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The Rise of the Webcomic: Toons in the Digital Age

As the 20th century picked up speed, comic books were an integral part of the pop culture all across America. Kids would pick up the latest edition of their favorite character’s story the way adults bought the daily newspaper, eagerly collecting volumes and swapping stories. However, nowadays comic book shops are few and far between. Graphic novels only take up a single shelf at your local Barnes and Noble, and reading superhero comics is viewed as more of a nerdy niche hobby than a staple of pop culture. Is it too late for the comic, you might wonder? Will the art of collaboration between writers and artists die out as we speed further into the digital age? Maybe not just yet. Enter: the webcomic.

In 2013, artist and SCAD graduate, Ngozi Ukazu, published the first strip of a comic called Check, Please! on the social media platform, Tumblr. Inspired by a script Ukazu had been working on, CP tells the story of Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a semi-closeted college freshman with a passion for baking who’s received a scholarship to play hockey at the fictional Samwell University in Massachusetts. Following Bitty throughout his freshman year and beyond, the comic combines vlogs and scenes from Eric’s life as readers watch him navigate the world of college sports, family drama, and romantic endeavors. When CP quickly developed a massive following, Ukazu started a fundraiser to get the first volume published, and things only went up from there. Currently telling the story of Bitty’s fourth year of school, CP has gained a worldwide following with its own website, published volumes, and merchandise for fans to purchase; I myself drank the metaphorical Kool-Aid and am the proud owner of a Samwell Hockey t-shirt. Ukazu has made appearances at comic conventions around the country, and updates are eagerly awaited by readers around the globe.

Rather than killing the comic, the internet has allowed it to thrive. While serials like Check, Please! are popular with readers who love to follow the storyline, comics don’t have to follow a plot to remain successful. Artists, like Nathan W. Pyle, use social media to their advantage in order to publish short, humorous one-shot comics. Pyle draws Strange Planet, a comic about aliens and the ways they interpret every day Earth tasks. Strange Planet is approaching being published as well, with a book arriving in about a month’s time. Other artists exist on websites designed specifically for webcomics; Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe, for example, thrives on the website Webtoons.

So, before you decide that comics are just for nerds and little kids, give the vast world of webcomics a try! Bingeable and entertaining, they can introduce you to fantastic artists and storylines. You never know what you might find!

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