Putting the Web in Webcomics

Webcomics are, by definition, comics that exist in the web. Not enough creators take advantage of this fact. Viewing a comic on a website in a browser opens up a myriad of new avenues of storytelling that simply aren’t possible in conventional print comics. We’re still a long way off from achieving the living, moving newspaper pictures and paintings that you’ve seen in Harry Potter, but did you know all of those things are possible on the web right now? Let’s talk about putting the web in webcomics.

Infinite Canvas Comics

Infinite Canvas Comics

The term “infinite canvas” is the idea that digital comics are not limited by the constraints of their print counterparts. Since webpages will grow horizontally and vertically for as long as there is content to show, you could technically create a comic that will go on forever. While nobody has achieved that feat just yet, some of these creators have been pushing the boundaries:

  • To Be Continued by Lorenzo Ghetti and Carlo Trimarchi: A superhero webcomic, my favourite example of infinite canvas and the best one I’ve found during my research. Even without reading the comic, scrolling down is an adventure in and of itself. Panels move to exactly where the user needs to focus on for the story. Every single aspect of this comic has been engineered to perfection. I can’t recommend it enough.
  • The Wormworld Saga by Daniel Lieske: A breathtaking fantasy adventure comic where each chapter is a single unbroken chain of vertical panels.
  • Hobo Lobo of Hamelin by Stevan Živadinović: An unusual comic in that it scrolls horizontally instead of vertically, but it has been executed well. Each of the comic’s pages reads as a single, very long horizontal panel, and it is peppered with elegant animation and transitional effects. It unfortunately does not work on mobile browsers, however.
  • Subnormality by Winston Rowntree: A self-style “comic with too many words”, Subnormality takes full advantage of the amount of usable web space, sporting enormous, beautiful panels that regularly grow down, but occasionally veer off to the side in directions that would make a web designer scream.

Animated GIF Comics

Animated GIF Comics

Using animated GIFs inside a comic are an easy way to add actual movement and depth to a story. The work involved varies depending on your art style and the amount of frames you want to add, but the result is the same: a page teeming with life. Check out some of these webcomics utilizing animated GIFs:

  • Thunderpaw: In the Ashes of Fire Mountain by Jen Lee: Thunderpaw is an ambitious fantasy dog comic where nearly every frame of the comic has had some kind of animation added to it for effect. While this may sound overwhelming or in danger of being overused, the animations are done tastefully and with lots of love, and each moment where it is used feels completely appropriate.
  • Magical Game Time by Zac Gorman: Zac’s video game-themed comics boast mostly simple two-frame animation that dramatically enhance the mood of each comic. Simple effects like rain falling or flames flickering add so much more to what is already a great comic.
  • Beefpaper by Shane Sheenan: a diary webcomic where the majority of its later strips contain subtle animation that really bring a lot of life and charm to the strip.

Reader-Driven Comics

Reader Driven Comics

Reader-driven comics is a style popularized by MS Paint Adventures, where the readers are in charge of progressing the story. There are so many examples of this style, and they all generally follow the rule of allowing the reader to make suggestions, via a comment field or by e-mail, to further the plot. These suggestions can range from character design and reasonable actions to complete insanity, and the author usually serves as a curator for the chaos. For example:

  • MS Paint Adventures by Andrew Hussie: the obvious choice in this category, the plots of MSPA’s various stories have been largely driven by user suggestion, although Hussie explains this is not the case with the later acts of the current story Homestuck.
  • Prequel Adventure by Kazerad and Ch’marr: inspired by (surprise) MSPA, Prequel Adventure is a fantasy comic based on the world of the Elder Scrolls.

Interactive Comics

Interactive comics is kind of a broad term that could encompass every category here, but this is interactive in the sense that a user needs to perform an action with the mouse or keyboard in order to achieve something in the comic. Take a look at a few comics that push it to the limit:

  • Never Mind the Bullets by Steaw Web Design: This HTML5 western is a perfect example of some of the newer technologies in use on the web today. The comic sport parallax effects (movement based on mouse position), page transitions, and sound to great effect, adding a lot of depth and perspective to the work.
  • Bongcheong-Dong Ghost by Horang: A brilliantly crafted horror strip that uses Javascript to hijack the user’s scroll function on the browser in a terrifyingly awesome way. See also: this comic from Prequel Adventure (also a reader-driven comic)
  • xkcd by Randall Munroe: specifically the strips xkcLOUd, built in the javascript library ReactJS, and Click and Drag, built with javascript and jQuery. The cloud comic is basically a game where you’re simulating content creation on a social media network. You can draw, upload images, write text, and it’s great. The Click & Drag comic is exactly what it sounds like — the one static panel serves as a window into an enormous environment that you have to click and drag to explore.

Flash Comics

Flash Comics

Flash makes up a majority of the motion comics I found on the web. The attitude towards Flash on the web has shifted dramatically over the last couple of years. While the majority of desktop browser still support the Flash Player plugin, we have seen a marked decline in its use, especially with exponential growth of new users on Mobile and Tablet browsers, where Flash isn’t widely supported. Speaking from a Flash artist, animator & developer’s perspective, I’m incredibly sad to see it go, but from a web developer’s perspective, it’s a godsend.

Generally speaking, you shouldn’t be using Flash anymore to create comics for the web. That being said, Flash was an amazing tool when used correctly, and at its fullest potential can achieve breathtaking effects:

  • NAWLZ by Stuart Campbell: A cyberpunk thriller comic built completely in Flash that makes reading the comic a complete visual and auditory experience. There’s sound effects, music, ambience, interactive elements that are all seamlessly integrated into the technology-heavy theme of the story.
  • Spiddrelli by Clay L: this sci-fi motion comic takes heavy inspiration from 90s point-and-click adventures. While the majority of the interactivity is delegated to clicking what speech bubble goes next, the overall comic is wonderfully executed, adding subtle animations and sound effects for a more atmospheric reading experience.

The Web in Webcomics

Even without Flash, with the resurge in popularity of Javascript and a plethora of new technologies like HTML5, the web today has so many new ways to tell stories that there’s no reason not to take advantage of them if they’re appropriate for your webcomic. Don’t feel confined by what you’re allowed to print in a book. Whether you’re writing an autobiography or making a fully interactive episodic cyberpunk fantasy zombie apocalypse alien high school non-fiction dramedy, do consider those new technologies that are available to everyone right now. You might end up making something incredible.

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    simply tirza 5 years ago

    Thank you for this post. I’m learning how to make a motion webcomic right now. Working with motion artist software o/

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    musuis 5 years ago

    how do you format the comics? im trying to start drawing a webcomic but webtooons only allows 800 by 600 pixels, making it all blurry when published. what do you suggest i could do to make clear images that fit the webtoons rules?

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    gooberynoob 6 years ago

    I like big butts and i cannot lie blah blah blah deny

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    Miri Soji 6 years ago

    BeefPaper looks really cool and so do the interactive comics.

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    Phil Clark 7 years ago

    Great post! The examples you provided are really inspiring! I would love to try my hand at creating an interactive comic close to Never Mind the Bullets. I have had the MotionArtist software for about a year now which is still in the box. I will have to bust it out asap now. It may take a while, but it will get done!

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