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Where Do I See Myself In The World of Webcomics?

August 30th, 2008

Reading about how Scott Kurtz of PvP fame apparently threw a tantrum over a review of his (and three other guy’s) book about how to make webcomics titled “How To Make Webcomics” inspired me to write this post.

Also please excuse if any part of this post sounds like I’m being extra full of myself. I’m just… sort of in the right mood at the moment. You try being humble all the time and not letting yourself go on an ego trip once in a while!

The webcomics world forms this giant inside joke that I don’t want to be a part of. By being on the outside of this, I don’t have to seek the approval of the participants of that giant inside joke. This in turn allows me to create and maintain a unique story by which the quality of it is what legitimizes me as an artist as opposed being legitimized based on the webcomics I associate myself with. I don’t want to have to socialize if I don’t need to, and I feel I don’t need to in order to be known by others.

For the most part I’m not really interested in schmoozing with other webcomic artists. I like where I am right now: on my own and on the outside, writing my story the way I want to write it. Sure it does mean that not a whole lot of people even know I exist, but I’d rather be known by word-of-mouth stemming from people recognizing the quality of my work versus socializing for its own sake in order to get some big webcomic guy to plug me as a “favor”… and then living from “favor” to “favor”.

For most of my youth I’ve been something of a loner and a bit antisocial. I had avoided people–groups, cliques, scenes–largely because people had in turn cast me out. Being the new kid in third grade who wore glasses and braces really didn’t help my social standing much. This antisocial behavior stuck with me all the way until sometime during high school. I’ve certainly grown out of that since then and have learned to be an upstanding citizen.

But it’s not to say that my avoidance of others back then didn’t shaped how I socialize with people today. I’m most comfortable being with and working by myself to the point where I don’t feel I need to surround myself with people at all, nor do I need their constant attention. And while I certainly love hearing the praise of others, and admittedly that is something of a driving force behind what I do (isn’t it for everyone?), I don’t really require it as part of my daily diet. Furthermore, between my own preferences, the way I was raised, and the physical qualities that defined me as an individual, I’ve always been on the outside of “the group”. I was too smart for the dumb kids, too dumb for the smart kids, too White for the Asians, too Asian for the Whites… I was the only Korean AND half-white kid I knew, and one of like three Lefties ever. In the past, being on the outside was somewhere I didn’t want to be. But now I actually want to be there as I find comfort with the idea that I can run my own show without being forced to seek approval from others in the group. I like being my own boss, and I don’t think I would be where I am now if it weren’t for how antisocial I was in the past.

Because I’m used to working by myself, for myself and on the outside, I feel it puts me in a better position to create ideas that are unique to myself and what I write. And by unique, I mean it in the kind of unique that separates Far East Asia from White Europe, versus the unique that separates a Mr. John Smith from a Mrs. Sally Frank who both live in London, England. Of course, despite my go-it-alone attitude, I have learned that being human inevitably involves a certain level of diplomacy. I am certainly not interested in stepping on people’s feet, and I realize that who you know is just as important as what you know concerning surviving–well…–life. But at the same time I’m not interested in shaking hands with people just for the sake of shaking hands with people. If I want to deal with people to begin with, it’s because I feel those people have something to offer me… be it readership, access to materials, or just plain ol’ good fashioned friendship. Now I’d hate to make it sound like I’m only interested in people just to use them for something… but that’s just the way I describe what we all do with and for others.

The issue of socialization for me really comes to the forefront when I involve myself in something that obviously requires others in order to grow, like webcomics. But just because I’m in it, I don’t feel I need to change my opinions on anything. See, to me, most webcomics form this one giant inside joke that only its participants can understand; they are written, digested and are inspiring for and by only those participants. There is uniqueness within this giant inside joke, but it’s the kind of unique that separates families who all live in the same neighborhood. I, however, wish to not be part of this inside joke, nor do I feel I should have to be a part of it in order to do my webcomic. I prefer to work outside of this realm. I want myself and my work to be legitimized by the quality of the story and the style of artwork and not by how many webcomics I associate myself with. I want things to be such that someone can just randomly pick my up story and enjoy it based on its quality alone, and not based on my position in the webcomic community at large, or because it’s a story “Philippe Van Lieu” wrote, or that “everyone’s reading it because everyone’s reading it”, or for other reason unrelated to its quality. And because I see myself as being unique and outside from the pop-webcomic culture, I put even more emphasis on the importance of being legitimized based on the quality of my work alone.

I can’t believe I using this reference but I see myself as the Batman to the webcomic world’s Justice League. I just want people to enjoy my work because they really like it and not for any other unrelated reason. Is that too much to ask?


Reading Scott Kurtz’ post about the review was interesting to say the least. One paragraph though caught my eye.

Recently, I called Mike Krahulik to compliment him on a new coloring technique he had used on a recent Penny-Arcade strip. I opened my phone conversation with the following statement: “Mike, Ignore all emails about the new coloring. It’s awesome. Pursue it.” But it was too late. He had already read all the mail and had been sufficiently discouraged enough to just drop the matter. “That’s what I get for trying to innovate.” he said to me.

You guys should know this by now but if I was Mike, I would have stuck with it despite the emails against it AND regardless if Scott supported it or not. I would have done it and stuck with it because that’s what I want to do. The deal is, I’m writing my story for myself first and you guys second. Like I said above, I don’t require the approval of others but at the same time that’s a large reason why I do anything. What I want to do with this story takes precedent; that’s why there has been constant archive revisions, heroin-addicted characters who AREN’T total wrecks, and everything else that defies convention. But at the same time I’m not against doing what others suggest, but only if they give me a good reason for it. Case in point, there is a gap in the archives between October 2006 and March 2007 because I wrote a bunch of pages that really upset the flow of the story. But I took them out, not because I bowed to simple popular demand like Mike did, but because people showed me how it just didn’t work. I think this idea alone is what separates me from the giant inside joke that other webcomics are a part of.

Doing what they want to do despite popular opinion against it is a step I think that many other artists are afraid to take out of fear that no one will like their work if they didn’t bow to that pressure. But for me, if all I did was bow to popular opinion and not put my foot down and run my work the way I want to, then my work will probably end up becoming just another typical gag-a-page webcomic just like all the others, and then no one will remember my work… which is much worse than people just not liking it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to make you guys think I don’t appreciate you visiting my site and giving me opinions on my work and all! But the saying does go: too many cooks spoil the broth. I have a vision for my work, and the only way I feel I can get it done right is by putting on blinders to outside influences and continue to walk the path I choose to follow. If I fall down, I fall down, but it won’t be because I let someone push me down. At the same time, if someone tells me about a short cut and I like it, I’ll go for it… but it’s still my decision to do so.

5 Responses to “Where Do I See Myself In The World of Webcomics?”

  1. Tom sezzzzz:

    “Reading about how Scott Kurtz of PvP fame apparently threw a tantrum over a review of his (and three other guy’s) book about how to make webcomics”

    Tch. Over-moneyed dolt. Screw his ass.

  2. Tom sezzzzz:

    Anyway, I completely agree with the TLDL version. Stick enough people in a group – even if they’re nerds – and they can become cliquey assholes JUST as easily as any three girls in any given high school. God bless ya.

  3. mayor of moose river sezzzzz:

    I, like all human beings, wish to be accepted by others. But I wish to be accepted for all the things I do as an individual and not for all the things I do that follows party lines. I wish to just do my thing, follow my own path and my own rules, and in turn have people find things they like in me through that which I have done in this manner. If I instead chose to be a part of the group and follow the trends, people’s interest in me would not be because of ME, but of the desirable (read: trendy) elements that I have incorporated into my sense of self. The fact that I own an iPod would be more interesting than the fact that the person owning the iPod is ME. Even with so-called “nonconformists”, it would be in false hopes for someone to “rage against the machine” in order to win the acceptance of someone else since the chances are that most other “nonconformists” would be interested in the individual solely for the fact that they’re a “nonconformist” and less so because the “nonconformist” is THAT particular individual. If they wanted to gain acceptance that way they’re gonna be sorely disappointed.

    I want people to like me for me and not only because I encapsulate the total combined acts of what I’ve done. By being a part of the inside joke that is the webcomics world, I become a “webcomic artist” and not “Philippe Van Lieu”. I will lose my identity the closer I become a “webcomic artist”. So in the efforts to maintain my identity, I separate myself from any collection of people, as it’s easier to spot the guy on the outside simple because he’s on the outside.

  4. Tom sezzzzz:

    Amusingly (!) enough , I nearly referenced Columbine i when I was writing my 2nd response. I could -almost- picture the comic artist equivalents of Klebold & Harris going apeshit at the next APE for many of the reasons you mentioned above.

    For Kurtz and his ilk, I’m sure the process of drawing comics – if you want to call the Colorforms-headswap method drawing – has long transcended the joy he may have derived from it initially, and has pretty much degraded into a cash cow. (CC: Penny Arcade, Starslip Crisis, Doonesbury…) Hence, any attack on his creations – in this case, a book which never had to be written, let alone published – is an attack on his wallet, and this just won’t fly.

    Anyway, I guess you won’t be selling any China-manufactured “Emo Kim plushies with suction-cup hands” any time in the foreseeable future. Too bad; I’m sure Kris Straub’s making a killing on those Jinxlets he’s hawking (not)…

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Moose River
by Philippe Van Lieu
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