessman saying, “We’re living in the 21st Century, and people still wage war to impress invisible superheroes who live in outer space! I thought we would all be chilling out in solar-powered flying cars by now!”

Get Your War On strip from November 8, 2001

Over ten years later, that promise has been squandered. Squandered, I say! Yes, there are a few enclaves of online political cartooning, especially in the right-wing cartoonosphere, which runs the artistic gamut from the old-school, editorial-newspaper-style cartooning of John Cox and Allen Forkum to the slapdash cut-and-paste of Chris Muir’s Doonesbury­-inspired Day by Day. On the far left, Eric Monster Millikin has been posting multimedia comics with political themes for almost as long as the Internet has been a thing, and editorial cartoonist Stephanie McMillan draws both one-panels and ongoing strips about anti-corporate activism.

And yet, even as newspapers jettison their editorial cartoonists and the free weeklies—longtime beer-money providers for lefty political strippers—stop paying, political cartooning has made surprisingly little headway on the Internet. Some of the most successful political-themed webcomics, like Tatsuya Ishida’s Sinfest and Owen Gieni and Chris Crosby’s Sore Thumbs, succeed by mixing politics and current events with more popular material, like gaming humor.

Zahra’s Paradise, a First Second-backed webcomic set in Iran in the wake of the 2009 pro-democracy protests, gives a high-minded taste of what online political cartooning can be. Created by a Persian writer and an Arab artist (both of whom work anonymously), it’s published online in over a dozen languages, taking advantage of the Web’s potential to reach an international audience.

But there’s room on the Internet for less lofty political cartooning too. You know what would be awesome? If political blogs included cartoonists as a matter of course. Big blogs like Slate and Daily Kos often ape newspapers by running political cartoons, but a dedicated staff cartoonist gives a blog a distinctive look. Alas! A Blog, for example, features political cartoonist and Hereville creator Barry Deutsch as one of its core contributors, which gives its feminist/civil-rights messaging a distinctive visual style. As news outlets move online, let’s bring back the tradition of the staff editorial cartoonist.

Crit comics

That’s with an R, people. I already did a column about the other kind.

Maybe it’s because I recently started a webcomic in which I draw comic adaptations of every episode of The X-Files because it seemed like a good idea for about ten minutes, but I’ve been thinking about the dearth of criticism in comics form. Every part of the Internet that isn’t devoted to cat photos is devoted to nerds sharing their opinions on pop culture, and yet few have taken the debate to the sequential-art realm. The only area of pop culture that attracts much webcomics commentary is video gaming, and even there you see surprisingly little in-depth analysis of the games themselves.

A few cartoonists have delved into movie reviews/synopses, including Mark Monlux with The Comic Critic and Chris Shadoian with the regrettably short-lived Popcorn Picnic. And, inevitably, there are comics about comics, like Brandon Hanvey’s Comic Critics (I’m seeing a recurring theme in the titles here). But the territory still remains surprisingly undercolonized.

What about book reviews? TV show recaps? (The X-Files: TAKEN.) Or the Holy Grail of sweet cartooning gigs, restaurant reviews? I still miss Thien Pham’s I Like Eating, which ran in the East Bay Express until around 2008, and Abby Denson’s The City Sweet Tooth is still excellent. There’s already a small but growing body of recipe and foodie comics online, and restaurant reviews fit right into the trend. Plus, cartoon food always looks delicious.

I Like Eating, from August 8, 2007.

Enough with all these webcomics about science and history. The time has come for cartoonists to use the Internet the way it was meant to be used: to share their opinions about meaningless pop-cult ephemera.  Forward the zeitgeist!