At last, the long-awaited, eagerly anticipated Digital Strips review of T Campbell’s A History Of Webcomics V.1! And the question on everybody’s mind: Will he hate it? Or will he gush with praise of a work so ahead of its time, it should be another ten to twenty years before it’s actually published?
If you can’t tell from that last sentence where I’ll be taking this, let me ask you this question: Who do you feel the intended audience should be for a work such as this? The webcomic community? Or those we would like to educate about our young medium? If you marked through the first selection on your test sheet, then it would be best if you sat down your pencil and left the classroom now. This review isn’t for you.
By Campbell’s own admission, we are a growing area of the Internets with about ten years experience under our belts. So why would we already need a book to show us how far we’ve come? To help illustrate just how far we’ve got to go? To toot our own horn? There’s plenty of that going around already, thank you very much. A self-agrandizing reminder of what we’ve done (or haven’t done, in many cases) is NOT what webcomics needs right now.
Ever watch VH1’s Best Week Ever? Sickening, isn’t it? That we could get so much pleasure out of remembering what happened just a few days ago in the world of entertainment is disgusting and this case of selfish pride with A History is no better. Ten years, folks. We need no looking back just yet, only to look forward, so a book like this, intended for an audience raised on the Internet and meant for those already involved in our developing medium is useless.
Ah ha! But what of those who know nothing about us? The plentiful portion of the population who look at me with puzzled anguish when I try to explain to them that there are comic strips being published online, good ones, and that they can find them at the click of a mouse. THIS is the group that we should be targeting with a comprehensive history of where we’ve been thus far and where we might go in the future. And as such, the book should be written for that audience, a tutorial for the everyman, created to bring them in and introduce each person, one by one, to the amazing world of online comics, or webcomics as we like to call them.
I’ve been a part of this thing for about two years now, working on my stuff and getting more and more entrenched in the community with each passing day. Paging through A History Of Webcomics V.1 was a chore for me, a self-educated man of the medium, so I can’t imagine how quickly a non-initiated reader might toss the book aside. My guess would be somewhere during the first chapter, titled “Pre-History”, which includes so many numbers and acronyms you’d think you were reading a script for Lost. There ARE lessons to be learned within the pages but who wants to learn them when you have to force yourself to turn the page every single time?
And the construction of the book itself doesn’t help matters, either. Pagination is horrid, leaving the mind to jump from one conclusion to the next when one paragraph ends and another begins. You really just take a flying leap of faith from one to the next and hope a coherent thought continues on the opposite side. Page numbers would be nice as well, especially when I had to put the book down and then work every muscle in my body to the breaking point to pick it up again, but I guess that’s what bookmarks are for.
Basically it’s the production values of the book that bring it down in terms of aesthetics and actually looking like a professionally published work. Black and white images? Come on. Do it right, make it color, and show the strips included (some allegedly illegally, but I won’t say as I don’t know for sure) with the proper respect and consideration they were created with.
Finally, with the last page read and the final day cataloged, I heaved a heavy sign of relief and took to jotting down my thoughts. Then, a small image in the upper-right hand corner of the cover caught my eye. A cute manga schoolgirl was there to alert me that this is version 1.0 of the series, meaning more revisions are still to come. This scared me to my core and brought me to a great realization: this book was just plain made wrong.
If something MUST be done to document this 10-year milestone, do it right. Start with the beginning and write a full-color, light-hearted take on the events of the first ten years or so. Heck, there is so much to talk about in terms of defining the work and just how different the medium was than anything else before it, the first volume could cover only five years.
And that’s just what the first book should be: a volume. Tell the story, educate the masses, but let them learn in the same way they’ve learned everything else in their lives. Give them A History in its current form and I can almost guarantee they’ll never give us a second glance. After all, it made me less interested in the medium, and I already know about it.
So are there ANY redeeming factors about the book? Well, if you’re in webcomics already, you might appreciate the list of strips you never knew existed and behind-the-scenes drama that you never heard about, but even THAT is debatable; according to some in the biz, much of the information gathered and cited in the text is incorrect, even to the point where it might be false. But I’ll leave that chestnut for someone ELSE to roast.
Overall, A History of Webcomics is an unnecessary work and one that should have been in a completely different manner and by a completely different author with little to no connection to the medium other than an unbiased love of it. I’ll instead be keeping an eye out for Checkboard Nightmare’s A Brief History of Webcomics, which promises at least to be an enjoyable read, if nothing else. I suggest you do the same and avoid this version (or any other) of A History Of Webcomics. If you want to continue your love affair with webcomics, it’s a must-not-have.