Superhero webcomics

by Brock Beauchamp

I’ve been fishing (trolling) around the Internet for weeks, trying to determine why there is a dearth of superhero webcomics online. They completely dominate the print market in America but have a very small web footprint. After asking various webcomickers and fans why this is the case, I’m still nearly as puzzled as I was when I set out to answer the question. On the plus side, I did find a few superhero books so the landscape isn’t *quite* as barren as I initially believed it to be.

These are the reasons people gave me:

They dominate print and therefore, no one wants to read them online.

Well, this makes a small bit of sense until you realize that webcomics are FREE. If someone loves superhero books and spends $100+ on print versions of them every month, you’d think they’d leap at the chance to interact directly with the creator, a feature offered by webcomics but not by Marvel or DC, where artists and writers are hidden from public view. Then, you step back and take a look at manga, another print-heavy genre that has more right-to-left, formulaic, screen-toned-up-the-ass webcomics dedicated to it than you can shake a stick at. If manga can make it online, why not superheroes?

Production values on webcomics can’t compete with DC/Marvel, who have dedicated teams of five or more people putting together a book every month.

Well, sure. One person can’t compete with the quantity of Marvel or DC, but there are plenty of comics that compete with them artistically in the most important aspect, quality. Just take a look at reMIND, Dresden Codak, or The Wormworld Saga and you’ll see that isn’t really a valid statement, either. Sure, these comics may update far less frequently than a monthly periodical but those are great example of one person sitting down and kicking ass on a higher artistic level than many books churned out by the Marvel/DC comic factories. And, again, webcomics are free. Who cares if the art trickles out more slowly if it costs you nothing to check in once a month and read a few new pages?

Arrr, pirates.

This one completely blind-sided me and I think it may be one of the most valid arguments out there. Print books are heavily pirated and every Thursday, you’ll see torrents pop up that are packed with the previous day’s new releases. If a comic fan is going to read a digital book that is free, the temptation to stock up on a few bundles of 1GB+ torrents and spend their time reading those are a real threat to superhero webcomicking. A sad but very real concern.

Superhero comics are read by adolescents.

This is just flatly untrue and sounds a lot like the ridiculous “video games are for kids” arguments that populate circles who haven’t touched a video game system since they were bewildered by the complexity of Defender and the one-button Atari 2600 controller their sophomore year in college. Comics, like video games, have an average age of use somewhere in the late 20s or early 30s, depending on whom you ask.

In short, I can’t really come up with a reason why superhero comics haven’t been tapped by the burgeoning webcomic market. It’s a little baffling, to be honest. On the positive side, it leaves a huge niche wide open for books like Variables that despite not being a traditional “men in ridiculous tights” comic book, has many elements of American/English comic book culture found in it, akin to Preacher, Sin City, The Watchmen, and other stories that dance on the periphery of the superhero comic book world.

Now the real challenge is to find that untapped market and get them following Variables as I continue to add content to the site…

Back to superhero books. Here are a few I found that look interesting at first glance with production values that are, at the minimum, tolerable to someone like me who is very picky about art styles and how well something is rendered:

Ratfist – Created by the guy behind the legendary Earthworm Jim. Definitely something I’ll be following from here on out.
Fight! – I’m into the art style but there aren’t enough pages to really comment on the story. Still, I’m going to keep checking it out.
The Adventures of Dr. McNinja – I have to admit that the name alone sold me on this comic.
Johnny Saturn – A little too straight-forward superhero stuff for me but hey, it’s free, right?

On a parting note, Dwayne McDuffie recently passed away. He worked for Marvel Comics in the 80s and 90s before moving on to create Milestone Media and characters such as Icon. He wasn’t even 50 years old and it’s sad to see someone who dedicated himself to changing the face and culture of comics pass so young. But, we’ll always be left with this absolutely hilarious memo written by the man during his early years at Marvel Comics.