“Webcomics” book review

I found Sean Kleefeld‘s recent book Webcomics very interesting reading, despite being a webcomic… critic? skeptic? curmudgeon? Probably that last one.

I’m not opposed to webcomics. I have read various, including the (NSFW and age-restricted) OGLAF. But I still think Strong Bad E-mail #181 was and remains persuasive in pouring cold water on webcomics.

All of which I bring up in order to establish that, for anyone aware that the author has been an online friend going back to the previous century, FYI I was not pre-sold on his new book.

Despite which Webcomics was still a worthwhile purchase, impressive and offering much interest.

Webcomics is a product of rich study. Nothing less could have produced this. I kind of wonder if anything short of living through a lot of it could have produced it, but additional and intentional scholarship clearly went into Webcomics.

The result can be a little challenging to get into, especially early on. My advice is to persevere or skip ahead. The book starts picking up as the “Historical Overview” section begins summarizing nearly 30 years of constantly changing cartooning for Web publication. This is a dense stream of information, although I’m not sure how the facts could have been covered better. After a page or so, hopefully you’re surfing along with what is a dizzying but remarkable ride. (A reminder of how wild the frontier years of anything on the World Wide Web were, in retrospect.)

Most of the book is satisfyingly readable even if you don’t care especially about e.g. the social and cultural impacts of webcomics. A lot of it is good human storytelling. The “Key Texts” section later in the book is most accessible in this regard, I think, because each subsection establishes one or more “characters” and sticks with them until the next subsection. But the middle parts of the book also have plenty of plot, conflict, reversal of fortune, etc. Sean’s recap of the great newspaper-webcomic feud, e.g., is a misanthrope’s delight.

So, if you want to understand webcomics, Webcomics is probably the best single text out there and it’s also good scholarship on its own merits. If you don’t really need to understand webcomics but would like to give something a try, to broaden your horizons a little, Webcomics works too.

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