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Webcomics (also known as online comics or Internet comics) are comics published on a website. While many are published exclusively on the web, others are also published in magazines, newspapers or in books.
Webcomics can be compared to self-published print comics in that almost anyone can create their own webcomic and publish it. Readership levels vary widely; many are read only by the creator's immediate friends and family, while some of the largest claim audiences well over one million readers. Webcomics range from traditional comic strips and graphic novels to avant garde comics, and cover many genres, styles and subjects. Only a select few are financially successful.
There are several differences between webcomics and print comics. With webcomics the restrictions of the traditional newspapers or magazines can be lifted, allowing artists and writers to take advantage of the web's unique capabilities.
The freedom webcomics provide allows artists to work in nontraditional styles. Clip art or photo comics (also known as fumetti) are two types of webcomics that do not use traditional artwork. A Softer World, for example, is made by overlaying photographs with strips of typewriter-style text. As in the constrained comics tradition, a few webcomics, such as Dinosaur Comics by Ryan North, are created with most strips having art copied exactly from one (or a handful of) template comics and only the text changing. Pixel art, such as that created by Richard Stevens of Diesel Sweeties, is similar to that of sprite comics but instead uses low-resolution images created by the artist himself.
Webcomics that are independently published are not subject to the content restrictions of book publishers or newspaper syndicates, enjoying an artistic freedom similar to underground and alternative comics. Some webcomics stretch the boundaries of taste, taking advantage of the fact that internet censorship is virtually nonexistent in countries like the United States. The content of webcomics can still cause problems, such as Leisure Town artist Tristan Farnon's legal trouble after creating a homoerotic Dilbert parody, or the Catholic League's protest of artist Eric Monster Millikin's "blasphemous treatment of Jesus."
Scott McCloud, one of the first advocates of webcomics, has pioneered the idea of the infinite canvas where, rather than being confined to normal print dimensions, artists are free to spread out in any direction indefinitely with their comics. Other webcomics, such as Charley Parker's Argon Zark! or the work of political cartoonist Mark Fiore, incorporate animations or even interactive elements into their comics.
However, the format and style of many, if not most, webcomics is still similar to that of traditional newspaper comic strips like Peanuts consisting of three or four panels. Similar to comic books, manga and graphic novels, other webcomics come in a page form rather than a strip form and tend to focus more on story than gags. Webcomic creators often publish print collections when their archive consists of a significant number of strips; artists who create webcomics in nonstandard formats may experience difficulties to come up with an adequate page layout.
The first online comic was Eric Millikin's Witches and Stitches, an unauthorized Wizard of Oz parody comic which was published on CompuServe in 1985. It was followed by T.H.E. Fox, a furry comic strip by Joe Ekaitis which was published on CompuServe and Quantum Link in 1986.
Other online comics followed in the early '90s. Hans Bjordahl's college-themed comic strip Where the Buffalo Roam was published on FTP and usenet in 1991, and David Farley's single-panel gag cartoon Doctor Fun was published on the web in September 1993. Stafford Huyler's stick figure comic NetBoy began publishing on the web in the summer of 1994 and NetComics Weekly from Finnish Comics Society was started in mid-1994. Among the longest-running webcomics, some of which are still being published, are Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan (a Dutch comic that started in November 1994) The Polymer City Chronicles (March 1995), Art Comics Daily (March 1995), Argon Zark! (June 1995), Kevin and Kell (September 1995), Slow Wave (November 1995), and Eric Monster Millikin (Fall 1995). The term "webcomics" was used as early as April 1995.
The late 1990s saw the number of webcomics increase dramatically. In 1997, Goats appeared (in April), followed by Sluggy Freelance (in August), Roomies! (in September), Piled Higher and Deeper (in October), User Friendly (in November). The webcomics Pokey the Penguin, Penny Arcade, Jerkcity and PvP began a year later, in 1998.
In July 2000, Austin Osueke launched eigoMANGA a web portal that published original online manga "webmanga". Within this year, eigoMANGA brought comic book industry attention to webcomics after being featured in many comic book web magazine articles and later appearing in the March 2001 issue of Wizard Magazine.
In 2001, the subscription webcomics site Cool Beans World was launched after a high profile publicity campaign including extensive print advertising. It won Internet Magazine's "Site of the Month" award in October 2001. Contributors included, amongst others, UK-based comic book creators Pat Mills, Simon Bisley, John Bolton and Kevin O'Neill, and the author Clive Barker. Serialised content included Scarlet Traces and Marshal Law.
In March 2001, Shannon Denton and Patrick Coyle launched Komikwerks.com serving free strips from comics and animation professionals. The site launched with 9 titles including Steve Conley's Astounding Space Thrills, Jason Kruse's The World of Quest and Bernie Wrightson’s The Nightmare Expeditions.
On March 2, 2002, Joey Manley founded Modern Tales, offering subscription-based webcomics. The Modern Tales spin-off serializer followed in October 2002, then came girlamatic and Graphic Smash in March and September 2003 respectively.
While comic strip syndicates had been present online since the mid-1990s, traditional comic book publishers, such as Marvel Comics and Slave Labour Graphics, did not begin making serious digital efforts until 2006 and 2007. DC Comics launched its web comic imprint, Zuda Comics in October 2007. The site featured user submitted comics in a competition for a professional contract to produce web comics. In July 2010, it was announced that DC was closing down Zuda.
A growing number artists make a full-time living from their businesses and intellectual property, among them Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins of Penny Arcade, Pete Abrams of Sluggy Freelance, and Randall Munroe of xkcd. Comics online can generate revenue from many sources, including: advertising, original art sales, merchandising, print collections, subscription fees and reader donations. These methods are not dissimilar to avenues of income available to traditional artists.
Many webcomics artists have received honors for their work. In 2006, Gene Luen Yang's graphic novel American Born Chinese, originally published as a webcomic on Modern Tales, was the first graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award. Don Hertzfeldt's animated film based on his webcomics, Everything Will Be OK, won the 2007 Sundance Film Festival Jury Award in Short Filmmaking, a prize rarely bestowed on an animated film.
Many traditionally print-comics focused organizations have added award categories for comics published on the web. The Eagle Awards established a Favorite Web-based Comic category in 2000, and the Ignatz Awards followed the next year by introducing an Outstanding Online Comic category in 2001. After having nominated webcomics in several of their traditional print-comics categories, the Eisner Awards began awarding comics in the Best Digital Comic category in 2005. In 2006 the Harvey Awards established a Best Online Comics Work category, and in 2007 the Shuster Awards began an Outstanding Canadian Web Comic Creator Award. In 2012 the National Cartoonists Society gave their first Reuben Award for "On-line comic strips."
Other awards focus exclusively on webcomics. The Web Cartoonists' Choice Awards consist of a number of awards that were handed out annually from 2001 to 2008. The Clickburg Webcomic Awards (also known as "the Clickies") has been handed out annually since 2005 at the Stripdagen Haarlem comic festival. The awards require the recipient to be active in the Benelux countries, with the exception of one international award.
Some webcomics, such as Helen, Sweetheart of the Internet, Macanudo, Van Von Hunter and Diesel Sweeties have been syndicated and published on daily newspapers' comics pages. Others such as The Perry Bible Fellowship and PartiallyClips have been published in smaller alternative newspapers, or printed in magazines, such as The Order of the Stick in Dragon Magazine and Get Your War On in Rolling Stone.
Several cartoonists like Phil and Kaja Foglio of Girl Genius have stopped publishing traditional comic books and instead serialise their content as a webcomic to reach a larger audience. Often, the webcomic is later published in the form of trade paperback collections.
In August 2000, Scott McCloud's Reinventing Comics, half of which consisted of a treatise on webcomics, was published. Though sometimes controversial, McCloud was one of the first advocates of digital comics and remains an influential figure in the webcomics field. His theories have sometimes led to debates about where webcomics should go and what, precisely, they are. McCloud's early advocacy of micropayments has also been a source of debate.
In June 2006, Universal Press Syndicate editorial cartoonist Ted Rall focused on webcomics for the third volume of the Attitude: The New Subversive Cartoonists series, and included comics such as The Perry Bible Fellowship, Cat and Girl, and A Lesson Is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible.
In 2008, Brad Guigar, Dave Kellett, Scott Kurtz, and Kris Straub released How to Make Webcomics, published by Image Comics. The book covered many practical matters of making money through webcomics, including website design, publishing, and merchandising.
Comics in short and long form have also been published online in languages other than English. For example, in 2000 Joscha Sauer started the German-only nichtlustig.de (translation: not funny) and published a free daily black-humour cartoon. His work quickly became well known in Germany and gave him confidence to keep submitting to publishers until Carlsen Verlag offered him a contract in 2003. From then on he published his comics in an annual book, sales of which comprise his income.
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