Here. You're looking at it. It's called the internet. The virtual
community. If you want to be really picky, you're looking at PopImage, but
PopImage is just a tiny part of it. The internet has injected new life into
the comics industry.
I'm not talking about web comics here. I'm sure there's a case to be
made for them, and I also know there are better people to state it than me.
The Eagle award nomination for RUST and its team of dedicated whackos
(Alasdair Watson, Dan Merlin Goodbrey, and Ben Peek) is a sure sign that
online comics are something to start taking seriously. Not just because the
award exists at all, but because newcomers like Alasdair, Dan and Ben can
get a nomination. It is a sign that the internet is a healthy place for
fresh ideas, and showcases like PopImage and Reactor are there to cultivate
them. There's a lot to be said for the future of web comics. I'm just not
going to say it.
To my mind, the internet is significant to the comics industry for an
altogether more important reason. Truth to tell, I hate computers. I'm no
fan of technology. I'm happy with a wooden clog and a pot plant. Yet the
internet has changed my life whether I ever wanted it to or not.
"I hate computers. I'm happy with a wooden clog and a pot plant."
I first stumbled upon the vast carbuncle of the web back in 1995, and
one of the first things I did when I got here was go looking for evidence of
a comics culture. I had grown up in a small English seaside town where most
of my contemporaries didn't read, let alone read comics. Most of them were
too busy committing petty crimes or having babies. I tried to get other
people hooked, but no-one ever succumbed. Thus I was wholly unique among my
peers. I was the boy with the comics. Most people were trying to form bands
in their basements, or roaming the seafront arcades in little packs,
growling at tourists. I was sitting on the promenade reading WEB OF
SPIDER-MAN. Reading comics is a lonely existence. More so when you're
the only one.
At the age of 18, I found the internet, and suddenly I was one among
thousands. I started my internet career by subscribing to a mailing list for
Rogue fans (I was young and susceptible, and besides, it wasn't for me, it
was for my niece...). At this stage, I was so naive about the internet that
I spent an hour scouring the Rogue fan site trying to work out if I had to
pay money to subscribe. From here it was but a hop, skip and jump to Usenet,
that gloriously unkempt jungle of lost souls with loudhailers. I became a
familiar 'face' on rec.arts.comics.marvel.xbooks, which is a bit like having
'repeat offender' stamped on your record. I even joined the insidious ranks
of the fan-fiction writer, though I now claim that was just my Evil Twin.
I had gone straight from the drought to the deluge, and it was better,
but far from perfect. In those long distant days of the late middle-90s, the
online comics community was still largely about meeting new people and
trying to shout them down. It was about making private jokes, asking the
same old questions, and trying to work out who could beat who in a fight. In
large parts, it still is. In fact, for sheer volume of noise, it's getting
worse. Yet the more chaff you sort, the better a harvest you'll have.
There's a lot more intelligent discussion out there too, and that's where
the change is happening.
The internet has become a forum for comics unlike anything that has
existed before. In almost any other artform there have long been established
ways for aficionados to meet and greet, from gigs to film clubs to book
circles. The internet has made a change to all those fanbases too, but for
comics it has brought about a revolution. No-one need be alone anymore. On
the internet we have dialogue, we have an exchange of ideas, we have
brainstorming and back-slapping and banter. In one word, we have
'community'. That's a good platform for any struggling artform to kick off
The internet gives comics a kind of acceptability they didn't always
have before, when you were alone. In company, it's easier to say you're not
ashamed, because you begin to realize you never should have been. You can
get over that stigma, because you know full well there are doctors and
lawyers and academics in Reykjavik, San Francisco and Singapore all picking
up their copies of PREACHER, just like you. Peer pressure is your
friend. It's not limited to a network of support, either. The internet is a
mechanism for promotion, for recommendation, even for cross-pollination.
This is where the fans can spread the good word to fellow fans about the
books they love. This is where the hidden gems have their best hope of being
discovered. The comics community can find strength in numbers.
As a forum, the internet has become so sophisticated that a whole string
of online 'magazines' have started to spring up. The community comes first,
and then the press. PopImage is just one of many such webzines. Some are
great, others are trying hard, and all of them add something to the debate.
Some will still be here next year, some won't, and new ones will crop up all
the time, until something resembling a real media of commentary for the
industry has emerged. Something with more scope and diversity than Wizard.
The bigger it gets, the more competitive it becomes, and the more
significant and influential it will be. The critical media is the heartbeat
of the industry, and right now it's healthier than ever.
"The critical media is the heartbeat of the industry, and right now it's healthier than ever."
The new comics media is also a right to reply. You may think, or you may
have been told, that no-one is listening and no-one cares what you say, but
let me assure you otherwise. There are already editors and creators out
there mingling with the proletariat on newsgroups and message boards. They
wouldn't be there if they didn't think it made a difference. They wouldn't
be giving interviews if they believed no-one cared. If you've got something
worth saying, then there are people out there, listening. Comic book
professionals are now using the internet as a tool for research, promotion,
feedback, for touching base with the fans. They would be fools not to. In
the past, creators only encountered their audience in the letters and the
ledger. A handful of fanatics would turn up in costume at a convention and
scare them witless with their sweat-stains. All the creators got was what
they were given; a 'Make Mine Marvel' and the occasional glassy-eyed
stalker. Now, the fans are talking anyway, and the smart creators will wade
in and get themselves dirty. And they will listen. The smart ones, anyway.
The next big names are out there too. The internet is so commonly
accessible now that anyone with a real passion for comics is going to go
looking for that online community. People who want to create comics
must have that passion, so in most cases that passion will bring them
here. Perhaps the guy who said 'me too' after your last Delphi posting is
the next Kurt Busiek. Perhaps the troll who flamed you is the next Mike
Deodato Jr. Perhaps the guy who stole your sig and passed it off as his own
is the next Rob Liefeld. And that fella whose every second word is 'fuck'?
The next Garth Ennis. Just maybe. They're all out there somewhere. They're
out there, they're listening, they're watching, and they're plotting.
They're the next generation, and a lot of the change you've been waiting for
will come through them. The significance of the internet to the industry can
only grow from here. This ain't your daddy's fanbase.
The internet has tapped into a vast reservoir of enthusiasm for the
comics industry that has always been there, but has never been seen before.
The 21st century will see comics invigorated with new ideas and new energies
that have never been available before. The odds are for us. Things are going
to change. You don't have to believe me. You can sit there and skulk in the
basement if it makes you happy. When you've worked all that misery out of
your system, come and join me on the promenade. I'll be sitting in a cooling
breeze, watching the sunrise dance on the lapping waves. Here's to the
- Andrew Wheeler, son of a preacher man, Bristol, April 2000.
Andrew Wheeler is a Staff Writer for PopImage.
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