Despite the combative title, this series of articles will simply explore the differences between the two mediums. Especially when it comes to the challenges presented by publishing a webcomic.
Early webcomic pioneers such as Scott McCloud believed that webcomics would exist on an infinite canvas. They wouldn’t be limited to a page format. But due to various factors and restrictions, most modern webcomics still adhere to the layout of a 3 panel gag strip or comic book page.
Today webcomics cover a range of genres from crass comedy to social commentary. The average standard of webcomics is rising with some boasting art and story lines that rival those found in mainstream comics. With more and more professionals releasing content solely via the internet, their print counterparts may one day become obsolete.
However, the public’s expectations are still shaped by print comics. Too often readers and creators don’t understand the significant differences between releasing a webcomic and releasing a print comic.
Webcomics come with their own constraints and limitations, one of which is a smaller creative team. Most print comics are put together by several people. It’s this division of labor and expertise which allows a full issue to be released on a monthly basis.
A webcomic is often written, illustrated and lettered by one or two people. Having to do the work of an entire team means pages are released at a much slower pace, normally weekly or biweekly.
A buffer of finished pages is normally required to maintain this schedule. If one runs out of buffer pages, updating becomes a very stressful task. Many creators put a series on hiatus or worse, discontinue it. The other option is start posting an already completed “filler” or side comic instead of the main story line. This buys the creative team time to finish more buffer pages of the main story line.
But it may be an unpopular compromise. Fans can become frustrated if they have to go weeks without seeing the main protagonist.
A “filler” story line or bonus content would only take one issue or less in a print run. Because webcomics are released one page at a time, a short bonus comic seems to run much longer than it actually does.
To quote Anina Bennett, reading comics can be broken down into the following: “The pace at which time seems to move within the story, and the pace at which your audience reads the story.”
Many webcomic creators underestimate the second factor. A weekly update schedule affects the pace at which the audience reads the story. This in turn can distort how long fictional events seem to take within the story. Even if they don’t suffer from pacing issues, a webcomic can still seem to meander.
This schedule also places restriction on the narrative structure. Non-linear storytelling is best explored in a self-contained work. Jumping between multiple time periods is sometimes difficult to follow in one-page weekly installments.
Alan Moore helped pioneer flashback sequences that didn’t require visual cue or signifiers. His early scripts often called for flashbacks featuring the identical art style, coloring and borders as panels set in the present day. He did away with captions informing the reader of jumps between past and present.
And it worked.
People were still able to follow the thread of his comics despite this. It was significant step forward for mature comics.
Unfortunately, his technique seldom works in webcomics. They’re foiled by the release schedule. Readers approach each update assuming it’s a continuation of last week’s scene or at least, set in the same time period. Without a flashback effect, it can become confusing.
The main difference between a print comic and a webcomic is that one can read a print comic in a single setting. That makes it easier to follow the flow of the story and digest the scene changes. Therefore many webcomic creators may find it best to use more traditional flashback effects.
This may seem a step backwards but the truth is that we’re creating webcomics day-by-day. In order to pioneer the comics of the future, we may have to rely on the techniques of the past.