Anthem fights with an improbable combination of saber fencing, rapier fencing, and kenjutsu, though Corva, who taught her, employs big roundhouse chops designed more to force people to back off than to kill them.


I’ve been thinking about what makes a good webcomic and ranting about it on Twitter. I’ll expand my argument here: I’ve identified what I think is a core problem in longform webcomics. (By “longform” I mean “structured around a plot, not around gags,” like my own WPK, the far funnier but still plot-oriented Order of the Stick, the cheeky and beautifully-rendered Guilded Age*, and the 900-pound, steam-belching, Victorian-knickers-wearing gorilla of our subgenre, Girl Genius–none of which, by the way, have this problem to any great extent.) Anyway, the problem is subplot-hopping.

It goes like this: the author spends a few pages on Character A, building some tension, establishing some characterization, then drops everything and jumps to Character B. Repeat, jumping to character C, on and on. This can work at the beginning of the novel, where I can physically see the 500 pages ahead of me and think “The author has time to bring these disparate elements together, as we’re still at the beginning of the book.” But when I start a new webcomic, I’m looking for two things—identification characters and forward narrative motion—and subplot-jumping disrupts that.

I prioritize plot and characterization over theme and setting (though WPK is very setting-heavy, the setting elements are centered around the main characters—specifically Anthem, and to a lesser extent Gilgam and Vish), but looking at popular comics, I don’t think I’m alone in preferring a focus on “who they are and what they do.” Scott Pilgrim, Transmetropolitan, Runaways, Bone, Nextwave and other major works stay glued to the plot and/or the characters, despite offering rich and intricate worlds and powerful, resonant themes. Only real masters, like Alan Moore and Warren Ellis, can intrigue us without putting interesting characters in dramatic situations, and even among writers so good they can forgo traditional plots, for every Planetarythere’s a Supergod.

Too many webcomic creators seem to think that they can dispense with narrative momentum because they have great settings. I have bad news: most settings are inherently not very interesting. That’s a lesson I learned over a couple decades of running tabletop RPGs: very few people care about history, backstory, metaphysics, or politics unless they relate to what the characters are doing. Of the successful webcomics, only Templar, AZ seems able to focus on its setting to the exclusion of developing characters or telling a story. (Even so, I would prefer The Continuing Adventures of Privileged Neurotic Asian Guy and His Large, Loud Mentor to the continued vignettes.)

Of course, since WPK’s readership is only a few hundred people, don’t listen to me because I know how to write a webcomic! But I think my tastes are fairly mainstream, and I think most people could use a bit less information about your magic system and a bit more camera-time focused on what your main characters are doing.

* I deduct fake-review points from Guilded Age for using the “It all takes place in a computer game” conceit. Years ago, Weird Tales (I believe) offered a helpful list of plot twists that simply do not work and that they will always reject, however “clever”; I’m prepared to add “It’s really an MMO!” to such disreputable Twilight Zone non-gimmicks as “the main character is really dead,” “the main characters are Adam and Eve,” and the indefensible “it was all really a dream.”