The wonderful world of webcomics is a vast and exciting place. The internet doesn’t have the restrictions of corporate overseers and there’s no need for censorship or strict marketing parameters- so webcomics often have a greater diversity of cast and storytelling as well as a greater freedom of expression in which to tell their stories. There’s likely to be webcomic out there that satisfies any nerd’s needs.
Here, I’m going to list 4 webcomics I very much enjoy and talk about why I think you would enjoy them too. Feel free to suggest your own webcomics in the comments!
This is our only completed webcomic of the bunch. Shortpacked! is a comic by David Willis that has a huge backlog. It ran for ten years from 2005 to 2015. It’s one of those comics where you can very much watch both the creator’s ideas and storytelling evolve, as well as their art. A small example is the fact it starts out in black and white and ends in color.
The comic takes place on a toy store, which like the webcomic is named “Shortpacked!” and deals with the beleaguered employees. Initially the cast starts out as Batman-obsessed failed stand-up comedian Ethan, hyperactive speedster Robin, shy, troubled Amber, unashamed asshole Mike and Ninja Rick, who…really likes ninjas. They were all under the thumb of their tyrannical boss Galasso who sees the toy store as a sort of empire. However, the cast quickly developed and expanded and by the time the webcomic ended it was almost entirely different.
A lot of people may know of Shortpacked! solely because of its Batman jokes. The “Batman can breathe in Space” comic became so famous that it ended up being referenced in a commercial for Lego Batman 3. Shortpacked! offers a really tongue-in-cheek look at superheroes, cartoons and the ridiculousness of fandom and internet culture. It even parodies newspaper comics, politics and current events a bit too.
While the comic started out mostly focusing on pop culture humor, the characters eventually gain complex backstories and relationships and the comic expands to be about this as well, while still being humorous. In fact, it deals with heavy issues like abuse, homophobia and grief. The characters grow and change a lot, evolving into better people while still maintaining their quirky dysfunctionality.
And throughout all of this we still have stuff like ridiculous superpowered brawls breaking out over retail (including a fistfight with Sarah Palin), a resurrected Ronald Reagan running around (that's him delivering the "electoral map" punch above), historical Jesus Christ literally becoming a member of the cast, a talking robot car who throws pies and dresses up as a superhero and world-ending threats that originate from old Cap’n Crunch commericals. Shortpacked! is a truly wild ride.
Something that should be noted about this comic is that it is set in the same universe as older webcomics by David Willis, namely It’s Walky and Roomies! There are a lot of references to these previous works, but you don’t really need to be familiar with them to “get” Shortpacked! I wasn’t familiar with them at all when I first read it, but I was able to follow along for the most part.
Another thing that has to be noted is that early on, the comic has a lot of potentially uncomfortable humor. This includes rape jokes, some slurs and so on. Willis has stated that he regrets a lot of this and it isn’t present in later parts of the comic, but if you’re really bothered by that sort of thing, I’d suggest skipping the early parts and tuning in maybe halfway through, or not reading it at all.
All in all though, Shortpacked! was one of the first webcomics I got hooked on for a reason- the wold of the strip grows splendidly and it’s great for some good laughs.
Gunnerkrigg Court is an ongoing comic by Tom Sidell that launched in 2005. The main character of the strip is Antimony “Annie” Carver, who attends the mysterious boarding school the comic is named for, a school that combines both advanced technology and magic to create a world of its own. The school is situated near some magical woods that contain all sorts of creatures, including fairies, ghosts and even godlike beings.
Annie quickly befriends a girl named Kat, who is gifted in robotic engineering. Annie quickly learns that she has a strange connection with magical beings and her family has a history deeply tied to the school. She becomes embroiled in the complicated politics of the academy and soon finds herself uncovering many dangerous secrets.
Gunnerkrigg is an intriguing comic full of lovable characters with a smorgasboard of magical beings and multitude of mysteries to sink your teeth into. The comic keeps you hooked with its constantly evolving plotlines and tantalizing questions. What’s the story behind the mysterious ghost in the woods? Where did Annie’s father disappear to? What really happened to her mother? What kind of powers does Annie have? What is Gunnerkrigg Court really hiding?
Gunnerkrigg has a wide sprawling mythology-you can see elements from old stories of alchemy, Native American folklore and so on. The story often has a gentle humor, but it can be a tearjerker as well.
The art style evolves over the course of the comic- it starts out like this:
And right now it’s more like this:
The characters evolve along with the art as well. Annie goes head to head with her buried emotional issues and takes control of her strange abilities and Kat slowly comes into her own as well. We get introduced to strange and varied cast which includes mystical mediums, a trickster coyote god and a mysterious super strong woman who doesn’t seem to age or get hurt. There are tons of fun little subplots like the growing relationship between a robot and a shadow creature and even a pretty sweet coming out story.
If you’re into magic boarding school stories like Harry Potter, intricate science fiction like Nausicaa, or even investigative stories, this clever combination of sci-fi and fantasy is definitely worth a look.