As you may have noticed from my Twitter feed or from the current review request poll, I recently bought copies of Deadpool Classic #1 and #2. Also, I've been picking up graphic novels from the library, such as Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis and K. Thor Jensen's Red Eye Black Eye.
I've had print comics on the brain recently, and I've gotten to thinking: creating a print comic is an involved process, from the creation to the printing to the distribution and promotion. It costs to create a physical, tangible comic--an investment of both time and effort. Creators and publishers alike want to ensure a good return on their investment; they make an effort to avoid bad ideas and to develop good ideas through the editorial process. My Deadpool comics credit a massive creative team in each issue, from directors to writers to letterers to inkers and colorists. Each person brings his own unique talents to the project, along with a silly nickname. But the silly nickname is beside the point.
Webcomics, on the other hand, don't have such an entry bar. (Again, I'm talking about quality, not the silly nicknames.) The low cost of online distribution allows anyone to publish his comics to a site or blog with very little effort. Further, strips can exist on the web that would never get past the editorial process--crude and sketchy trainwrecks drawn in MS Paint, or story-based comics with shoddy characterization and no attention to plot. The upshot of all this is that any comic committed to print will possess a bare minimum of quality that the average webcomic has no compulsion to match, which leads us to the question:
If print comics tend to be better--then why web?
Why--despite my dabbling in Deadpool and "autobiographic novels"--do I predominantly turn to the internet for my comic fix? The simple answer is that I'm a cheapskate. The guy who writes this blog is addicted to clipping restaurant coupons and buys his fish sticks in bulk. But there's a deeper reason beyond mere "economy of reading."
The 'net may have no minimum quality bar, but 'net innovates. There are comics that work on the web that you simply can't find elsewhere. A static-art comic in which dinosaurs discuss philosophical and social issues while a T-Rex is locked in a perpetual cycle of stomping a log cabin? Good luck selling that one to the syndicates! Penny Arcade's MA-rated violence and obscenity would bar them from all but the most lenient publications (even gaming magazines), but their caustic satire and intolerance for crap games brings much-needed accountability to the gaming industry, along with the inspired weirdness of Twisp and Catsby and The Song of the Sorcelator. Similarly, Nobody Scores' R-rated hijinks would be impossibly-pressed to find a home in print, and even if they did, their cynical and anarchic energy could not be adequately contained in anything but infinite canvas. And where else could you find an affectionate parody of superhero comics whose titular character is both a licensed medical practitioner and a ninja?
And the technical proficiency of Dr. McNinja's creative team illustrate the principle: while there is no minimum quality requirement for online publication, neither is there a maximum. There's nothing keeping a talented and hardworking cartoonist from producing comics just as good as those of his print brethren.
I read webcomics because I'm a cheapskate, certainly. But I also read them because I like good comics--and you can't find this level of innovation anywhere else.