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Monsters of Webcomics

Monsters of Webcomics

Cartoon Art Museum exhibition: August 8 – December 6, 2009

The Internet has revolutionized all forms of communication, and comics are no exception.  The Cartoon Art Museum explores the digital revolution in its latest exhibition, Monsters of Webcomics, a showcase of some of the best and boldest work published on the World Wide Web.

Cartoonists choose to work on the Web for many reasons.  For some, it’s an opportunity to reach readers directly without going through editors, publishers, or syndicates. For others, it’s a chance to explore the artistic possibilities of the Web, whether that means working in a format that would be impossible in print, tackling subject matter most comic-book publishers won’t handle, or taking advantage of the rich palette available with digital coloring.  Others simply want to share their comics with as many people as possible.

The comics by the ten artists featured in this exhibition run the gamut from four-panel comic strips to full-length graphic novels and include comedy, drama, history, science fiction, and sociopolitical commentary.  As varied as this work is, however, it represents only a very small sample of the comics available on the Web.  The Monsters of Webcomics exhibition also includes a virtual gallery that will highlight dozens of additional online comics.


Slow Wave
By Jesse Reklaw

One of the longest-running webcomics, Slow Wave has been running online and in weekly newspapers since 1995.  While pursuing a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence at Yale, Jesse Reklaw began drawing comics about dreams.  These comics developed into Slow Wave, a weekly strip in which Reklaw draws dreams submitted by readers.  Recently, Reklaw began incorporating a running plot into the strip, although the dream content still comes from reader emails. Some of the best strips from Slow Wave’s venerable run were recently published in the print collection The Night of Your Life.

Hark! A Vagrant!
By Kate Beaton

Kate Beaton’s comics reflect her interest in history, especially that of her native Canada.  Born in Nova Scotia, she worked at a museum in British Columbia before moving to Ontario.  Although the comics she posts on her website range from autobiographical strips to stories about mermaids and mystery-solving teens, she’s perhaps best known for her comics poking erudite fun at historical figures.

Beaton won this year’s Doug Wright Award for Best Emerging Talent, and Wired magazine called her “the Web’s best military historian, hands down.”  Her book Never Learn Anything from History collects some of her best history comics.

Girl Genius
By Phil and Kaja Foglio

Phil and Kaja Foglio began publishing Girl Genius, a “gaslamp fantasy” about the adventures of mad scientist Agatha Heterodyne and her friends, rivals, and minions, as a traditional print comic book.  Soon, however, they discovered they could reach far more readers on the Web. Girl Genius now runs online, with new pages posted three days a week, before being published in graphic novel form.

The most recent Girl Genius collection, Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones, was nominated this year for a Hugo Award in the Graphic Fiction category.

Cat and Girl
By Dorothy Gambrell
For the past ten years, Dorothy Gambrell’s Cat and Girl, described as “a cat, a girl, and an experimental meta-narrative,” has run online and been featured in various print anthologies. Many of the strips consist of philosophical and political conversations between the cynical, intellectual Girl and the whimsical Cat, who likes polka, frosting, and eating paint.  Other characters include Girl’s hipster counterpart Grrrl; a beatnik vampire called, appropriately, Beatnik Vampire; the hapless Bad Decision Dinosaur; and the lovelorn Boy.

The Perry Bible Fellowship
By Nicholas Gurewitch

The Perry Bible Fellowship first ran in the Syracuse University newspaper The Daily Orange.  It exploded in popularity when Nicholas Gurewitch began posting strips online in 2004.  As the darkly funny weekly gag strip progressed, Gurewitch expanded his artistic repertoire, experimenting with different art styles and creating pastiches of illustrators like Shel Silverstein and Edward Gorey.

PBF has won two Ignatz Awards for Outstanding Online Comic, a Harvey Award for Best Online Comics Work, and an Eisner Award for the print collection The Trial of Colonel Sweeto.  The newest collection, The Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack, spans the entirety of the online archive.

By Jenn Manley Lee

Dicebox is a science-fiction graphic novel of epic scale.  Set in the distant future, the story follows a year in the lives of two female migrant workers, Griffen and Molly, as they journey from planet to planet.  Jenn Manley Lee, a graphic designer in Portland, Oregon, plans for the story to span four books with a total of 36 chapters.  Book One is now close to completion online.  

Dicebox has yet to be published outside of the Web, in part because the lavish full-color art would be expensive to publish in print.  Comics scholar Scott McCloud listed Dicebox as one of his “Personal Top Twenty” webcomics.

Family Man
By Dylan Meconis

Dylan Meconis’ first webcomic, Bite Me!, begun while she was still in high school, was a slapstick comedy about vampires in revolutionary France.  Family Man, her current project, reworks some of the characters and concepts from Bite Me! into a meticulously researched graphic novel set in 18th-century Germany. Luther Levy, a young scholar and theologian, leaves his university job and begins stirring trouble within both his family and academia.

Meconis has also published work in the Flight anthology and illustrated the nonfiction comic Wire Mothers, written by Jim Ottaviani.

By Chris Onstad

Since its launch in 2001, Achewood has developed into one of the funniest and most fascinating comics on the Web, but also one of the hardest to describe.  Updated roughly 2-3 times a week, the strip follows a group of cats, robots, and stuffed animals who live in Chris Onstad’s house as well as an alternative city called the Underground.  Over the years, the focus has settled on two characters, the wealthy, eccentric Ray Smuckles and his neurotic best friend Roast Beef.

In 2007, Time magazine named Achewood one of the top ten graphic novels of the year.  In the same year, it was declared Funniest Online Comic by The strip has also won two Ignatz Awards for Outstanding Online Comic.  

Templar, AZ
By Spike

Templar, Arizona is set in a fictional Arizona town in an alternate universe similar to, but not quite the same as, our own.  Roughly at the center of the constantly expanding cast of characters are introverted writer Ben, his flamboyant and dirty-minded neighbor Reagan, and gentle giant Scipio, who works as a bodyguard and owns a pet chicken.  Spike calls the series “culture fiction,” as the world of Templar is at least as important as the characters.

Templar, Arizona won a 2007 Glyph Comics Award for Rising Talent, as well as three 2009 Stumptown Trophy Awards for Outstanding Art, Outstanding Writing and Outstanding Webcomic.  To date, Spike has published three print collections.

Tags: achewood, cartoon art museum, cartoons, cat and girl, chris onstad, comics, dark horse comics, dicebox, dorothy gambrell, dylan meconis, family man, girl genius, hark! a vagrant!, history comics, jenn manley lee, jesse reklaw, kaja foglio, kate beaton, nick gurewitch, online comics, perry bible fellowship, phil foglio, san francisco, slow wave, spike, templar, webcomics

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