As an English major, I have plenty to read. My evenings belong to the literary heavyweights. James Joyce and Derek Walcott. John Keats and Sylvia Plath. I’ve received exposure to novels packed with insight into the human condition and poems ripe for critical analysis. I love my chosen major, with all the challenges it poses and the skills I’ve acquired through it. But, early in my academic career here at the Mount, I encountered a dilemma. I was doing plenty of reading, but it was all highbrow. I had no time for the simpler stories, those that haven’t quite wormed their way into literary canon, but are still fun and engaging.
Halfway through freshman year, a friend of mine suggested I try reading webcomics. At the time, I was insulted. As an English major striving to become versed in the greats, I was above mere “picture books.” In my mind, comics were to be relegated to the funny pages of the Sunday paper. They were intended for children, or those stunted in their intellectual development.
But I fondly recalled reading Calvin and Hobbes in the less-pretentious days of my youth. And I was jonesing hard for a sci-fi thriller where my only concern in reading it were which characters lived and which were dismembered by mutants. So I decided to slide of my literary high horse and give webcomics a try.
In doing so, I was surprised to find a vast new medium for storytelling, with works standings as monolithic testaments to human imagination. The internet is home to thousands of comics spanning every conceivable genre. They can be quirky and comedic, dizzying in their narrative complexity, or emotionally heavy. But, by and large, they’re neither time-consuming nor strenuous to read. You don’t have to sit down for hours on end to make progress. With fifteen minutes, you can cover plenty of ground. And, what’s more, the vast majority of them are free to read.
If asked for recommendations, it’d point you towards Gunnerkrigg Court, by Tom Siddell, Stand Still. Stay Silent, by Minna Sundberg, Ava’s Demon, by Michelle Czajkowski, Unsounded, by Ashley Cope, and Lackadaisy, by Tracy Butler. All these are ongoing, with their respective artists updating them on a regular basis. And they are all supported through crowdfunding sites, which means it doesn’t cost a penny to hop online and scope them out. And if my five favorites don’t resonate with you, you can always visit topwebcomics.com. This site features thousands upon thousands of entries, all ranked by popularity. Whatever your tastes, you’ll find something to fill your free time.
Bold new frontiers are constantly opening in the world of storytelling. These days, we see serialized TV shows and videogames being hailed as fresh vehicles for narrative. Webcomics, too, are an exciting new area, where independent creators are pitching unconventional stories to adventurous audiences. As an unapologetic fiction junkie, it’s thrilling to see.
So if you’re looking for a quick sidestep into something fresh and fun, explore an underappreciated medium, support an independent creator and take a much-needed respite from whatever assignments crowd your to-read list.