The 20 Best Webcomics of 2014

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From the philosophic ruminations of dinosaurs to a shapeshifter’s grandiose plan for world domination, these diverse webcomics combine genius storytelling with uniquely-imagined artwork. Each comic listed impressed us with its creative depth, and we know they’ll bring you hours of entertainment.

And so, without further ado, here are Paste’s choices for the Best Webcomics of 2014:

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20. Cyanide & Happiness
Writers & Artists: Rob Denbleyker, Dave McElfatrick, Kris Wilson and Matt Melvin
Schedule: Updates Daily
Much in the way dirty limericks are all the more repulsive when told by children, Cyanide & Happiness reminds us that winking nihilism and wanton violence resonate with utter jubilance if carried out by stick figures. The venerable absurdist franchise can be decisively hit-or-miss, although that’s par for the course of risk-taking comedy. The Kids in the Hall weren’t funny 100 percent of the time, either. The Cyanide & Happiness Show made its overdue debut on the web this year, demonstrating the growing irrelevance of television. Perhaps more importantly, the program has already reinvigorated the lost art of castration jokes. —Barry Thompson

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19. Shortpacked!
Writer & Artist: David Willis
Schedule: Updates M-W-F
Not only has the quirky office comedy proven a tried-and-true formula for decades across numerous mediums, but Shortpacked! has been ongoing since the second Bush administration. That David Willis has kept the exploits of a madcap toy store crew entertaining for this long boggles the mind. It certainly helps that Shortpacked! is about toys in the same way The Office is about paper. This year, Malaya and Ultra Car overcame the sexual frustrations that inevitably arise in human/robot romances, Robin and Leslie had superscience-spawned triplets (and finally got married), Robin talked about Batman a lot and other characters talked about Transformers a lot. Willis plans on bringing Shortpacked! to a close next month, so fans will just have to be content with 10 years-worth of archived comics, plus Willis’ still-continuing Dumbing of Age. —Barry Thompson

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18. JL8
Writer & Artist: Yale Stewart
Schedule: Updates Weekly
Playground tussles, first crushes and sleepovers abound in JL8, Yale Stewart’s charming webcomic imagining DC heroes and villains as children. And while their personalities align with the comic book characters we grew up adoring, these tots are free of the Hollywood darkness recently enveloping the DC Universe. Both seasoned DC fans and new readers alike will enjoy the exploits of Stewart’s young heroes. —Frannie Jackson

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17. The Hole the Fox Did Make
Writer & Artist: Emily Carroll
Schedule: Completed
In The Hole the Fox Did Make, Carroll’s layering of dreams and reality is heightened. A young woman living with her mother is captivated by mysterious dreams of an imaginary society, but menace permeates worlds both fantastical and mundane. Ultimately, the story Carroll tells turns out to be less about fantasy archetypes and more about secrets and tragedy. Even more entrancing is the sense that there’s an underlying logic to these worlds that escapes the protagonist, adding to the sense of menace and mystery. —Tobias Carroll

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16. Sticks Angelica
Writer & Artist: Michael DeForge
Schedule: Updates Weekly
One of the most rewarding things about being a Michael DeForge fan is that there’s never a shortage of content read. He updates Sticks Angelica weekly, and although each strip could almost stand on its own (there are occasional four- or five-week runs that are explicitly continuous), they work together to build a bizarrely charming world. Regular concerns of DeForge’s oeuvre appear here too—mythological Canadian history, nature, the futility of longing—but mostly the strip operates as a way for the artist to experiment by setting restrictions on his art. Rendered in glorious pink, black and white, its horizontal 2-by-8-panel grid embraces a fabulous array of letterforms, page designs and moral hand-wringing. —Hillary Brown

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15. Dinosaur Comics
Writer & Artist: Ryan North
Schedule: Updates M-T-W-R
Let me be clear: I love Dinosaur Comics. Love it. Love it love love it love it. After 11 years, Ryan North’s interpretations of Tyrannosaurus (panels #1 – #6), Dromiceiomimus (panel #3), Utahraptor (panels #4 and #5) and God (off panel) conjure all manner of hilarity and subversively clever insight. The idiosyncratic cast chats, provokes and ruminates in ways that only pixelated dinosaur illustrations can. There’s been debate whether a comic that’s featured the same static illustrations since 2003 is brilliant or lazy. Keep in mind this is also a comic that reimagined Shakespearean dialogue for the Facebook generation and posited Batman riding a laser-shooting Pterodactyl. Let that be your answer. If form is function, than North has nearly perfected his one-man art. —Sean Edgar

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14. As the Crow Flies
Writer & Artist: Melanie Gillman
Schedule: Completed
Melanie Gillman created this sensitive and lovely webcomic for nearly three years, but they (Gillman prefers the third-person plural pronoun) took their time for good reason. Following the story of a queer African American girl at an overnight camp with old feminist roots, the comic unfurls slowly, each page drawn with painstaking care in colored pencils. Gillman says it took them about 8 to 10 hours to complete a single page, and the results feel contemplative, with sublime views of landscape as the girls hike through the wilderness. —Hillary Brown

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13. It Will All Hurt
Writer & Artist: Farel Dalrymple
Schedule: Updates Weekly
Reading Farel Dalrymple’s work is like diving into a David Cronenberg movie. It Will All Hurt appears to take place in the same universe as Dalrymple’s graphic novel The Wrenchies, a dreamlike, menacing world full of horrifying fears that never quite reveal themselves. Dalrymple renders it all in his trademark soft colors, with images that strain against their panels, leaking outside their borders on occasion. The webcomic format of It Will All Hurt, with less of an emphasis on constructing a neat narrative, is ideal for him. —Hillary Brown

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12. Hobo Lobo of Hamelin
Writer & Artist: Stevan Živadinovi?
Schedule: Updates Sporadically
Upon the emergence of new technology, historically, the fresh gadgetry gets used for “mature” purposes. After a while, more thoughtful individuals cook up artistic applications. Stevan Živadinovi? established himself among the latter faction with Hobo Lobo, a motion comic chronicling a rated-R-for-language fairy tale coating a political satire. The aptly-named Mayor Dick Mayor bamboozles the wandering, titular jack of all trades into ridding the town of its vermin problem, just in time for election season! Sadly, Hobo Lobo has yet to see his promised monetary compensation and plots revenge. Visually, Hobo Lobo melds the consciously-childlike approach of Bill Watterson with Edward Gorey’s penchant for gloom. That is, unless we’re addressing the reality meltdown transpiring at the conclusion of page 3, which delivers the kind of dark surrealism that would do David Lynch proud. —Barry Thompson

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11. Oyster War
Writer & Artist: Ben Towle
Schedule: Completed
Riding last year’s wave of accolades (including an Eisner nomination), Oyster War continued to excite through its satisfying conclusion this fall. Commander Davidson Bulloch and his quirky crew battled oyster pirates, a sea serpent and their own skepticism, providing us with a high seas adventure worth reading again and again. The comic’s combination of historical fiction (it’s set in Virginia after the Civil War) and mythology (hello ghosts and selkies) ultimately weaves a charming tale for all ages. —Frannie Jackson

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10. Ducks
Writer & Artist: Kate Beaton
Schedule: Completed
Kate Beaton is better known for her Hark a Vagrant comics, which take inspiration from history and classic literature to produce hilarious results. But Ducks, published online this year in five parts, presents a more serious and complex story. Based on Beaton’s experiences while working at a remote mining site in Canada, it proves her to be capable of translating a long narrative into comic form. —Hillary Brown

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9. Failing Sky
Writer & Artist: Dax Tran-Caffee
Schedule: Updates Sporadically
To be honest, Failing Sky is challenging to describe. The indie webcomic weaves four interrelated stories into its narrative: the memoir of a failed sailor, the quest of a traveling ghost, the adventure of a genderqueer nancy drew and the destruction of some rampaging giant robots. Add Dax Tran-Caffee’s exquisite artwork, and you truly have discovered a gem. But what kind of gem? You’ll have to explore it for yourself. —Frannie Jackson

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8. xkcd
Writer & Artist: Randall Munroe
Schedule: Updates M-W-F

Randall Munroe’s webcomic of “romance, sarcasm, math and language” has encountered no shortage of content to tackle this year. As our lives become inevitably more enmeshed in the technological, Munroe’s nameless stick figures have challenged the arbitrary correlations between cell phone reception and pineapples and have made some adventurous moves in browser text replacements (aka replace “force” with “horse”). This strip is not designed for the layman—it simultaneously engages and dissects the technorati and science buffs of the modern age. In other words, it’s like The Big Bang Theory for people with a sense of a humor. —Sean Edgar

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7. The Abominable Charles Christoper
Writer & Artist: Karl Kerschl
Schedule: On Hiatus

Long before pencilling the sleek, gorgeous spires of Gotham Academy, Karl Kerschl escaped into the woods with The Abominable Charles Christopher, chronicling the most benign yeti since Harry and the Hendersons. Though this webcomic’s frequency has lagged since its author joined the Batverse, the title remains one of the most well-written, disarming and downright gorgeous examples of what the medium can accomplish. In addition to charting the epic battle between a child-king and the primordial avatar of nature, Kerschl keeps his strip disarmingly buoyant. This cast of critters also posts hilarious dating profiles and creates scenes of domestic hilarity more entertaining than anything found on the television. At its center, though, exists Charles Christopher: a beacon of calm, childlike wonder grounding the chaos and noise around him. —Sean Edgar

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6. When the Darkness Presses
Writer & Artist: Emily Carroll
Schedule: Completed
When the Darkness Presses begins with familiar ingredients—an isolated location, mysterious sounds in the dark, hints of something awful—and then takes them to unexpected places. For all its focus on the fear of the unknown—and that can be found in abundance here—it’s as much about our fear of isolating ourselves … and of what terrors may occur in doing so. The dread Emily Carroll creates has a haunting payoff: a tense scene of exploration that’s all the more powerful when it reaches its inevitable conclusion. There’s fear of the unknown, and there’s fear of the known; this taps into both. —Tobias Carroll

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5. The Oatmeal
Writer & Artist: Matthew Inman
Schedule: Updates Sporadically
Of all the ubiquitous social media staples we encounter on a daily basis, The Oatmeal finds itself on the short list of those universally deemed “Not Annoying.” As a result, Matthew Inman can claim to be one of the few individuals who got internet rich without inspiring anyone to wish they could punch him in the face. While the art has never been sophisticated, the brilliance of The Oatmeal is its ability to tell honest, emotionally compelling testimonials about its author’s obsession with marathon running alongside simply-stated life advice. Do you hate doing dishes? The Oatmeal tells you how to avoid it! Have you ever wondered what it would be like to drink dinosaur pee? The Oatmeal has your answer! (Spoiler alert: You already have). —Barry Thompson

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4. Ava’s Demon
Writer & Artist: Michelle Czajkowski
Schedule: Updates Monday/Thursday
Ava and Wrathia, the demon who has tormented Ava since birth, are the central characters of this large-scale narrative, which takes place across multiple planets dominated by a maniacal overlord. And with Michelle Czajkowski’s decision to work on the webcomic full-time this year, Ava’s Demon has explored stunning new worlds and has introduced several surprising characters. Combining gorgeous panels with an intriguing story, Ava’s Demon will enthrall new and seasoned webcomics fans alike. —Frannie Jackson

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3. Battlepug
Writer & Artist: Mike Norton
Schedule: Updates Weekly
Having cranked out a page of Battlepug once a week since 2011, Mike Norton would’ve been forgiven for dialing 2014 in. Instead, his cute-animal-meme-meets-George R.R. Martin project has gazed inward, expanding its mythology with commendable righteousness and relatability. (We all need a rock mage, a plant mage and a beast mage to get things done, naturally.) But when life takes a turn for the profoundly unexpected, will proxies of Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler narrate our personal crisis? Of course. They always do. Battlepug is real life, yo. Real life, as it would be drawn by Bill Watterson. —Barry Thompson

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2. Tuki Save the Humans
Writer & Artist: Jeff Smith
Schedule: On Hiatus
Jeff Smith returns to the cartoon escapism he perfected in Bone with Tuki Save the Humans, a webcomic devoted to man’s unending mission to cross borders and challenge the established. This theme should ring familiar to anyone who also indulged in Smith’s last project, the hardboiled, physics-abusing RASL. But instead of dimension-hopping sci-fi, this new venture dives into prehistoric fantasy, featuring an affable hunter/gatherer who dares to travel beyond the cradle of civilization. Within these lively panels, the titular hero hunts for grub, protects wayward children from sabertooth tigers and battles a hulking gorilla god. And it’s all overwhelmingly delightful. Divided into digestible seasons, Tuki moves with kinetic agility from gorgeous set piece to gorgeous set piece, delivering concentrated webcomic joy from cartooning royalty. —Sean Edgar

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1. Nimona
Writer & Artist: Noelle Stevenson
Schedule: Completed
The highlights of my Tuesdays and Thursdays this year involved reading a new page of Nimona. Yes, Noelle Stevenson’s tale of a (not-quite-evil) genius and his shapeshifting sidekick with a penchant for violence is that good. From its first panel, Nimona draws you into a narrative combining shark jokes, a shadowy institution and a startling amount of heart. So whether you’re young or old, a comics newbie or a seasoned veteran, make the decision to explore the fantastical world Stevenson has created. You won’t regret it. —Frannie Jackson

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