Small Press (s)Expo 2012

24 Sep

Lots of other people did convention reports for Small Press Expo, the erotically tinged comic show in Bethesda, Maryland. However, Rob Clough made an observation that I’d like to chit chat about:

*turns chair around backwards*
*sits facing class*

So let’s rap about the artcomics/webcomics divide.

20120924-171059.jpg

So at SPX, I was politicking with some crown-wearing royalty and a prominent webcomics person directed the question at me: “why do the REAL webcomics keep getting snubbed at the Ignatz Awards?”

The answer is: the Ignatz Awards reflect a kind of institutional bias which favors certain kinds of comics. All awards do this, even with the best intentions. It cannot be helped when we consider that the five anonymous judges who selected this year’s crop are, by nature, more experts on minicomics, book market graphic novels and print artcomics. Those areas of focus comprise all of the Ignatz Awards categories save for the “Best Online Comic” category.

Sidebar: think about that choice of term. Not “webcomic.” Rather, “online comic.” The term “webcomic” denotes a specific idiom with a structural nature that informs its native stylistic tics as certainly as minicomics format informs that field. When we use the term “webcomic,” more often than not, we are calling for a very specific format/mode/method of communication. Not necessarily so when we say “online comic.”

Zack Soto’s Study Group collective of stories is very different in reading style and in form than Kris Straub’s Starslip comic. Some argue that one represents “comics on the Internet” while the other represents “webcomics.” I am not personally sure how I feel about these distinctions. But I will say for certain that there is a cultural difference between what we commonly see as “webcomics” and other forms of the comics medium.

Part of it is subjective, part of it is engagement, part of it is intent. If one seeks and engages with the massive ecosystem referred to as “webcomics,” one is part of webcomics. But websites such as Mr. Soto’s Study Group Comics and Jordan Crane’s What Things Do which tend to seek different audiences with different reading styles, these places are sort of in their own scene.

Similar to how metal and punk might both be fast and loud but aren’t the same thing by anybody’s calculation. Not an exact comparison of course and I swear retaliation if you try to bust my chops.

My suggestion for the future is to not lean on airy technicalities such as “it’s on the Internet,” and focus on what the spirit of webcomics is when selecting work in this category. After all, the webcomics demographic is a large part of the genetic make up of SPX and those works deserve to be acknowledged on fair terms.

Alright that’s the bell. Wait, I haven’t told you what the homework is, come bac–

-Ayo2012xoxo.

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3 Responses to “Small Press (s)Expo 2012”

  1. devilistas September 26, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

    I think the line between “webcomics” and “comics on the internet” can be gossamer thin at times. For example, what about Julia Wertz’s stuff? She began her career as a webcartoonist. Her audience still has plenty of of people who primarily only read webcomics.
    What is unspoken here is that the divide is often one of genre, and more specifically, genre that focuses in on nerd culture as a subject in and of itself. I doubt most Ignatz jurists have much use for things like Penny Arcade or PVP, and that’s fine. I don’t know if those are the “real” webcomics people are talking about, but they are definitely part of the culture that values the platform of webcomics qua webcomics, as opposed to print comics.
    Lastly, I reject the notion that this is entirely institutional. One of the jurists this year was Dylan Meconis. There is representation. And each judge nominates three new judges. The result, on a year to year basis, is an unpredictable set of nominees. I think the only way to nominate only “real” webcomics is to have 5 jurists with expertise in that area, and that runs counter to the nature of the rest of the awards. This isn’t the Webcomics awards, after all. To me, it makes sense for things like Julia G’s comic to be nominated as a webcomic and get recognition that way. In much the same way the Ignatz awards acted as a corrective for Jaime Hernandez, I think the Ignatz webcomics nominees act as a corrective for the comics you label “comics on the internet” to be recognized.
    Besides, the webcomics fans still can and do act as a voting bloc, which is how Kate Beaton has dominated the Ignatzes whenever she’s nominated. (In addition to being a fine cartoonist, of course. But being a fine cartoonist is not solely how one wins Ignatz awards.)
    My question is: what are the great webcomics that should have been nominated in place of What Things Do, Lucky and Studygroup?

    • darrylayo September 26, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

      Not to be a jerk but I would question the example of Julia Wertz. She started her career I thought with the original Fart Party minicomics which were distributed locally in small numbers. Maybe I’m wrong. In any case, Wertz has said multiple times that she doesn’t consider herself a webcomics cartoonist, and I understand the cultural rift that she speaks of.

      Another point that I find interesting is the immediate jump from Study Group to Penny Arcade. That’s a huge leap.

      SPX is actually a webcomic show for a great many exhibitors and attendees. That’s the source of the rift that I am referring to. This is what these very people say to me in private and this is why I wrote this piece.

      But I do thank you sincerely for writing in.

      • devilistas September 26, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

        o Not to be a jerk but I would question the example of Julia Wertz. She started her career I thought with the original Fart Party minicomics which were distributed locally in small numbers. Maybe I’m wrong. In any case, Wertz has said multiple times that she doesn’t consider herself a webcomics cartoonist, and I understand the cultural rift that she speaks of
        o Your point is duly noted. I guess what I’m saying is that while Wertz may not have considered herself part of that culture, there was a large part of that culture that certainly embraced her.
        Another point that I find interesting is the immediate jump from Study Group to Penny Arcade. That’s a huge leap.
        That’s true, and an unfair one perhaps, due in large part to my own ignorance. That said, I look at the URLs of every single SPX exhibitor prior to the show. My glances at the websites of the vast majority of web-only exhibitors revealed a lot of genre/fantasy work, some standard gag/workplace comics, a few slice of life strips, and not much else. There were exceptions (A Softer World and a few others), but the gap between that culture and the general SPX culture seems pretty wide. That’s why I asked for the strips that should have been nominated not as a pedantic exercise, but as a real request.
        SPX is actually a webcomic show for a great many exhibitors and attendees. That’s the source of the rift that I am referring to. This is what these very people say to me in private and this is why I wrote this piece.
        I get that, and it was the influence of that group that got online comics onto the Ignatz ballot in the first place. I just don’t see a way to change it. The jurists are given URLs and comics to read. One of the five jurists was most decidedly a webcomics person (Meconis). She will likely nominate someone who also has webcomics expertise. But it’s a crapshoot every year. There was one infamous year where Frank Cho was a judge, which led to them changing the nomination rules (you can’t nominate your own comic).
        But I do thank you sincerely for writing in.
        Thank you, Daryl!
        –Rob Clough

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