Thursday, March 5, 2009

12 Webcomics Most Likely to Show Up on "Best Webcomics" Lists

The big news in the webcomics world this week comes from social media blog Mashable, which threw in its two cents as to which 20 webcomics were among "the best." Now, nothing against Mashable's list; it's a solid list if you leave aside their attempt to pass off Homestar Runner as a webcomic (yes, I know Flash toons and webcomics have a lot in common, but if we're going to pick a medium, can we all agree to just stick with it?). But I couldn't shake the feeling that many of the entries were somehow...familiar. Like I've seen them before. On other "best of" lists. A lot of other lists.

Trying decide if this was mere paranoia (or simple jealousy that it was written by someone with many powers of ten times my readership), I did a very small, totally unscientific survey of "best of" lists written over the last couple of years. These are just the sort of lists you'll find at online news outlets or on blogs if you Google things like "best webcomics" or "favorite webcomics." And I found 20 lists, ranging from Cracked's "Funniest Webcomics" and O'Reilly's "Best Webcomics You're Not Reading" to lists of favorites on personal blogs written from 2007 on.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover 186 different webcomics listed on these 20 lists (which ranged from 5 entries to 57). But 12 comics definitely showed up more than their online brethren:

1. xkcd by Randall Munroe (11 Times)

2. Penny Arcade by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik (10 Times)

3. PvP by Scott Kurtz (7 Times)

4. Questionable Content by Jeph Jacques (7 Times)

5. Sinfest by Tatsuya Ishida (7 Times)

6. The Adventures of Dr. McNinja by Chris Hastings (6 Times)

7. The Perry Bible Fellowship by Nicholas Gurewitch (5 Times)

8. Ctrl+Alt+Del by Tim Buckley (5 Times)

9. Dinosaur Comics by Ryan North (5 Times)

10. Cyanide & Happiness by Kris Wilson, Rob DenBleyker, Matt Melvin, Dave McElfatrick (5 Times)

11. Achewood by Chris Onstad (4 Times)

12. Diesel Sweeties by R. Stevens (4 Times)

A couple of thoughts:

Entrenchment: There are very good reasons these comics appear on so many lists; they're all inspired and consistently well-done, and many of the creators are tops when it comes to community development (I mean, the Penny Arcade folks hold an annual gaming festival). But sometimes it's a little ridiculous -- xkcd showed up on the list of "Webcomics You're Not Reading" and Sinfest on a list of "Unsung Webcomics." Part of the reason they show up so frequently is that "best webcomics" lists are typically compiled by tech outlets and likeminded individuals, and many of these comics have found favor with the techie/geekie/gamer crowd (even though some have much wider appeal), and it's become nigh-impossible for any self-respecting geek to leave xkcd off their list.

But other comics deserve some horn-tooting as well. Personally, I was shocked to see only one list that featured James Kolchalka's long-running diary comic American Elf and that only Mashable's included Bill Holbrook's darkly funny, predator-marries-prey series Kevin and Kell. Maybe we need more lists of great comics that are great, but don't generally appear on "best of" lists, or maybe we just need a wider range of media outlets sharing in the webcomics love.

Sausage Fest: Every single comic on that list is written and drawn by men. The only comic that came close from the XX side of the aisle is Danielle Corsetto's Girls with Slingshots (incidently, probably the only comic without an RSS feed that I read every day), which appeared on three lists, two of which claimed to feature underated webcomics. The ladies have not been as adept at self-promotion, but that may be changing. Scott Kurtz mentioned the other day that right now all of his favorite webcomics are being written by women (a sentiment I second).

Taxonomy: Writing best webcomics lists is growing increasingly absurd. Granted, webcomics, like everything else, are subject to Sturgeon's Law, but the number of not merely readable but truly wonderful webcomics is always growing. Certainly there are lists of the best movies of all time, the most influential television shows, but endlessly remaking those lists is not the best way to match potential viewers with the content that will most interest them. Aside from *ahem* reviews, it would by handy if we could come up with some way to classify comics in the way we classify other media -- summer blockbusters, spaghetti westerns, period dramas -- and make our lists from there. Of course, a reflection of the richness of webcomics is how difficult they are to classify. How does one go about putting a label on Dinosaur Comics?

And last but not least: Homestar Runner isn't a frakking webcomic. Stop putting it on your lists.


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