Yes, webcomics. The digital entertainment that has thrown newspapers for a loop and added even more to my morning routine, for I must be awake at approximately 1AM on any given morning to see the update, as it happens.
What are webcomics, you say? They're... well, they're pretty much like traditional comics. The only difference is that, unless the author publishes them in paper form, they are 100%, home-grown digital, making them free from the restrictions of comics you may read every day.
Yes, believe it or not, newspaper comics are censored. You cannot show drugs, sex, nudity, profane language, and so on, in a newspaper. Otherwise, the newspaper will yank the strip for the day, perhaps yank the strip permanently, and bitch at the syndicate that carries the strip. Funny that a newspaper, the bastion of the free press, would impose such blatant censorship on its readers, eh?
But I've digressed off the beaten path. Webcomics.
What makes webcomics so great is that instead of being restricted by lawyers or syndicates or papers, they're only restricted by the imagination of the artist, in size and scope. A strip can take up a whole page, or three panels. It can be in color for each day, or it can be black and white some days. Storylines can last for months rather than weeks, if the author deems it fit. In short, a webcomic can be anything you want it to be. Yes, anyone with a pencil and a scanner or a mouse can make a webcomic, post it on a schedule they see fit (no meeting deadlines 6 weeks in advance, no sirree Bob!), and rejoice. However, this doesn't make it a good thing.
This is where taste comes in, as well as the comic version of Darwin's Theory. In theory, any comic can be successful, live long, and prosper. For example, look at KeenSpace. This is a list of webcomics hosted by KeenSpace, a free service for webcomic authors. That's a lot of comics, however not all of them have even been used. Of the comics that ARE updated on a semi-consistent basis, however, there are lots. Now, how are we to find the cream of the crop?
First, KeenSpace is simply an all-inclusive version of a smaller, more high-caliber webcomic site, called KeenSpot. KeenSpot hosts the best of the best, and since admission is by selection only, very few comics, as compared to KeenSpace. This is kind of a non-democratic version of K5 or Slashdot, however. Instead of the users themselves choosing which comic they want to elevate to KeenSpot status, it's done by KeenSpot and KeenSpot alone.
That said, the true Darwinian theories of webcomics are measured by one thing and one alone: Buzz. All but one of the webcomics I read were referred to me by friends, who placed great faith in the idea that I'd like this. Such comics are truely great, not because they've been elevated to greatness (i.e. the KeenSpot way), but because they've elevated themselves.
So now, of course, you'd want to know how I got into all this mess.
Well, it all started a while ago with Penny Arcade. I was a regular reader from its early days, and then an occasional reader, and then a regular reader again. Tycho and Gabe are a one-stop sources for opinions on the latest in the gaming world, so stop by. Penny Arcade: It's Wang-Tastic (tm)
Then, a couple months ago, a friend recommended College Roomies From Hell (CRFH, for short). Now, CRFH was a webcomic that seemed to be updated consistently, 7-days-a-week. For some reason, however, I took the bait, and was instantly hooked. I read through 3+ years of the strip in two or three days, which is proof of how addicting it can be. Hell, I even know my CRFH Code, which I won't bother to post here.
After CRFH came the funniest webcomic so far: FLEM Comics. J. Grant is a genius, there's no other way to put it. A strip full of sex, drugs, violence, sex, profanity, sex, drugs, sex, and did I mention violence? A strip that will send the author and anyone who reads it straight to hell. I don't care if they only let me use a 14.4k modem in hell, I'll wait 5 minutes for the latest FLEM strip to load.
Finally, Kung Fool, a comic which skirts the boundaries between comic and cartoon. Done all in Flash, Kung Fool can have strips that are motionless (but not without easter eggs), strips that are animated, or just sketches from the drawing table. More suitable for anime-lovers, but still entertaining nonetheless.
A brief warning, however. Webcomics are an addiction, which must be taken seriously. I'm not saying that you're gonna sell your car for a fix or anything, but one will lead to another. A Penny Arcade reader might jump to PvP, then User Friendly, then others. Read any KeenSpace or KeenSpot comic and you'll get sucked into a dozen others. Read FLEM and I'll save a seat for you in hell.
Of course, what must be asked, of course, is what will be the future of comics? Obviously, picking up your morning paper and flipping to Ziggy will be a tradition that, hopefully, will last for a while longer. Are webcomics the death of the traditional comic? I think not. Webcomics are a renaissance, the heralding of a new era of entertainment. They are proof that as much as technology may advance, we still long for our 3-or-4-or-10-panel strip, which we will read daily. They are proof that comics have the ability to be so much more than a minute of entertainment followed by a day full of torment. These things have fanfics, man. Fanfics. Dilbert works his ass off daily for the Pointy-Haired Boss, and does HE get a fanfic? I think not...
Regardless, I say don't abandon the morning comics if you read any of them. Read your Non Sequitur, Family Circus, or Zits. Do the crossword if you feel like it. Just realize sooner or later that the genre you've loved for years has evolved, and that unless you want to do a LOT of archive reading (essential for webcomics, and feasible since sites like Keenspace have archives so big that they could shake a stick at you), you'll catch the fever now.
Besides, do you really want to be the last person on the face of the earth to laugh at a storyline involving a mutant Jesus clone?