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Multiversity Says Goodbye: Reinventing Webcomics

By | May 30th, 2024
Posted in Longform | % Comments

When Multiversity launched its webcomics initiative back in 2018, we had bold plans. I, in particular, had this to say:

This is the first of a new wave of a variety of site-wide webcomic related content here on Multiversity Comics. As this is a new initiative, it will start out small and, I’m sure, a little inconsistent as we find our groove.
I will be back, later this week, for the first piece of our little Webcomics puzzle and then, next Tuesday, join us for the first of our new, weekly review column, headed by Mike Mazzacane and me. Then, later in the month, join me again as I attempt to provide an introduction to webcomics for those who are unfamiliar with them. It will also provide some food for thought, as you’ve just read, on the genre. . . branch. . . medium of webcomics.

It was, in retrospect, my attempt to launch an imprint here at Multiversity Comics. As is the fate of many such endeavors, it didn’t quite live up to the ambition we had at the start. I now have more sympathy for Bendis or Gerard Way and so, so much more respect for Karen Berger as they navigated these waters in a far more difficult field.

What did come of this was an interview series, three longer-form webcomic analysis, and a weekly micro-review column which eventually turned into a weekly review column that ran for 285 “issues.” Not quite a full set of puzzle pieces but enough for me to say it was a successful endeavor. Still, I have my regrets. In the spirit of finding closure as we wrap up our time at Multiversity, I thought it would be enlightening to take a trip through what could have been and finally wrap a bow on my promise from six years ago.


The Pitch

I went digging to see when it was that I initially pitched my idea for what would eventually become our webcomics push. I thought it was early 2018. Turns out, it was September 28, 2017 when I sent the email to my editors at the time: august, Matt Garcia, and Brian. This kicked off the process by which we refined the idea and combined my pitch with Mike’s. The two of us, now co-conspirators in the webcomics coverage game, then drafted up a google doc to hash out what we wanted the whole picture to look like.

My initial plan was…ambitious to say the least. Because I hate myself and have little value for my own time apparently, I got it in my head that the best way to do webcomic coverage was to review a brand new webcomic, ideally one with a sizeable chunk of pages, every two weeks and have an interview with (ideally) the webcomic creator on the weeks in-between. To be clear, I was saying I would do it all: reviewing, interviewing, transcribing, and this would be on top of my other duties at the site. Never let it be said that I lack ambition!

Clearly this would have been untenable and, frankly, ridiculous to think I could, or should, do all that myself. Once we got down to brass tacks, that approach was jettisoned in favor of one that was more inclusive and far less strenuous on us poor, overtaxed reviewers. Basically, we would have three separate columns to provide three different avenues of approach for you, dear reader.

The first, the backbone of the whole line, would be a weekly micro-review column ala Wrapping Wednesday. The second would be a monthly interview series with webcomics creators. The third would be a monthly recommendation column for webcomics that we found particularly chewable. Once those were in place and running, we could think about expanding frequency or folding in columns, annotations, etc.

As you can see, it remained ambitious but with two of us at the head and a stable of reviewers to start, it felt doable. In a way, it was. However, imagined plans and reality rarely match up.

The Webcomics Weekly

This was the only piece of the puzzle that we were able to sustain on an ongoing basis. It’s honestly a marvel that we kept it up because let me tell you folks, this was a bear of a task we set ourselves up for.

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As I pointed out in “The Webcomics Vacuum,” figuring out how to cover webcomics on an ongoing basis was challenge number one for any reviewer. Unlike print comics, there’s no set unit of length nor is there an expected, consistent release schedule. What could be considered a “new” release each week is a headache I still don’t want to deal with.

Plus, the pool of potential works is astronomical compared to what’s released in comic shops. How the hell were our reviewers supposed to find a brand new webcomic every week, choose a chunk that’s considered long enough and new enough to review without being totally lost, or cohesive enough to review as a unit for gag-a-day-style comics, and then keep track of said webcomics to follow up on it once another chunk of updates came out? Add in a desire to not disincentivize coverage of older, longer webcomics or overlook newer, shorter ones and you’ve got a mess on your hands.

Oh, and you can’t forget we needed a way to check back in with comics we’d reviewed to provide the kind of continuity other serialized media coverage gets. Considering all that, I’m still happy with what we did.

Our solution was to split our reviewers into groups. Everyone would still have one review a week but would alternate looking at an “older” webcomic and a “newer” webcomic. The former would be covered on an ongoing basis – i.e. one webcomic that we’d return to until we fully caught up – to ensure reliable chunks to read without overloading us and the latter would be something new every time, two weeks being enough time to find something new and check out its first 20 or so pages/updates.

The hope was that the older comics would allow us to potentially get ahead and take weeks off, or use them to get ahead on the new comics. This would then seed the other columns. One other thing to note is that Mike & I also tried to use the top as a mini-Stan Speaks i.e. an editor’s note talking to our readers. It was a bit of an old-school approach, trying to make this feel like not just a collection of reviews but something more akin to a periodical.

In essence, The Webcomics Weekly would be the bedrock of the rest of the line and a testing ground for new ideas and new contributors as we expanded. In theory. I, for one, never got ahead during my “older” weeks and quite regularly ran reviews up to the wire and the constant hunt for something new was draining.

Still, it was a success. The unique nature of the “older” reviews provided a pseudo-annotations column unto themselves, giving us continuity, and the wide variety of newer comics we highlighted exposed ourselves and, I would hope, our readers to a wide variety of webcomics. While the format would eventually change to one reviewer per week looking at one comic in more depth as our priorities shifted – the years since 2020 were not kind to any of our schedules or ability to keep up with growing demands on our time – it remained focused on that breadth.

Interview with a Webcomic

Even though the schedule on this immediately fell apart, I’m immensely proud of what we did with these interviews. Much like with The Webcomics Weekly, the hope was that this would be a banner with which many contributors would add their interviews but to start, it was mostly me laying the groundwork. That changed over time, thankfully, though we never quite got up the apparatus I had envisioned when we did our pitches. Mostly because print interviews are time-consuming in ways that aren’t immediately apparent.

The biggest hurdle is coordinating a time and date to talk. Time zones, work schedules, sudden emergencies, freak weather events, any number of things can cause headaches. Should one be unable to coordinate a time, the interview could fall through. Sometimes this is solved through a pre-written set of email questions but I never liked doing that. The spontaneity of an ongoing conversation is what allows one to really learn about a creator and their works.

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Like, I have zero doubts that my interview with Mellanie Gilman would not have gone nearly as well (or as long) if it were done via email. However, it is a viable option which reduces the work on everyone’s end: it’s already in print, already formatted correctly, the interviewee doesn’t have to be coming up with answers on the spot, and it better conforms to everyone’s schedule.

The other major hurdle is actually getting to talk to the person. Sometimes they just don’t do interviews, sometimes you can’t make a time work. Other times you get so close but it falls apart because of outside factors. It happened a few times to me. There’s one interview I tried to get set-up for three years. Questions were sent and everything but we never quite got there. It’s a shame.

Ultimately, that’s why the column started to slip in terms of our schedule. Twice-monthly was really only doable with a large contributor base so it wasn’t even considered. Monthly was the name of the game but only sustainable if everything went right. Because I’m stubborn and tried to do all the transcriptions myself, there were a few times when I couldn’t stay ahead. Doubly so when an interview fell through or I couldn’t connect with anyone who was available and willing.

Interviews, in my mind, aren’t the kind of thing one can bank. I want to run the conversation as soon as I can because I feel it’s rude to sit on it for too long. So it’s a constant treadmill of not getting too ahead of oneself or too far behind. In the end, the treadmill broke and we changed over to an “as we get them” model, which I think suited the endeavor just fine. I just wish I’d kept reaching out.

Reinventing Comics

Perhaps the second biggest regret I have is not acting on this idea sooner. I wanted to review and dig into “Reinventing Comics,” the often-ignored middle child of his non-fiction comics trilogy (Understanding, Reinventing, Making.) It is a trip and a half, and that was back in the mid-2010s when I first read it. Imagine what it reads like now! Some ideas swing back around. Others are so far off you can’t help but laugh uproariously. I highly recommend it.

The half-formed idea was to have it be a one-year anniversary longform article matched with an interview, if I could get it, with Scott McCloud himself to discuss the work, what he thought about it now, and what he might do differently. A state of the industry kind of thing with a guy who’d been thinking about this since the turn of the millennium. Sadly, I never got off my tuchas so the whole thing languished. By the time I got up the nerve to reach out, McCloud had unofficially retired from doing interviews.

C’est la vie.

Webcomics Worth Watching

*sigh* And here lies my biggest regret.

This was the third piece of the puzzle and after only three entries, it fizzled out, never to return. Technically, there are four entries. We were reusing a name that Brian had trialed a year and a half before. The story of Webcomics Worth Watching is a simple one: the ambition far outstriped our ability to bring it into the world. I really only have myself to blame.

To give everyone a chance to settle into the rhythm of the initiative, we slow-rolled the two review columns to debut a month apart. Mike & I would alternate WWW entries for the first half a year and then we’d set a schedule with our contributors for the rest. This would have the added bonus of reducing individual workload and expanding what might be picked. More people’s tastes are better after all.

The structure of the piece was also going to be very different from what other reviews tended to focus on. I wanted to build this column around recommending and discussing webcomics on their own terms rather than retrofitting them onto the way we talk about art more generally. That meant discussing how its release schedule worked vs how it reads as a whole, talking about the way the art progresses, and giving a little capsule summary complete with read-alikes.

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Shout-out to the little webcomic rec lists that creators still maintain while Webtoons tries to algorithmically crush them. Best way to find something you might like is through those. Webcomics are quirky! And this was the place to highlight the quirks we liked or didn’t that aren’t necessarily of the comic itself.

After two successful months of staying on track, I fell flat on my face and missed the deadline by a country mile. After that, we never recovered and ultimately abandoned the plan to focus more on the week-to-week reviews, folding in some aspects but not enough to really replace it. I was even going to use the one-year anniversary of the column to read the first Book(?) of “Homestuck.” Perhaps it’s for the best I didn’t. Worst part is, the last one I did led to the most liked and shared tweet I ever received. There was a hunger and I did not know how to keep it fed.

The Piece This Was Supposed To Be

When I initially wrote “The Webcomics Vacuum,” the idea was to do a trilogy of essays. The first was a broad survey of the critical coverage at the time, the second was to be an examination of what a webcomic is and do a bit of a history of the medium, and the third was to be an outline of what to expect from our coverage as well as an explanation of our methodology. My goal was to get a conversation started and to provide a touchstone for future readers; direct, frank, and semi-transparent conversation with the reader being a key aspect, I believe, of the webcomic experience.

As you can see, I never got those other two essays out the door. I thought I had pieces of one but I couldn’t even find that for this article. Were I not under a (self-imposed) time crunch, I would say “and now, here’s the essay in full!” As it stands, what I wanted to approach was the question of what is a webcomic? Can we boil it down to its essence and come up with an agreeable definition? Or is it too fractured? If the latter, why is it fractured and what does each approach tell us about how we think about this strange realm we find ourselves in?

Genre. Branch. Medium. Those were the terms I used. Perhaps I would have added more.

Genre, in the same way that “anime” is considered a genre/subject on many streaming services. A aesthetic grouping more than a contextual one.

Branch, as manga or Bande dessinée or Big Two is to comics. A signifier that indicates shared traits and approaches to storytelling that set it apart from others, containing genres within themselves, but is firmly “beneath” comics as one more mode of expressing the art.

Medium, as comics are to novels, so too are webcomics to comics. An entirely different mode of visual expression that can be adapted from one to the other but to work in webcomics is to work in a different artistic field.

Of course, these are spitball definitions. The borders are fuzzy and the ideas semi-baked. They lack context and examples as well as complications and contrast.

This was also under an entirely different regime. Webtoon had yet to truly dominate the sphere and lowercase-w webtoon had yet to take root as a term, either as replacement for webcomic, Manhwa (Korean comics/webcomics) or the more general term to distinguish vertical scrolling webcomics from their print formatted, digitally represented counterparts. I would love to have dug into the distinction or lack thereof between webtoon, Manhwa (and Manhua aka Chinese comics,) and webcomics.

Alas, I did not. Someone else will have to do it for me, if I don’t buckle down and do it myself one day.

Secret Origins

Let’s not end on what could have been. On me moping about. Instead, let me share with you a story. See, there’s a specific reason my pitch email happened in late September. It wasn’t on a whim I drafted it up. I’d been considering doing something for a few months already but didn’t have a shape to it. Then, in mid-September, 2017, I attended SPX, where I met a cartoonist named Tillie Walden.

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I was first introduced to the works of Tillie Walden thanks to a panel recommendation for her webcomic “On a Sunbeam.” I was attending the science-fiction convention Arisia with my friends in early 2017 and we attended a panel on webcomics. It was sparsely attended but highly informative. I’ve had the pleasure of actually meeting one of the panelists, Zach Clemete of Bulgihan press, at SPX a number of times since. Hi Zach!

The panel sparked my imagination about what modern coverage could look like. One of the panelists, Kelly, had covered webcomics for a site whose name I cannot remember back in the mid-2000s. After the panel was over I approached Kelly for some recommendations and to pick her brain about the kind of coverage she wished she could have done. She kindly obliged with a couple names, “On a Sunbeam” being one of them, and then told me to email her for a longer list. A list I still have and that informed much of the early drafts of my pitches.

Later that year, I heard that Tillie was doing a signing of her newest book, “Spinning,” at a convention called SPX. I’d already fallen in love with “On a Sunbeam” so of course I wanted to meet her. As it so happened, I was going to school close by (an hour away) and took the opportunity to drive down. I got there around midday Sunday and walked around the con, falling in love with it. So many artists I’d never heard of doing amazing work.

Eventually, the time came to get on line for the signing. I lined up outside the first second booth and I was, if memory serves, the final person on line at the time. It was reasonably long but nothing like the big cons so I zipped up to the front in no time at all. By the time I got to the front, however, Tillie had just run out of softcovers. She felt bad that I was going to be forced to purchase a hardcover, so instead of a simple signature and sketch, she remarqued the book.

It was here that the impetus for Interview with a Webcomic came. During that time, “Girls with Slingshots” and “Elephant Town” artist Danielle Corsetto came over and chatted with us about the con and just generally shooting the shit with her fellow cartoonist – I was mostly just standing there looking like a fool.

I don’t remember how the conversation came around to interviews but I gathered my courage and floated the idea of doing interviews, asking if they’d be OK with doing one if I reached out after the con. To my surprise, they said yeah, just reach out via email and we’ll get set up. Then Tillie finished her remarque and I was on my way.

“Spinning” would go on to become a book I treasure, looking into my soul in a way few books had at the time. SPX would become a con I regularly attend, saying hi to familiar faces and enjoying excellent taro smoothies at the pho place near the Bethesda Marriott. As for those interviews, I wouldn’t reach out again for a few months, nerves and plans needed solidifying, of course. But they did, eventually, and the rest is as it was above.

An analysis and an encapsulation of this weird corner we have found ourselves loving, recklessly and without abandon. Wise to its foibles and hopeful of its promise.

//TAGS | Multiversity Says Goodbye | Webcomics

Elias Rosner

Elias is a lover of stories who, when he isn't writing reviews for Mulitversity, is hiding in the stacks of his library. Co-host of Make Mine Multiversity, a Marvel podcast, after winning the no-prize from the former hosts, co-editor of The Webcomics Weekly, and writer of the Worthy column, he can be found on Twitter (for mostly comics stuff) here and has finally updated his profile photo again.


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