Comic books are, in many ways, one of the most low-tech forms of entertainment — just ink on paper. But, like literally everything in our society, the internet transformed them. Instead of having to pay thousands for a print job or go through one of a few publishing companies, aspiring cartoonists can now reach a massive audience just by scanning and posting their work online. Enter webcomics, which have proved to be a launching pad for globally famous talent, a way to advance the art form and a fine way to make a living.
This is a chronological list of the 16 webcomics that exerted the most influence over the medium, both creatively and commercially. Reading it, you can see how webcomics have grown in scope and ambition, from early imitations of existing forms to completely new content experiences. What does the future hold for comics online? Follow the path and maybe you’ll get some ideas.
HARK, A VAGRANT
At first glance, the comics of Kate Beaton’s Hark, a Vagrant seem like dashed-off afterthoughts, drawn in a loose and sketchy MS Paint line with uniform panels stacked vertically. But the inner life of the Canadian artist is wonderfully rich, touching on historical figures, literary fiction and autobiography with grace and wit. Beaton’s work was originally made for her LiveJournal account before being spun off into her own website and a series of successful print publications. Beaton’s art style and subject matter was hugely influential, becoming a frequent source of memes and reaction images.