Comic Non-Sans: Is This a Webcomic?

A few Ravencons ago, I sat a panel with some other webcomic creators — you know, one of those panels where the panelists outnumber the attendees because half the attendees are experienced enough to be on the panel.  And the main topic of said panel was “What is a webcomic?”  Not surprisingly (if you are or know a webcomicker), this launched into a detailed discussion on number of panels, text bubbles vs. captions, layout, number of characters, story progression vs. jokes, what part of Judea you’re in during the waxing of the moon, etc.  I’m fairly sure we never came to a conclusion.

As I mentioned last week, the Internet gives us the ability to stretch the definition of what a “webcomic” is.  But this is an opportunity not only for comics to branch out into other formats — it also gives other formats the ability to dip into a more webcomicky style.

Thus, submitted for your approval: Hyperbole and a Half, the endearingly addled brainchild of one Ms. Allie Brosh.

Odds are you have heard of this at some point and possibly not known it.  Some of her entries in particular have made the ‘net rounds on their own: the Alot, “Clean all the things?”, and, more recently, the party (or possibly “parpy”).  If you have not yet been exposed to Allie’s brand of MSPaint madness, it’s not particularly complicated: like a million other bloggers out there, she simply relates recent events, personal thought processes, or childhood memories.  But unlike a million other bloggers out there, her entries are approximately 50% comic panels, scribbled in a style that is at once simplistic and evocative.

What really puts her head and shoulders above the majority of “slice of life” bloggers, though, is her particularly tweaked sense of humor.  She isn’t just telling funny stories; she’s putting a spin on them that, to be honest, I’ve never seen the likes of elsewhere.  The “comic panels” are interspersed in such a way that she avoids blocks of text (a turnoff for those netizens who exemplify my day-job boss’s claims of a seven-second attention span) without simply making a very long, very vertical comic strip.

When I brought up “Hyperbole and a Half” at the aforementioned panel, I was shut down immediately because no, that’s a blog and even labels itself as such.  But with writers and artists over the last few years taking a step back and going “Hey, this is the Internet … if I can code it, I have an excuse to do it,” is it really fair anymore to not acknowledge the growing gray area in online content?

Something like “Homestuck” last week (though with less music and fewer grandmother-harlequin-sprites), “Hyperbole” seems rather unselfconscious and unconcerned when it comes to classification.  In point of fact, odds are that the only people particularly distressed about how to classify blogs vs. comics vs. other forms of online content are comic creators themselves.  No, there really isn’t a name for what she does.  “Blog” doesn’t cover it all, but “comic” is misleading.  Whenever I try to describe it to people and I don’t have a computer at hand, I generally end up with something like “Well, it’s a blog except she sort of illustrates it, but it’s also kinda like a comic but not.”

End result?  I’m pretty sure Allie Brosh doesn’t care what people call what she does.  But whether she’s aware of it or not, she’s exemplifying — and possibly encouraging — content creators online bridging the format gap even more.  Her work, both by way of content itself and formatting, is clever in a way that she’s likely not aware of.  Will there be more like this from others?  Hard to tell.  I would love to see this sort of branching-out continued when new writers and artists enter the blogosphere.  Though I’m fairly sure no one else has quite the same bizarre backlog of stories to tell.

Posted on November 30, 2010 at 01:21 by Kara Dennison · Permalink
In: Columns, Webcomics · Tagged with: , ,

2 Responses

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  1. Written by Trisha Lynn
    on 2010-11-30 at 15:35

    In a way, it’s a journal comic, but in a way it’s not. Either way, you can’t enjoy it without looking at the pictures and the text.

    If I had to lay this out in a dead-tree format, I’d call it an illustrated short story?

  2. Written by Jillers
    on 2010-11-30 at 18:35

    I’ve been reading hyperbole and a half for a while now. I think it’s important to consider what Allie thinks of it as, which is her blog. So, I wouldn’t categorize it as a webcomic so much as illustrated blog, or illustrated memoirs, mostly because the story isn’t told through the pictures. The story’s told through the text, the pictures do highlight the stories though, and are certainly complementary.

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