A Guide to Webcomics: Where to Begin, For the Uninitiated or Superfan
A Guide to: Classics | Humor | Fantasy | Sci Fi & Drama | Superheroes, Horror, Diary
Diving into the world of webcomics for the first time can be difficult for the uninitiated, especially when faced with the task of trudging through a great deal of subpar work. We'll begin, as any good literature course does, with The Classics, those webcomics 101 titles that every reader should know. Whether they're weekly, daily or just updated when the creator has time, they have become the inspiration for a slew of hopeful artists. Casual readers of the nerd diary 'xkcd' or the heart-melting 'Diesel Sweeties' maybe haven't seen 'Penny Arcade,' whose imitators could be considered a genre unto themselves.
Many of them have set the precedent for the possibilities of the medium -- the incredible long-form stories of 'Achewood', the powerful influence of 'Penny Arcade' over the world of video games, and the drama of 'MegaTokyo.' These are the cream of the crop when it comes to Net-based sequential art, the ones that have become online mainstays. From anthropomorphic cats to anthropomorphic dinosaurs (yeah, it's kind of a trend), these are the comics you need to read before you die, representative of everything that's out there in webcomics-land.
'Achewood' easily stands amongst the best webcomics around today, and with good reason. Creator Chris Onstad has spent the past nine years crafting an absurdly hilarious world comprised of anthropomorphic animals, from the thong and gold chain-clad Ray Smuckles to the SAD-suffering Roast Beef. What sets Achewood apart from its compatriots is Onstad's incredible ability to write a diverse, fully developed cast of characters who exist in a world characterized by utter lunacy.
Former NASA employee Randall Munroe's 'xkcd' revels in mathematics, science, language, romance and nerdy absurdity. The thrice-weekly updates generally consist of single-panel gags illustrated with a clean stick-figure style. The frames skewer nerdy topics like computer programming or even other popular webcomics (during the strip's "Parody Week"). xkcd is so funny that even its most tech-centric strips can be appreciated by those without a degree in computer science, and a warm, human tenderness conveys what we all know: that geeks are really filled with gobs of love.
Ryan North's 'Dinosaur Comics,' or 'Qwantz,' stars a T-Rex and his two dino compatriots, as they discuss life, the merits of various radical philosophies, and a host of other incendiary topics. Dinosaur Comics is unique in that each strip's visuals are entirely the same, with only the witty dialogue and clever usage of exclamation points changing between episodes! (See what we did there?)
Cyanide and Happiness
Child molestation, life-threatening diseases and suicide are all fair game in the deviant world of 'Cyanide and Happiness.' Produced by creator Kris Wilson as well as Rob DenBleyker, Matt Melvin and Dave McElfatrick, this MS Paint-inspired strip is a childishly perverse journey into the darkest recesses of humanity.
Creator Brian Clavinger may be known today for his 'Atomic Robo' and Marvel Comics work, but his writing career began with popular webcomic '8-Bit Theater.' An epically comedic interpretation of the first 'Final Fantasy' narrative, the 'Theater' is illustrated with sprites from the NES iterations of the series, but is told with modern lingo for today's audience.
Since its creation in 1998, 'Penny Arcade' has become the most esteemed of all video game-based webcomics. Writer Jerry Holkins and artist Mike Krahulik's gag-centric comic focuses on main characters Tycho and Gabe's observations and commentary on current games and pop culture trends. Penny Arcade has developed not only a devoted following, but also its own video game spin-off, gaming convention (the Penny Arcade Expo), and charity, called Child's Play.
Scott Kurtz's 'PvP' began its life in 1998 as a gamer-centric comedy set in the offices of titular video game magazine Player Vs. Player. During its 12-year lifespan, PvP has evolved to encompass a far-reaching comedic range, focusing on pop culture and relationship-based humor, as well as Kurtz's strained relationship with his father.
Richard Stevens III's 'Diesel Sweeties' is set in a world in which pixelated humans and emotional robots coexist. Ostensibly following the exploits of Clango Cyclototron and his quest for companionship, the strip exists at the intersection between the romantically mundane and the robotically ridiculous. Beware: a surplus of robotic boob jokes abound.
'MegaTokyo' began its life as a gag strip which made light of otaku culture in the same way that Penny Arcade dealt with gaming. Originally written by Rodney Caston and Fred Gallagher, the two split ways in the early 2000s. Now, under Gallagher's direction, the strip has evolved into a complex, relationship-centered comic, with multiple characters and overlapping plot threads, as well as an achingly slow update rate (maybe due to the hand-drawn nature of the artwork). Readers should prepare themselves to slog through extensive archives to catch up on the current state of the strip, as Gallagher provides no cast information on his site.
Created in 1997, Pete Abrams's 'Sluggy Freelance' is one of the most popular and longest-running comics on the Net. Set up like a traditional newspaper gag strip (but with many continuity-heavy, long-term storylines), Sluggy stars the implausibly named Torg, a good-natured computer nerd, on his series of sci-fi quests.