I’ve been reading web comics for almost 25 years. For most of that time, one of my daily reads has been Howard Tayler’s Schlock Mercenary. Many years ago, when everybody’s homepage had a page of links, I described it this way: “Schlock Mercenary is a space opera named for an amorphous blob who wanders the galaxy and shoots things. Jocularity abounds. It seems reminiscent of the Star Frontiers games I used to play, so it merits a nostalgia bonus.”
Tayler is an anomaly in several ways. He updated on a regular schedule for more than two decades, whereas most independent creators miss updates or go on hiatus at least sometimes. And he actually finished his grand narrative, rather than leaving it unfinished. Recently, the story came to a close with the eponymous hero’s dark matter apotheosis.1
The title of this post also points to the fact that webcomics really aren’t a thing anymore. I’ve had a half-written post about this in my drafts for over a year.
One reason for the decline of webcomics so-called is that pretty much every comic is available on-line now. Commercial comic strips are available on syndicates’ websites. Commercial comic books are available electronically, too, although usually you have to pay for them.
Another reason is that webcomics were touted as a revolutionary thing. Scott McCloud, in his book Reinventing Comics and on his website, heralded the age of the infinite canvas. On-line comics, lots of people thought, were something fundamentally new and different. In the decades since, though, most comics creators who post on-line for free still want to print them in old-fashioned books.2 So it’s mostly been just the old-school finite canvas, but on the internet.
Finally, the internet itself has changed. Twenty years ago, everybody was encouraged to have a website and make their own thing. Now, most people just post to social media.3
- I thought briefly about whether that was a spoiler, but the phrase I’ve used only makes sense if you read to the end. It’s not like I’ve told you who dies, gets married, or discovers that they’re a lost heir.
- That’s been a key part of how Tayler made a living with Schlock Mercenary.
- I’ve lamented this fact before, a propos blogs and homepages. The webcomic Strange Planet used to be part of my daily read, but it’s just an Instagram page. If you want to see the most recent comic except in a small box alongside all the others, you have to log in to Instagram. Bleah.