The other night, something (well, Kai
) possessed me to look for anything with the word "discohouse" in its name on Napster
(as if I had to link to it...). I came up with only two files, and I downloaded them out of some morbid sense of curiosity.
One of them was unmemorable. The other, however, was laugh-out-loud funny. It was ridiculously amateurish, like so much of the techno music floating around on the internet. As I told Kai, "It's like this guy said, 'Look! I can make house! Boom boom!'"
This immediately brought up a question a little closer to home in my mind: what the heck are we, the Comics Ex Machina creators, doing here? Are we just a bunch of stupid kids who suddenly said, "Look! I can make online comics! Geeky pop culture reference!" Does the internet really need another comic strip about college students who like anime, video games, movies, and comics? Does it need to see more strips with flat, somewhat amateurish, vaguely anime-inspired art (I can knock it if I want, I draw the freaking things)? Does it need another strip that people will (and have) accused of being a rip-off of Penny Arcade? We only update the actual strip twice a week -- are we wasting our time here?
We've heard (and considered) all these viewpoints. The web certainly doesn't lack comics about video games, anime, and other aspects of "geek culture." With comics out there like Penny Arcade, PVP, and Megatokyo covering that ground so well (and plenty of other sites covering it slightly less-than-well), it stands to reason that we don't really need more strips of that kind. It's become something of a genre among web comics, and I would hate to see web comics overbearingly associated with that, as people associate comic books with superheroes.
The comic books I buy (and make, or plan to get to eventually) are, for the most part, not superhero comics. I've seen what the medium can offer. I'm tired of the same old ideas moved around a bit. I'll take Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve, or Brian Michael Bendis's Fortune and Glory just about any day over Superman or Spider-man. I'll only read a superhero comic if it's really well done, like Alan Moore's and Dave Gibbons's Watchmen or Kurt Busiek's, Brent Anderson's, and Alex Ross's Astro City. Similarly, I'm impressed by truly original web comics, like Diesel Sweeties, Exploding Dog, and Magic Inkwell. I'll only regularly visit a web comic in the "young geek" genre if it meets a certain standard. And for me personally, most don't.
So why would we go ahead and delve into this genre?
I obviously don't think we're wasting our time, or else I wouldn't be writing this right now. Despite accusations and considerations to the contrary, we really are trying to do something new and different here. It probably isn't apparent just by looking at one or two strips. If a potential reader visits the site and just sees Jason and Tony chatting about Super Mario Brothers, or Dan and Kai imitating a Nicolas Cage movie, the reader might be quick to assume what we're all about. And, well, we run that risk. Someone could check out just those two random strips, perhaps get no more than little smirk, and point his or her browser elsewhere.
If you take a closer look at the site, however, I hope other patterns -- beyond a simple genre -- would emerge. We're trying to make use of this digital canvas, to take advantage of not being restricted by certain physical resources. It's fun and interesting to figure out not just what's going to go into each panel, but how many panels we'll have, and how they'll be laid out -- questions that generally don't enter the process for, say, newspaper strips. Further, I think that doing the coloring and backgrounds in Adobe Photoshop really bring the strips to life. "Staking Out The Square" just wouldn't have been the same without that little photographic scene from Cambridge in the background, just as the modified tree background really makes "Gentle Tree Spirit complete. Centralizing our comics on the web also offers other opportunities, like a public Forum and special-interest columns (like this one).
Are we feeding the notion that this is a "genre" comic by basing our strips, columns, and Forum topics on things like computer games, movies, and old Saturday morning cartoons? Well, to some extent, yes. We grew up in the 80's. We think things like cartoon robots and anthropormorphic environmentalist animals are funny. We have "geeky" pursuits. We find things like Highlander, Jet Li, and honors societies and superheroes fair game for humor.
We know not everyone who comes across this page is going to find the comics, the columns, or the news postings funny or interesting. If I thought this comic was the be-all-end-all of humor, I wouldn't be drawing another one (with a different style of humor) for the university paper, alongside various other comic projects. Even so, we try to make CXM appeal to both a broad audience and a specific audience, and we try to keep things mixed up from strip to strip. We want to cover a lot of ground. And we do exercise ideas that we couldn't use if our medium were anything but the web -- after all, my other comic is first and foremost a newspaper strip; it's confined to three panels (or an amount of space equal to three panels); I have no time to color it; and I do my shading with pen. It's a different experience.
As for CXM, we're having fun. We'd be happy to have a huge readership, to make tons of money, and to do this strip for a long long time -- but really, we're doing this now because we like it, and we think other people might like it too. Are we a bunch of amateurs who won't be able to hack it? Maybe. I think it's too early to tell. We'll keep at it because we like it. And speaking for myself personally, I'll keep making comics -- for this strip or whatever else -- because it'd take more than just a crumbling industry, a ridiculous public perception, and a need to pay for food to stop me.
Got something to add? Discuss it in the CXM Forum, and/or email me.