Webcomic Systems

Webcomics are a unique part of both the Internet and comics cultures. As a part of the Internet, webcomics closely connect artists and their fanbases by way of breaking down barriers that companies often provide. As comics, they develop slowly and often for free, which is atypical of the comics industry. As a result, webcomics sit in an environment that is both accessible and unique for the reading pleasure of anyone and everyone.

Webcomics go through many changes throughout their development, since many artists start them out as a way of improving their art. Even if that isn't the goal, it is often the result. Such changes are not obvious unless the reader flips from the first page to the latest, or unless the comic is mapped out to show these changes.

Mapping Monsterkind

One example of this change in webcomics can be drawn from Monsterkind , written by Taylor C. Monsterkind is a story that explores discrimination in a colorful and intense way. The story follows a human social worker who is moved to a monsterkind-dominant district for work. His assumptions lead to his intense hesitance upon his arrival, but as he goes about his work, he meets some interesting characters. Some help him with his work while others dance around him, trying to keep their secrets to themselves.

Monsterkind has been in production since 2012, consists of four chapters, and is ongoing with twice-weekly updates.

The pages have undergone some interesting changes over the course of its development, which are evident when lining up each page in a barcode or montage style. In order to accomplish this comparison, I first asked Taylor permission to download her pages to be redistributed here (it's always important to let the artist know when their work is being used elsewhere!). Then I downloaded all 408 pages from her site. Using Zach Whalen's IMJ (Image Macroanalysis in Javascript) system, I compiled all the saved images into two formats: barcode and montage. Barcode puts every image into a tiny sliver and compresses them all together. Montage turns the images into little squares and lines them up in a grid.

Barcode

All of the Monsterkind pages lined up barcode-style, consisting of the first 408 pages published online.

This style of visual analysis mostly showcases the paneling as it has progressed. As the barcode shows, the panels varied in waves of sizes in the webcomic's first few hundred pages of development. Then, after a break of strictly four-panel sections, the paneling becomes more structured at the top and bottom with only a few, full-color breaks. The middle lines continue to wave throughout.

The changes in structure can imply many aspects of Monsterkind's development. One is that, as the years went by, Taylor C. went through many paneling phases in order to achieve some sort of chapter-by-chapter goal in the comic's structure. However, upon breaking the comic down by chapters, this theory falls apart a little. Additionally, the sizes of the actual pages changed into smaller ones over time, which may have skewed the data some. Here's a chapter-by-chapter look at the comic thus far:

The prologue of Monsterkind in barcode format.
Prologue
Chapter 1 of Monsterkind in barcode format.
Chapter 1
Chapter 2 of Monsterkind in barcode format.
Chapter 2
Chapter 3 of Monsterkind in barcode format.
Chapter 3
Chapter 4 of Monsterkind in barcode format.
Chapter 4

By looking at each chapter, from the prologue to the ongoing fourth chapter, we can see that the changes were not necessarily kept within the confines of each section. The second conclusion we could draw, then, is that these changes were born out of experimentation and stylistic choices. Taylor C. has been writing this comic for nearly five years, so naturally some aspects of the comic have simply evolved as she grew up and improved her art style and understanding of comics.

The latest chapter does not have much data in it, since it has only recently started. These were the only pages available for data analysis purposes, so not much can be said as it stands alone, but the more rigid paneling seems to remain an integral part of the structure so far for this chapter.

Montage

This graph shows all of the panels in a grid format, highlighting primarily the color differences between each page.

As is evident in the barcodes, the montage shows a great deal of the pages in terms of their color and size changes. There are more distinct lines along the last row of pages, where the margins on each page became more consistent and even.

At the same time, page colors become more clearly defined. Certain colors are associated with certain characters, so each page featuring that character will have a color scheme reflecting them. However, certain sections of the webcomic also show general trends in color changes. The very beginning is much paler than the rest, ultimately leading into a more saturated section; the middle becomes very dark, except for a few extras in the middle that are extremely pale (but not part of the actual story); and the more structured pages are more varied in color schemes. The last part is likely due to constant jumps between character interactions, although it could also be in part because of the developing style of the artist.

What Does it Mean?

As said before, webcomics are an ever increasing medium for artist to use as a way of embracing and improving upon their work in an environment entirely controlled by them. As a result, many comics change in style and structure throughout their development and over the course of several years.

Such changes can be mapped through barcode systems and montages, showing the overall trends of the webcomic. This process can be applied to any comic through the IMJ software in order to find artistic trends. Plenty of comics are available to study (just as long as you make sure the artist is okay with it first!).