It’s not often that one finds an article dedicated to web comics so I was excited when I was pointed to this essay by the UF Visual Rhetoric Research Group. I was hoping for it to be a well thought out and researched document concerning the rise of web comics. What I got was an attempt to make them in to second class citizens. This paper irked me so much that I felt compelled to dissect it.
Even though the paper has a childlike layout it presents a somewhat clear thesis for the comparison of web comics with the Underground Comix movement of thirty years ago. Its first mistake is by quoting Scott McCloud on the internet providing a level playing field against corporate domination. The mistake is in not giving a single example of why McCloud is wrong and then going on to say web comics “offers new avenues of aesthetic experimentation for comic artists and [gives them] a modest prosperity that they would not have without the internet as a means of distribution.” This simple statement of theirs is actually the better interpretation of the McCloud quote they used and the next three paragraphs continue to prove him right.
As we reach the body of the essay we find the writers trying to narrow the definition of web comics. We have merely to take the definition from Wikipedia to know that a web comic is any comic available on the web. They also make the grossly uneducated statement that most web comics “are profane and frequently reference or depict sex, violence, and other controversial themes” when the vast majority of web comics are no more offensive or violent then published comics from such esteemed artists as Frank Miller. I thought the whole point of the article was to point out differences from mainstream and thus showing web comics to be an underground industry?
Ignoring the completely ignorant remarks concerning sprite comics in paragraph seven we find a conveniently expanded definition of parody. By expanding to include “gender relations, drugs, and popular culture” we could easily say that all fiction is parody. It is in paragraph nine that we find our first good point. Web comics can not be homogenized into merely a genre like profane literature mentioned in six “because of the complexity and richness of … webcomics.”
In paragraphs ten and eleven we find out just how prepared our writers are to understand web comics. They state that web comics are not the answer to the infinite canvas idea because they are limited by “computer technology, including screen sizes, pixel depth, and download times”. This shows a level of understanding on internet technology equivalent to taking classes at the YMCA. Of course the infinite canvas idea is limited by a finite amount of computer resources but infinite doesn’t necessarily mean it actually it has to be infinite, that would be beyond ridiculous. When McCloud proposed his idea he was stating one could create a comic such that if you start reading it you would never get to the end within a reasonable amount of time, thus not needing infinite resources.
For the whole Medium section I have only to say that there are many worst examples then the PA strips used while there are many more which don’t have profanity at all.
In the Forbidden Culture section they bring up a topic which annoys me to no end. The assumption that the “role-playing demographic is rather small across any geographic area” seems based off the premise that since the writers or their friends were not exposed to it as children then few people must be playing it. I had quite the opposite experience and to this day nearly everyone I meet knows what D&D is. But it is improper to make a statement that only losers and the illiterate were never exposed to D&D since I don’t have statistics to back it up.
It is not until paragraph 21 that this whole paper actually makes another point worth agreeing with. You could probably skip the rest of the paper and read this one part and not miss anything important. Once reaching the conclusion I do not believe the point was made that web comics continue the revolution of Underground Comix, at least not based off what was presented in the paper. There is an assumption that the reader not only knows what the Underground Comix revolution is but also specifics concerning actual content. No examples are given as comparison and based off what was presented web comics look more like an evolution rather then a revolution of the comic industry.
It\’s good to see that folks are reading the ImageText paper and commenting on it.
Regarding your comments above, I think it needs to be emphasized that the ImageText article is an academic paper, not a feature written for the general public.
With academic papers, it\’s ok to use a special definition for the thing you\’re talking about, and their special definition is appropriate for the purposes of their specific article. Anyway, Wikipedia aside, there has been much debate on the subject of what constitutes a webcomic.
Also, since it\’s an academic paper, it\’s entirely appropriate that they refer to a well-established cultural movement like Underground Comics ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underground_comics ) without needing to explain what they are, anymore than they would explain what the Romantic Movement was.
I\’ve got more comments on the ImageText article over here: http://www.talkaboutcomics.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=27616&sid=60919234ddae98f8216b49593c56e611
You are right that academic papers can take certain liberties. For instance if the class were about Underground Comix then there would be no explanation needed. If this were instead a stand-alone paper then both webcomics and the underground comix would need to be explained.