Contemplating The Real Future Of Webcomics

I’ve been thinking lately about the viability of First Law as a webcomic.  Or, more generally, about the viability of a comic anything like ours as a webcomic.

The recent article “Ten Things To Know About The Future Of Webcomics” was a response to the similarly-titled “Ten Things To Know About The Future Of Comics,” which got the comics blogosphere into a bit of a tizzy last week.  Being a response, it mostly focused on “webcomics versus print” as its main issue and missed what I’d really like to know about the future of webcomics: when will we start seeing more successful webcomics that aren’t gag-a-day humor strips?

Don’t get me wrong, I love humor webcomics.  I begin each morning checking several for updates.  But it’s always perplexed me how few long-form non-humorous comics are successful on the web.  Take a look at Wikipedia’s List of self-sufficient webcomics; I’m not familiar with all of them, but the list seems to be dominated by comics that offer up a punchline at the end of each page.

The world of webcomics is full of variety in terms of style and subject matter and authorship, but there isn’t a whole lot of variety in story structure.  Of course long form stories are being told, but most of these still rely on a gag or punchline on each page.  What mechanism can a non-humor-based story use to keep readers satisfied, if the readers are only getting a page at a time?

I suppose “slice of life” drama/romance stories seem to do fairly well without having to rely on the joke-a-day format.  Nor do they all rely on “soap opera” twists and turns to keep readers interested.  More likely it’s the daily dose of voyeurism or escapism that they provide their readers: a few minutes a day in the life of someone much like yourself, but with slightly more interesting friends.

So where does that leave a story like ours?  One that isn’t intended to be read a page at a time, and that doesn’t really provide any warm-and-fuzzy feelings of relate-able voyeurism?  If the future of comics really is a home on the web, then stories like First Law will have to find an audience here somehow.  Will readers just wait and read the story in chunks, rather than check in for each update?  (Is this the web equivalent of print readers “waiting for the trade?”)  Or will we just have to adapt, either by developing a new storytelling style to fit the medium, or developing a new way of using the medium to deliver our story?

Note that First Law doesn’t need to be self-sufficient.  Neither Oliver nor I expect to make a living from this comic.  But since we can’t draw, we have to invest more than just our time into telling this story, and we’d like it to be sustainable.  Can First Law be sustainable as a webcomic?

I know that in the past when I’ve asked for feedback or comments from readers of this blog I’ve been met with the sound of crickets, but here’s a question for you anyways: what successful webcomics do you know of that don’t rely on humor on every (or almost every) page?

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