The Return of the Comic Strip: Online

Video killed the radio star, but thirty years before, Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent and the McCarthy era killed the comic book's chance to evolve into a mature medium. The comic strip as objet d'art held on in the newspaper, with the Joycean wordplay of Walt Kelly's Pogo, Hal Foster's Prince Valiant (which survives, when you can find it, under Gary Gianni and Mark Schultz) and Frank Frazetta's underpaid work-for-hire on Li'l Abner. By the 1970's, newspapers had shrunk the panel size by half, which made panoramic vistas and pen-and-ink work like that shown here next to useless.

Doonesbury was moved to the editorial page so that no innocent might trip over an idea, Peanuts was treading water and collecting royalties, and wit and craft were replaced by odious pablum.
I don't know if anyone outside fandom has noticed yet, but webcomics have been quietly building a new golden era for the comic strip, although dignified people are still embarrassed by the form. True, New York wants us to call them "graphic novels" and constipate the reader with proper MFA nightmares like Chris Ware, the kind of comics they think they should enjoy (ooh, look! art deco borders!), like those end of the year Oscar-bait films that someone said "confuse pain with art".
But Get Your War On and This Modern World captured an era as well as anything in any medium, and Alison Bechtel's alt-family strip Dykes to Watch Out For is finishing up just as the format is finding its legs. It's telling that the newly corporate Village Voice tried to kill This Modern World, and that the people in Bechtel's strip look more like my friends and family than Hi and Lois ever did-- and at their most dysfunctional, they still aren't as annoying as Cathy.
Kalamazoo artist Jane Irwin is posting her historical fiction about clockwork automatons online, before it appears between covers.
Phil and Katja Foglio's all-ages steampunk adventure Girl Genius can be read online; and sometimes I gotta go for the profane, self-referential "Sweet Monkey Jesus!" humor of Neo-Monster Island (and if you've been waiting for Godzilla to stomp the Bush administration into chutney, here's your chance to get your kaiju on).
Of the big, corporate publishers, The New York Times, of all people, has the cleanest presentation, with online comics that scroll up and down, like this strip, "Snow Dope" by Dean Haspiel. They even had sense enough to get the stick out of their butt and run La Maggie la Loca, by my ongoing favorite, Jaimie Hernandez, in the Sunday magazine, though online it's a huge, unreadable mess; wait for the trade.

The online reader developed for DC's Zuda Comics travels from left to right, meant to approximate page turning, but I find it simply annoying, and Marvel's online reader is even clumsier. The panels are either too big or too small for the screen, and whether a comic is fast or slow, the software-- not the reader-- dictates the pace at which the eye scans story and art. When even a hardened addict like myself finds it too much trouble to read your comics online, you've got issues that need resolving bigger than Joe Quesada's problems with women. The majors (in this case, Marvel and DC) need to bite the bullet, reformat their scans, and go with a presentation similar to the reader's choice, 11" by 17" scroll used by the Times and the independents.

1 comment:

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

I second that, Mike. I never check the Marvel site, but I've about given up on Zuda. Ironically, you can go over to Chris's Invincible Super-Blog, just one guy post art, and read his Dr. Impossible strip with no problem.