The first online comic was Witches and Stitches, written and drawn by Eric Millikin and published on CompuServe way back in 1985. For those of you as slow as me at math, that’s 26 years ago which makes webcomics older than digital cellular phones, the oldest Jonas brother, the Power Rangers (though not older than Japanese Sentai series in general), the disposable camera, the first 3D video game, disposable contact lenses, the use of Doppler weather radars in the US, Prozac and the World Wide Web.
Yet webcomics, despite their enduring popularity and mass proliferation in all corners of the Internet in the past decade or so, continue to be largely unprofitable. So, in honor of these unsung and mostly underpaid artists who work directly from the heart (and often strange corners of the human brain), here’s a list of 14 awesome webcomics (excluding things like Penny Arcade, XKCD, etc. that everyone and their mother already reads) for you to browse through next time you’ve got time to kill and access to the Internet. It’s not like you really need to get your work done or anything…right?
Creator Kate Beaton has been uploading her comics online since 2007, officially launching the Hark! A Vagrant website in 2008. Her comics tend to be historical in nature (not surprising considering her degree in History and Anthropology) and her art is superb, getting better everyyear.
Cash Register. Robot. Cop. From the site’s own description, “Frank Gorman is LA’s toughest homicide detective. His partner FELIX is a robotic cash register programmed to be a walking CSU. Crime may pay…but justice is all out of change.” This is one of the most entertaining hard-boiled detective parodies you’re likely to come across, with witty dialogue written by Gardner Linn & Chris Thorn and crisp illustrations by Dave Lentz & Rob Simmons.
“Lee Wagstaff, the daughter of a black sharecropper in depression-era Mississippi, and Bayou, a blues-singing swamp monster, trek across a hauntingly familiar Southern Neverland, confronting creatures both benign and malevolent, in an effort to rescue Lee’s father and Lily, Lee’s white playmate.” Written and drawn by Jeremy Love, Bayou differs from the other entries here in that it’s not a free online series, though it is hosted online and the first issue is available for free at the comic’s portal linked to in the title. Despite this, it’s too hard to ignore such a beautifully drawn work that features a haunting, magical trek across the imagination of the deep south by a young African-American girl on a journey to save her father.
A fairly recent entry onto the scene, Jacob Andres’s brainchild For Lack of a Better Comic covers a variety of pop culture topics with a charmingly simple art style and an often self-deprecating sense of humor.
One of artist KC Green’s earlier efforts, Comics Without Violence ran for about 5 years, during which time Green honed his art style and knack for offbeat comedy before launching his current flagship series Gunshow. From the About page, “Gunshow is a comic about a lot of different things. Like bones and blood and sadness and love. And also nerds and hell and dogs and death. And also growing up and breaking down and getting over something and ghosts. And also family and kids and moms and dads. And then maybe a comic or two about a mummy with a huge erection. Truly Gunshow must be THE comic for everyone!”
This comic is exactly what the title implies, Adolf Hitler with all the terrible sensibilities of a modern day hipster. Hipster Hitler features an interesting mix of history jokes and references, hipster parody, and some of the most creative ironic T-shirts mixing WWII era history with modern pop-culture references. The amount of misguided hatemail they’ve received prompted one of the more comprehensive About pages I’ve ever seen.
Jonathan Rosenberg is one of the older webcomic artists, starting way back in 1997 with Goats, a popular webcomic that ran for over 10 years before Rosenberg put it on hiatus to focus on his latest venture Scenes From A Multiverse, which launched in 2010. The webcomic is updated daily Monday through Friday, with each strip highlighting an entirely new setting somewhere in the everyday happenings of the multiverse, skewering pop-culture from alien and/or futuristic perspectives.
Twice nominated for SPX Ignatz Awards, Everything Dies is a series of short comic arcs by Box Brown that tackle religion and religiosity often by framing stories within fables from ancient belief structures. The example page here is from “Debate Between Bird and Fish” which illustrates a Sumerian fable. The mini comic “Ben Died of a Train” has been the focus of particularly high praise.
Launching in June of last year, James Anderson’s Ellie on Planet X has quickly won praise for it’s beautiful art (every strip is full color) and all-ages content. The comic follows the adorable robot Ellie as she explores the strange and colorful world of Planet X, reporting her findings back to the scientists that built her on Earth. There’s an irresistible Dr. Seuss-like quality to Anderson’s art, especially in the wobbly and fantastical flora and fauna of Planet X.
Probably the most popular webcomic I was willing to put on this list, Matthew Inman’s The Oatmeal is just too awesome to ignore, and having launched in 2009, it’s still new enough for me to not feel guilty about it. Inman’s site, which features comics, quizzes and lists, is hard to describe, rather, it must be experienced. I can’t get enough of this webcomic, and if you aren’t reading it already, I’m pretty sure you will be from now on.
The premise is simple. Two right handed artists, Justin Boyd and Drew Mokris, draw toons with their left hands. The squiggly art becomes hilarious in it’s own right, and the two have a knack for topical and mildly absurd comedy. Starting in 2007, they’ve got 1088 so far, with a new one every weekday.
Jessica Hagy has been drawing sharply witty graphs and diagrams since 2006. Since then, her simple works have received much acclaim: Time.com named her site as the best blog of 2008. Yet her work typically falls under the radar of the majority of webcomic readers that frequent big names like Penny Arcade or Questionable Content.
This is a comic drawn by a strange, awesome, anonymous and likely deranged young man. Quite a few strips are NSFW, but if you like your humor crass and without limits, Plastic Brick Automaton will be your new favorite webcomic. I have no idea how he comes up with the things he does, but whether you end up liking it or not, it’s hard to argue that his work isn’t incredibly unique. Also, be prepared for the most detailed stick figures you’ve ever seen.
Written and drawn by Drew Dee, and hosted on a website he shares with his wife Natalie who also draws her own series (together they’re behind the webcomic Married to the Sea), Toothpaste for Dinner is updated daily with simple, usually single-panel comics that usually mine irony, cynicism, schadenfreude, surrealism or some combination of the aforementioned for surprisingly witty effect. Drew is also author of the book Veins and in 2006 revealed himself to be the electronic artist known as KOMPRESSOR.