Web may win in comic wars as newspapers start to go stale

Will the web replace everything as a medium?

Nicholas Gurewitch, publisher of weekly webcomic "Perry Bible Fellowship," says yes. "It is an unstoppable force," he said. "Like the 'Nothing' in 'The Never-ending Story.'"

In an age where satellite radio is establishing dominance over FM, where newspapers are scrambling to establish a Web presence to avoid extinction and television is continually in the hands of the consumer, the role of the Internet in our media landscape is growing greater with each passing moment. Webcomics, as self-explanatory as they sound, mark another notch in the rise of the Internet as a medium for our media.

Gurewitch's comic is a morbid, punch line-oriented strip that began in his college paper at Syracuse, but has since made the move to the Internet. Gurewitch is like many of his contemporaries in this exploitation of both media, as many artists who publish in daily "funny pages" are establishing online archives of their work. But will webcomics ever replace the funny pages?

"The fact that you can go online whenever you want and a new comic will be up really puts webcomics a step ahead of newspaper comics," said Matt Rumsey, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. "You can enjoy them all the time, and you don't have to pay for a newspaper."

"The comic pages in most newspapers, especially mainstream newspapers, are so stale nowadays," said Ryan North, author of the webcomic "Dinosaur Comics." "It boggles my mind. Comics like "Hagar the Horrible," "Garfield," "B.C." and others have been telling the same old jokes for over 50 years. Until recently it was really difficult to start a daily comic that wasn't family friendly, that didn't pander to the ever-aging crowd that still reads and enjoys jokes about stolen lasagna and how terrible Mondays can be. Webcomics are changing this, at the very least by forcing the comics pages to adapt, or risk becoming more and more irrelevant."

North's "Dinosaur Comics" is a strip where the pictures never change, focusing the attention of the reader on his dialogue, not on the art of the comic. For him, the Internet was a default medium because he wanted to produce a static comic.

"I didn't even consider self-publishing to be an option," North said. "Besides, the Internet offers instant gratification and a much larger audience to connect with."

Joey Comeau, who co-publishes "A Softer World," also chose the Internet for his comic.

"We decided to go with the Internet because it was a cheap way of getting the comic out in color," said Comeau. "We figured if we set up a website, and if people read it, fine. But if not, we'd still be creating something we enjoyed."

It's this ability to self-publish at little to no cost that is the major difference between webcomics and their hard-copy cohorts.

"Anyone who has a scanner and an Internet connection can write a comic," said Sarah Shoup, a freshman in the CAS and president of AU's Comic Appreciation Club. "If you want to do a really crappy comic, you can do that. It's a democratization of the medium, and that's exciting."

Rumsey admits that to find a good webcomic it takes a lot of sifting through more amateur or unoriginal comics.

"I feel like every medium where it's easy to just pick up and start creating, like webcomics or poetry or 'zines, is going have a lot of emulation in it. I don't know if I think that's a bad thing. I like that any dork with a scanner can have his own "Penny Arcade" knock-off," Comeau said, referring to a popular webcomic about videogames. "He'll put out a bunch of comics that are a rip off, and maybe in the process he'll get better, maybe not. Maybe his comic will evolve into something entirely different. Anyway, it doesn't hurt webcomics in general to have people doing their own thing. Poetry doesn't suffer from the millions of terrible amateur poets. You just appreciate the good ones more."

"Penny Arcade" is what got Yury Vasilchenka, a freshman in the Kogod School of Business, into webcomics four years ago.

"I got addicted," Vasilchenka said. "Going to "Penny Arcade" is like going to CNN for me. It's not just your typical blog-bitching. It is actual news. There is a lot of critique about the [gaming] industry and reviews of upcoming games. It really keeps me informed about what's going on."

"Penny Arcade" is a comic that caters specifically to members of the gaming community, whereas "Dinosaur Comics," "PBF" and "A Softer World" have more nonspecific punch lines.

"There is a connection between video games and webcomics, because they are both part of this online subculture," Vasilchenka said. "Gaming is becoming more mainstream, and since lots of webcomics are about video games, they're going to follow suit."

Whether the mainstreaming of webcomics will result in the death of the hard copy comics is up for debate among the initiated.

"There is no reason you should have to choose between the two," Shoup said. "People divide into camps at the tip of a hat. Anime versus western comics, Superhero versus vertigo. Its just unnecessary."

Rumsey said he feels the recent slew of superhero comics turned action films will breathe new life into comic books, and boost the declining readership that the superheroes of our youth have experienced. "Things tend to find a way to survive," he said. "Look at radio. Comics may evolve into a different format, but I think that hard copy comics will always be there."

Vasilchenka said he will remain adamant in his love for webcomics, and that he sees the replacement of hard-copy comics as an inevitable progression.

"Strictly hard copy comics are going to last as long as newspapers do," he says, "which at this rate isn't that long. Some people don't realize that digital media is the future"

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