Top 10 Story-Driven WebcomicsA column article, Top Ten by: Max Dweck
One of the best things about the Internet is the power it gives individuals to pursue their own work without playing by the usual corporate rules. This results in a lot of great entertainment that never would've reached a lot of people, like the YouTube series Chad Vader: Dayshift Manager, or the musical comedy group Ninja Sex Party. What this meant for comics is that a lot of people could start putting out comic strips that never would've been put into an actual newspaper. This ranges from intellectual content like xkcd to really bizarre content like Dinosaur Comics to niche-audience content like Penny Arcade, not to mention varying levels of sex, violence, and swearing. What it also allowed for, however, was for people to tell long-form stories, much longer than would've been published in any newspaper. Sure, sometimes Calvin and Hobbes or Peanuts would have a story that ran for a week or so, but a lot of these webcomics take it further. Some have story arcs that go on for months, or one long, ongoing story that runs through the whole comic. In some cases, these webcomics are styled more like an actual comic book, just available to read online for free instead of being published on paper. Today, we're here to celebrate those comics. Here's ten of them that are the cat's pajamas.
Disclaimer: All of this is my own personal opinion. There may be comics on this list that you don't think should be on here, or comics not on this list that you think there may be. This could be for any number of reasons, the most likely being I just haven't read it. Additionally, some comics may be lower on this list not for reasons of quality, but for being derivative from something else. I try to promote wholly original creations.
10. Bob and George
Bob and George was a Megaman sprite comic that ran from 2000 to 2007. It was originally supposed to be creator David Anez's own original superhero tale about two brothers on the sides of good and evil, but technical difficulties delayed everything. Sticking to a self-imposed deadline, Anez chose to publish some comic strips using art assets from the Megaman video games, presenting the beloved Capcom characters with new, humorous personalities.
However, by the time that Anez started the superhero story he wanted to make, the Megaman material proved so popular that he just decided to stick with it. He quickly brought in his own original characters, the titular Bob and George, to have adventures in this altered video game universe, and the rest was history. Bob and George has two kinds of stories: Story arcs retelling the plot of the Megaman games in goofy ways, often involving time travel to incorporate Anez's own original characters, and plots taking place in the present that just deal with the characters acting weird and violent for whatever reason.
Bob and George's inclusion on this list is mostly ceremonial, as while it has aged decently, it's more notable for the legions of imitators it spawned. The comic was a pioneer in sprite comics, showing lots of young people that you don't have to be able to draw to be able to tell a fun story. And while a lot of these imitators aren't very good, that's still something pretty special on its own.
Sandra and Woo is a webcomic that updates on Mondays and Thursdays, written by Oliver “Novil” Knörzer and drawn by Puri “Powree” Andini. It's a humorous webcomic about a young girl named Sandra, her pet talking raccoon named “Woo”, their friends, their relationships, their adventures, and their ability to serve as occasional vehicles for raccoon facts.
Of all the webcomics featured on this list, Sandra and Woo is the one that would be most at home in an actual newspaper. The banner ads that initially led me to the comic included a review quote comparing it to Calvin and Hobbes, and I'm hard-pressed to say it doesn't belong. Sandra and Woo, among other things, includes a lot of pro-environmental and pro-animal rights messages, and the cast of characters are all quirky and fun. Sandra herself is a young girl with a lot of passion, who alternates between being childish and being very intellectual. Woo is a raccoon with a lot to say about humanity. There are some strips that are just gags, but the comic mostly has arcs surrounding social messages and coming-of-age stories. Plot lines include a raccoon climbing a mountain with the help of divine inspiration, middle-school-girls coming to terms with homosexuality, and a mother reflecting on her time as a child in war-torn Burma.
It's heavy or offbeat topics like these that are probably why Novil and Powree chose the Internet as their platform instead of regular newspaper syndication, and it's what makes Sandra and Woo special. It injects just a little bit of fantasy into harsh reality.
In November 2011, cartoonist Yale Stewart started a strip on Tumblr called “Little League”, featuring 8-year-old versions of DC Comics characters. Little Bruce, Clark, Diana, Hal, Barry, J'onn, and Karen all attend Schwartz Elementary School together, getting into childish arguments, playing games, and developing crushes on each other, all while still having their superpowers. It's funny, contains a lot of cameos and continuity nods for DC Comics fans, and instantly became an Internet darling.
This strip in particular attracts a lot of people.
Soon renaming the comic “JL8” due to legal concerns with Little League Baseball, the comic's popularity skyrocketed, and Stewart eventually got work with the Big 2, including a couple pages of Nova and some upcoming children's books with DC. The comic itself is always in some sort of story arc of varying lengths, with the longest so far being Diana's birthday party. Other stories include the kids switching to their New 52 costumes to seem more serious, J'onn being bullied by some child supervillains, and the Green Lanterns (which, here, are a boy scout organization) hunting for Bigfoot.
JL8 is fun, imaginative, and doesn't take itself too seriously. For these reasons and more, it's no surprise that in the current dark and grim comic books market, more than a few fans have asked DC to just hire Yale Stewart and publish this series officially already.
Last sprite comic on the list, I promise. Before he wrote for Marvel or started publishing Atomic Robo, Brian Clevinger wrote a comic called 8-Bit Theater. Running from 2001-2010, the series was a retelling of the story of the original Final Fantasy NES video game, but in a more comedic light.
8-Bit Theater tells the story of the Warriors of Light, four bold adventurers on a quest to save the land from darkness. Or at least it would, if our heroes were the real Warriors of Light and not a bunch of incompetent, psychopathic clods who tricked an idiot king into giving them the title. Our not-so-merry band of misfits consists of four members. Firstly is Fighter, whose heart and sword are true, and whose brain is in a questionable state of authenticity. Next is Black Mage, murderous wielder of the dark arts, who would be the greatest threat in the land if he weren't so lazy and petty. Third is Thief, the group's self-proclaimed leader, a duplicitous elven prince who cares more about money than he does the wellbeing of others, and possibly even the wellbeing of himself. Finally is Red Mage, who believes himself to have an intellect without equal, but is actually too proud to realize what a fool he is.
And that's just the heroes. Supporting characters and villains are also horribly off-script compared to the original game and hilarious, making the entire affair a very enjoyable read. It takes real brains to write people this stupid. Silly and irreverent, but also very clever, 8-Bit Theater was and remains one of the greats of the world of webcomics.
If you're the kind of person who reads comic book websites, this is probably something you'll be interested in. Written by Brennan Lee Mulligan with art by Molly Osterag, Strong Female Protagonist tells the story of world-famous college student Allison Green, once known as Mega-Girl, the strongest superhero in the world. Allison is part of the first generation with superpowers, and has hung up her cape in order to dedicate herself to social reform, as she's convinced that superheroes aren't actually capable of saving the world.
The comic is an interesting take on the superhero genre that tries to provide a new perspective on what people with powers can really do, and what they would go through in our world. Allison's a college student. She doesn't have all the answers, but she's trying to get there, and she realizes that her time as Mega-Girl gives her a lot of privileges not had both by other people and by other superheroes. There's a lot of different ethical questions swimming around, and although Allison is done with the superhero life, the superhero life isn't quite done with her.
Smart and meaningful without being preachy or ham-handed in its message, Strong Female Protagonist is great food for thought. Or if you're just a fan of superheroes who wants something a bit different, it's good for that too.
Jeph Jacques started Questionable Content back in 2003, initially as a comic about a bunch of twenty-somethings in the town of Northampton, Massachusetts who are into indie-rock and complicated romantic relationships. It followed Marten Reed, a young music fan just trying to get by, when one day a wide-hipped abrasive southern girl named Faye comes crashing into his life and changing everything. Over time, the comic has (along with its art style) evolved into just kind of being about offbeat people living mostly regular lives.
An interesting thing about Questionable Content is that over time, the cast has expanded, and as Jeph Jacques finds less to do with characters who have had long story arcs for years, he keeps things fresh by focusing on new people and their new situations. Things shifted from Marten and his relationships to the growth of a neurotic OCD-ridden woman named Hannelore to one of the current story lines being about a robotic ex-convict named May trying to reintegrate with society (did I mention there are robots in this comic? There are robots in this comic). At the same time, old characters don't ever really go away, as nobody's life ever quite stops having developments, and another plot going on right now is Marten's mother getting remarried and him bonding with his new little sister who's about half his age.
Jacques has created a rich world full of unique and interesting characters, which has grown just as much as his artistic skills over the comic's 11-year run. With over 2000 strips full of interpersonal drama, light sci-fi, and a healthy dose of humor, Questionable Content is a comic that has something for everybody.
Created by Sam Logan, Sam and Fuzzy started as a comic strip in a student newspaper back in 2002. In 2003, Logan took the strip to the web. Sam and Fuzzy tells the story of Sam, a down-on-his-luck taxi driver, and his unhinged friend who is an inexplicably-talking bear, Fuzzy. Although their world appears mostly normal on the surface, things such as romantic cat princes, fridges possessed by demons, a ninja mafia, and Fuzzy's schemes make Sam's life less than ordinary.
What makes Sam and Fuzzy remarkable is that over its twelve-year run, the comic has changed a lot. It initially started as a gag strip, but evolved into a more story-focused adventure series taking place in the strange underworld that Sam discovers. Logan has even divided the story into various eras in his archives to show how the comic has changed over time, going from the “Classic Series” in which Sam was mostly unaware of the weirdness to the “Noosehead Series” in which he's trying to escape it to the “NMS Series” in which he's embraced it. Talking dinosaurs, shapeshifting strippers, gerbil mafiosos and more all await.
Romance, mystery, intrigue, sci-fi, the supernatural, and hijinks all combine to make Sam and Fuzzy, and there really isn't anything else like it. With serious stories that still find organic room for humor, it's something worth reading.
Something*Positive was started by Randy Milholland back in 2001, and it came out of the gate clawing and biting. It's about a young, angry, disdainful man named Davan Macintire and his social circle, who are themselves humorously sociopathic versions of Milholland and his own friends who would be horrifying in real life, but are hilarious in fiction. The story follows the lives of these characters with violence, brutal truths, black comedy, and irreverence of societal norms. It also follows them with a lot of heart and conviction.
Something*Positive is always raw, but raw doesn't always have to mean abrasive. Davan Macintire is a character who looks negatively on a lot of things, but can often accept the negative, and sometimes even finds the positive. The comic largely reflects this, as Davan and friends have adventures involving theater, Dungeons and Dragons, boneless cats, running from the law, and Tijuana Bibles.
Life has a tendency to suck a lot of the time, but that doesn't mean it's all bad. Sometimes that's just what it is, and we have to power through it and even see what's funny about it. It's been said that comedy often relies on accepting this, and there are few things out there that embrace this notion better than Something*Positive.
In 1997, a student of Indiana University named David Willis created a comic strip for the school paper called “Roomies!” about a moral guy named Danny and the people he went to college with. Over the years, as Willis started publishing his material online, focus shifted from Danny to a strong-valued Catholic girl named Joyce, who got involved with aliens and a boy named Walky in the sequel comic, “It's Walky!” Joyce and Walky eventually got together, and after their sci-fi adventures were over, went on to star in a slice of life gag strip called “Joyce and Walky!” Meanwhile, Willis took a few of the supporting characters from “It's Walky!” and brought them to work in a toy store in another comic called “Shortpacked!” All of these characters grew and changed over time, and the various series of Willis and the timeline they all shared became known as the “Walkyverse”. The Walkyverse continues to this day, with Shortpacked! being in its final year. However, that's not the only comic David Willis is currently running. The other comic is Dumbing of Age.
When David Willis started the Walkyverse, he was a sheltered kid from a religious upbringing being exposed to the world for the first time. With over a decade of cartooning experience and radically altered worldviews as a result of his growth into an adult, he decided to do the whole thing over again. Willis took all the characters from all of his comics and put them back in Indiana University in an alternate universe, where they could grow and change as people without any of the sci-fi stuff, but still with a sense of humor. Dumbing of Age is about Joyce, who acts as an author avatar for Willis as she leaves her religious home and sees the world and all the different kinds of people in it for the first time. Her best friend is an atheist, her roommate is black, her boyfriend is a gay Jew, and she's trying to process all of it. Other characters include a girl who copes with an abusive father by playing campus vigilante, a mixed-race girl who rebels against her parents because they treat her brother better because he's “less black”, and a sexual freedom advocate who is the younger sister of a congresswoman running for reelection on a “traditional family values” platform. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Dumbing of Age is a very liberal comic, so it's not for everybody. But for the people who aren't repulsed by that fact, it's great. Every character is multifaceted. They're got their own baggage, desires, problems, and interact differently with each other. There are unlikely friends, unlikely lovers, and confusion as everybody undergoes their, well, coming of age. It's a phenomenal series, and has only been running for about four years, so an archive binge doesn't take very long. Catch up. It's worth it.
At the end of the day, why do we do anything? Because we want to keep on living. And we want to live comfortably. We want to be happy. We want to do things that bring us enjoyment. There are times to take apart art and look at the deeper meanings, times to learn about ourselves, times to take a look at society, times to watch ourselves grow evolve. And then there are times when you want to see a ninja blow up a helicopter with a motorcycle.
The Adventures of Dr. McNinja was created by writer/artist Chris Hastings back in 2004, who has since written several miniseries for Marvel Comics, including Deadpool: Fear Itself and Longshot Saves the Marvel Universe. Dr. McNinja is, as his name implies, a doctor and a ninja of Irish descent, who lives his life harboring the compulsions both to heal and to kill. He serves the former compulsion in his career as a doctor, and the latter compulsion in his semi-official role as the town vigilante of the city of Cumberland, Maryland. Along with his sidekick Gordito, a teenage velociraptor-riding bandito sharpshooter with a magical mustache, the good doctor protects the city from giant lumberjacks, evil mimes, zombies, and an interdimensional time-travelling skateboarding king. Where other comics on this list teach you that it's ok to be who you are or to laugh at the bad things in life, The Adventures of Dr. McNinja gives readers valuable life lessons such as “Ninjas can't catch you if you're on fire.”
It's hard to describe The Adventures of Dr. McNinja without it seeming like it relies on that “lolrandom” brand of humor loved by younger readers and reviled by everybody else, what with the ghost wizards, Benjamin Franklin clones, and South American tennis gods. It's absurdist comedy mixed with awesome action sequences that's just very original and very well written. Dr. McNinja is always imaginative, always funny, and always a thrill to read.
Like this list? Dislike the list? Think there's a comic that should be on here that wasn't? Let us know in the comments! I'm always willing to try something new.