Reassessing the new sports radio wars

CBS may not just be the favorite to take the #2 spot behind ESPN Radio in the Darwinian world that has developed in national sports radio. It has a chance to run down ESPN for #1.

In an absolutely shocking move, Jim Rome, the dean of national sports radio hosts, will be jumping ship to the new CBS Sports Radio network when it launches this January. Rome does have his existing relationship with CBS Sports and the CBS Sports Network, but I am amazed that he would leave his home of many, many years to join a brand new sports radio network when he never left Premiere for ESPN Radio in all the time he was hosting Jim Rome is Burning, always maintained his show’s independence from Premiere’s Fox Sports Radio network, and repeatedly stated his commitment to the terrestrial radio stations that made him, to the point that if you don’t get a station that carries his show, your only recourse is to stream one that does, or sign up for his “Jungle Insider” package. I didn’t even think his contract with Premiere was up for renewal yet. I would also note that CBS Sports Network would love to air a TV simulcast of the show, but Jim Rome seems to have been adamantly against the idea of any such thing for some time now.

Why would Rome do this? I suspect the main reason is the changing shape of sports talk radio. Rome has boasted on his show that he has more stations than ever carrying it, but that hides some attrition among the stations that matter most. If you’re a major market sports station – by which I mean any market with big-time professional or college teams – your bread and butter is going to be local shows talking about local teams that people care about, which you control all the advertising for instead of splitting with a syndicator. By far the most distributed shows of the existing sports radio networks are the ones occupying the period from the start of primetime, when most of the games start, until the start of morning drive, despite these often being the ones with the least promotion and the smallest names, because the rest of the time is usually occupied with local shows (NBC seems to have realized this); despite what I said about CBS’ bank of existing big-market sports radio stations, don’t expect them to carry much CBS Sports Radio programming.

Many big-market stations, including some of Rome’s oldest and most loyal affiliates, have been cutting back on their coverage of Rome’s show or dropped it entirely for local shows. WKNR in Cleveland shunted the first hour off to a sister station with a signal barely leaving Cleveland proper; KILT in Houston dropped the whole show entirely, both of them among Rome’s earliest affiliates with fundamental roles in the growth of the show. Rome may have decided that, in order to maintain his audience and relevance, he needed to find a platform that would give him the biggest exposure in the national sports radio landscape of today, one reliant on streaming and TV simulcasts to find today’s audiences.

Besides elevating CBS Sports Radio, this could prove absolutely devastating to Fox Sports Radio, already essentially a simulcast of flagship station KLAC’s lineup, despite not officially having Rome in its lineup (or the bank of play-by-play rights Fox has recently won for it) – especially if Dan Patrick, whose contract with DirecTV is reportedly up soon, decides to join NBC Sports Radio, in which case it could plunge to very nearly the level of Yahoo as co-favorites to ultimately fold. If DirecTV manages to keep Patrick and keep him on FSR, they should be able to hold off NBC Sports Radio for the time being, but ultimately the fate of FSR depends largely on how much presence Premiere wants to maintain in the sports talk radio market going forward.

The biggest threat to any part of ESPN’s hegemony may end up having very little to do with television.

2012 College Football Rankings – Week 4

This will be my penultimate year of the college football rankings. There are a couple reasons for this, not just the new playoff – namely, conference realignment is making college football unrecognizable to me (the Princeton-Yale Title is going to be unified with the 2010 TCU title this week, shockingly early in the season, and the move of West Virginia to the Big 12 is almost solely responsible for it) – but the fact that we’re getting a playoff, one where a selection committee is making the decisions and so there’s less emphasis on “rankings” to try to influence people, is the main one. The monstrosity that has been the BCS has attempted to make its decisions with a combination of polls and computer rankings, though they’ve increasingly neutered the latter; as such, there’s a lot of emphasis on where teams stand, and my rankings were an attempt to contribute to that debate. Now, there are fewer people to be swayed and they’re less likely to be swayed; as such, if I were to continue the feature, its most appropriate form would probably be a “bubble watch”.

The week 3 rankings showed that the national consensus isn’t far off, with Alabama #1 and LSU top three. The Tigers took a bigger tumble in the C Ratings this week after not only letting a mediocre-at-best Auburn team keep it closer than they should have, but having Washington not play and the other two teams they played lose. Just as in the polls, Oregon takes advantage of its squash of Arizona to take LSU’s spot. But in both weeks, there’s an interloper. Say what you will about their impact on conference realignment and the economics of college sports, but the Texas Longhorns will be good whenever they want to be. Their squashes of their first three opponents, especially an admittedly-weak SEC team, should serve notice to the rest of the country that they could be headed to Miami when all is said and done.

How the C Ratings are tabulated: First, A Ratings are tabulated by multiplying the total score ratio, which is expressed by (points-opponents’ points)/points, by the winning percentage. Score ratio minimizes the effect of running up the score. Next, B Points for each game are tabulated by (margin of victory)/(opponent’s A rating)+/-1 for wins, and -(margin of loss)/(1-opponent’s A Rating)+/-1 for losses. The “+/-” is + for road games and – for home ones. The total number of B Points is multiplied by the A Rating to get the B Rating. Finally, the C Rating is tabulated by taking one-tenth the difference between the team’s B Rating and the average of his opponents’ B Ratings and taking the result off the B Rating. The three ratings go A, B, C across. Click here to see the complete ratings.

1 Alabama SEC #1 ’06 Boise St.
4-0 LW: #1 A Rat: .935 B Rating: 26.029 C Rating: 22.864 AP: 1 Coaches: 1
Alabama has picked up right where they left off last season.
2 Texas B12 #1 BCS Title
3-0 LW: #2 A Rat: .845 B Rating: 24.513 C Rating: 21.711 AP: 12 Coaches: 10
If Texas can do to Oklahoma State what they’ve done to their other opponents so far, the whole country will realize how good this Longhorn squad really is.
3 Oregon P12 #1 BCS Title
4-0 LW: #15 A Rat: .823 B Rating: 23.253 C Rating: 20.569 AP: 2 Coaches: 2
One big win over a good Arizona team, and suddenly Oregon looks a lot like the team USC was supposed to be – or the team from two years ago.
4 Texas Tech B12 #2 BCS Title
3-0 LW: #5 A Rat: .901 B Rating: 20.427 C Rating: 17.982
When you never score less than 44, your rating is going to be good no matter what – and they actually account for Texas State’s only loss this season. But another unbeaten is next.
5 Florida State ACC #1 BCS Title
4-0 LW: #6 A Rat: .900 B Rating: 18.657 C Rating: 16.813 AP: 4 Coaches: 4
With the Big East finally losing AQ status, the ACC becomes the new laughingstock conference – but their flagship team is back with a vengeance and out to prove they deserve their seat at the table.
6 Stanford P12 #2 ’09 Boise St.
3-0 LW: #8 A Rat: .704 B Rating: 13.660 C Rating: 12.258 AP: 8 Coaches: 9
No Andrew Luck? No problem. Stanford’s out to prove they’re going to be a power in the Pac-12 for a long time to come.
7 Kansas State B12 #3 BCS Title
4-0 LW: #7 A Rat: .773 B Rating: 14.056 C Rating: 12.201 AP: 7 Coaches: 8
Did Kansas State just pull off a huge upset? Not according to the C Ratings, where Oklahoma wasn’t even on the top 25.
8 Notre Dame BCS Title
4-0 LW: #18 A Rat: .792 B Rating: 11.999 C Rating: 10.224 AP: 10 Coaches: 11
The Golden Domers certainly look to be back. Navy’s squash of VMI for their first win of the season plays as much of a role in this ranking as anything.
9 LSU SEC #2 BCS Title
4-0 LW: #3 A Rat: .816 B Rating: 11.951 C Rating: 9.829 AP: 3 Coaches: 3
Sorry LSU, but national championship contenders don’t let a mediocre Auburn team get that close to victory.
10 Florida SEC #3 BCS Title
4-0 LW: #10 A Rat: .761 B Rating: 10.990 C Rating: 9.365 AP: 11 Coaches: 12
Florida remains unbeaten despite three SEC games already, two on the road. But LSU awaits in two weeks.
11 Georgia SEC #4 BCS Title
4-0 LW: #4 A Rat: .823 B Rating: 11.074 C Rating: 8.994 AP: 5 Coaches: 5
Despite demolishing Vanderbilt, Georgia runs into the same problem as LSU: the other three teams they played all lost by sizable margins. But the Bulldogs may be making some real noise this year.
12 South Carolina SEC #5 BCS Title
4-0 LW: #9 A Rat: .823 B Rating: 9.616 C Rating: 7.523 AP: 6 Coaches: 6
If South Carolina were in any other conference, they’d be a favorite for the conference title. Instead, they’re third best in their own division.
13 Ohio State B10 #1 Probation
4-0 LW: #12 A Rat: .749 B Rating: 9.485 C Rating: 7.309 AP: 14 BlogPoll: 14
Remember the effect USC’s bowl-ineligibility had on the Pac-12 South race last year? Ohio State may have that effect on the entire conference. Its next-best team isn’t on the Top 25.
14 Arizona State P12 #3 BCS Title
3-1 LW: #17 A Rat: .585 B Rating: 7.441 C Rating: 5.830
Why is Arizona State our first one-loss team? They’ve never scored less than 37 or allowed more than 14 in a win, and their one loss was by only four.
15 West Virginia B12 #4 Prncton/Yale
3-0 LW: #23 A Rat: .757 B Rating: 6.847 C Rating: 5.772 AP: 9 Coaches: 7
West Virginia has won every game by at least ten – but none of them have been quite like the team whose 2010 TCU title is getting unified this Saturday.
16 Iowa State B12 #5 BCS Title
3-0 LW: #13 A Rat: .774 B Rating: 6.153 C Rating: 5.405
There’s reason for skepticism about the Cyclones – taking a week off right after facing a I-AA team, the 9-6 win over Iowa – but they beat down that I-AA opponent and account for Tulsa’s only loss.
17 Louisiana Tech WAC #1 BCS Bowl
3-0 LW: #53 A Rat: .667 B Rating: 7.162 C Rating: 4.399
Huh? A team from the dying WAC is ranked this high? Take a look at their impressive win over an Illinois team whose other loss came to a team ranked even higher.
18 Cincinnati BST #1 BCS Title
2-0 LW: #27 A Rat: .850 B Rating: 4.475 C Rating: 4.168
It’s easy to be 2-0 when you’ve only played two teams, one of them a I-AA school – but they’ve been by impressive margins and Pitt just put up an impressive win of its own.
19 Clemson ACC #2 BCS Title
3-1 LW: #14 A Rat: .500 B Rating: 4.402 C Rating: 4.104 AP: 17 Coaches: 16
Florida State is seen as a national title contender, and it was high-scoring enough that a 12-point loss doesn’t affect score ratio too much. But it could keep the Tigers out of the conference title game.
20 Ohio MAC #1 BCS Bowl
4-0 LW: #20 A Rat: .729 B Rating: 5.460 C Rating: 3.850 BlogPoll: 25
It’s easy to be skeptical of the Bobcats, especially with a win by only three over Marshall, but it’s hard to argue with their results.
21 TCU B12 #6 BCS Title
3-0 LW: #24 A Rat: .907 B Rating: 5.045 C Rating: 3.275 AP: 15 Coaches: 14
TCU has come into its new conference guns blazing with three squashes – and they might not even be in the top half of the conference. Look out, SEC.
22 Rutgers BST #2 BCS Title
4-0 LW: #22 A Rat: .774 B Rating: 5.006 C Rating: 2.856 AP: 23 Coaches: 25
The Scarlet Knights will not play an FBS team currently with a winning record until Kent State the last week of October. Keep that in mind as they climb the polls the next few weeks. In other news, the Big East is mediocre.
23 Oregon State P12 #4 BCS Title
2-0 LW: #43 A Rat: .640 B Rating: 2.983 C Rating: 2.712 AP: 18 Coaches: 21
The Beavers have played two games, both within a score. Still, both were against above-average teams, which bodes well for their chances against reeling Arizona.
24 Baylor B12 #7 BCS Title
3-0 LW: #54 A Rat: .703 B Rating: 3.943 C Rating: 2.087 AP: 25 Coaches: 24
Surviving against a good Louisiana-Monroe team shows their bona fides, but it doesn’t bode well for a road trip to Morgantown.
25 Mississippi State SEC #6 BCS Title
4-0 LW: #29 A Rat: .900 B Rating: 18.657 C Rating: 16.813 AP: 21 Coaches: 19
Impressive win, albeit over an FBS newcomer. The schedule, and a 6-point escape over Troy in their only road game, are concerns, though, and they’ll fall off next week for idle hands.

42 teams total with positive C Rating (none with negative B Rating)

Off Top 25: #27 USC (was #21), #29 Oklahoma State (was #16), #33 Georgia Tech (was #19), #35 Arizona (was #11), #48 UCLA (was #25)

Unbeaten teams not on Top 25: #30 Louisville, #40 Northwestern, #45 Minnesota, #49 Texas-San Antonio (all in positive B Points, Minnesota and Texas-San Antonio not in positive C)

Rest of Watch List (all 3-1 unless otherwise noted): #26 Texas A&M (2-1), #27 USC, #28 Michigan State, #29 Oklahoma State (2-1), #31 Nevada, #32 Pittsburgh (2-2), #33 Georgia Tech (2-2), #34 San Jose State, #35 Arizona, #36 Tennessee*

Other Positive B Ratings: #37 North Carolina* (2-2), #38 Boise State (2-1), #39 BYU (2-2), #41 Fresno State* (2-2), #42 Nebraska (3-1), #43 Toledo (3-1), #44 Central Florida (2-1), #46 Oklahoma (2-1), #47 Utah State* (3-1), #48 UCLA (3-1), #55 Northern Illinois (3-1), #57 Middle Tennessee State (2-1) (*=Newly Positive)

No Longer Positive: #51 Western Kentucky, #52 Kentucky, #56 Louisiana-Monroe, #58 Maryland, #83 Utah

Bottom 10: #115 SMU, #116 Houston, #117 Akron, #118 Eastern Michigan, #119 Army, #120 Southern Miss, #121 Hawaii, #122 Colorado, #123 Tulane, #124 Massachusetts

Best game of week: Texas Tech @ Iowa State, 4pm PT, FCS

The Zen of Toasterdom

(From Questionable Content. Click for full-sized ambitions.)

I bleeping hate Emily. Her “endearing” loopiness is fast grating on my nerves, and the fact she’s starting to supplant Marigold as the figure taking over the comic only makes it worse. If the two of them were ever to meet, I’m quite sure the universe would explode.

The only thing I might hate more than Emily are the occasional hints of robot racism in QC that constantly threaten to send it divebombing headlong into PVP/Goats Syndrome. And here’s a comic where the two meet head-on in the Large Hadron Collider.

And yet… there’s something weirdly sublime about Emily’s response here. Momo is presumably chafing at being compared to a mere tool, a machine to perform a task for humanity and nothing else, as opposed to humanity’s equal… and Emily would be perfectly fine with being a toaster. I actually wonder how the conversation might continue, with Momo pressing Emily on her seemingly self-degrading dreams; would they talk past each other, or would Momo at least recognize Emily’s train of thought even if she didn’t find it valid? While it’s possible to read it as a desire for a simpler sort of life (and I’d much prefer Emily as a toaster than as a sentient human being), one can’t help but wonder if Momo is wondering exactly what it is she aspires to be equal to.

Let me be clear: I don’t care how well Jeph Jacques would be able to write it if he made robot racism a focus of the comic, it’s still not what I and I suspect the vast majority of people come to QC for. But if he was able to surprise me with a more philosophical take on the subject than would otherwise be expected, the sorts of people who are interested in that sort of thing would certainly get their money’s worth, and I might wait just a little bit longer before bailing on the comic.

Why not even the Debacle in Seattle will bring the real refs back

By now you’ve heard all about the controversial play at the end of Monday night’s Packers-Seahawks game, the nadir of the NFL’s ongoing Replacementgate. With the entire country blowing up around it, surely this is the incident that forces the NFL’s hand and gets them to finally bring the lockout of the real refs to a conclusion.  Surely with the replacement refs backfiring so horribly, Roger Goodell has egg on his face and is desperately trying to end this before the replacement refs do any more damage, right?

Meanwhile, as many people are watching the games as ever.

The replacement refs backfired? On the contrary, everything is going exactly according to plan. Roger Goodell knows that the refs have zero impact on whether or not you watch. People don’t watch the NFL because the “integrity of the game” is so strong; hell, people watch pro wrestling knowing that it’s all staged. The NFL is first and foremost entertainment, the ultimate reality show; people watch for all the football action they’ve come to love, for the drama the sport brings, because their sense of self-worth is bound up in the fortunes of their favorite team, because of their fantasy players. Those things would have been affected by the arrival of replacement players, but with replacement officials the action is all the same, only the outcome is different. And ultimately, we don’t really care that much how the outcome is derived. It’s just one more thing for us to talk about around the watercooler.

And ultimately, that’s what the replacement refs debacle comes down to, and why Roger Goodell couldn’t be happier. It’s one more thing for the massive ecosystem of shows debating the NFL to discuss ad nauseam, one more way for the NFL to be at everyone’s lips at watercoolers around the country, a way that doesn’t involve the word “concussions” (a far bigger threat to the long-term viability of the NFL). That’s why all the wailing and gnashing of teeth for the real officials to come back simply leads Goodell to lean back in his chair, twiddle his fingers, and mutter “Excellent” like Mr. Burns.

Perhaps what happened in Seattle will cause some owners to start revolting and wondering whether the issues the NFL is holding its ground on in the lockout negotiations are really that big a priority that they justify what the league has turned into. But if it isn’t enough of them, the lockout will end when the real officials start feeling the very real pain of not collecting their checks, and not a moment sooner.

The Super Bowl XLVI lineal title was on the line in Monday night’s game. The Packers could very easily say they have a claim to it.

So, what’s this newfangled “webcomics” thing, anyway?

DISCLAIMER: The linking of a webcomic in this post should not be taken to mean these are the only good webcomics out there, or even that I necessarily endorse them. They are primarily intended as demonstrations where they appear.

“Wet tonic”? What’s that?

A webcomic is, basically, a comic that appears on the web. It’s pretty much as simple as that.

Okay, so what kind of comic are we talking about? There’s a lot of different kinds out there. Are we talking newspaper comic strips, comic books like with the X-Men in them, stand-up comedians, or something else?

All of the above and then some. (Well, maybe not the stand-up comedian part, although that kind of “webcomic” could exist too.) Many of your favorite newspaper comic strips are available online, and have been for well over a decade, complete with archives of at least a month, at sites like And both Marvel and DC comics have made a substantial portion of their libraries available online as well. The beauty of the web is, because it’s not tied to the size of a printed page, a comic can be any size you want – but we’ll get to that later.

So, those newspaper comic strips and comic books that I can read online, those are webcomics?

I guess technically they are. This is where we get into the thorny area of our definition of webcomics. For the most part, calling something a “webcomic” typically means it appeared on the web first, before appearing in some other form. For example, there was a series of steampunk graphic novels called Girl Genius whose creators decided to start publishing its pages on the Web for eventual collection into print form. Once they did that, it became a webcomic.

On the other hand, that still means you could conceivably call most newspaper comic strips webcomics, not to mention a handful of comic books that show up online on the same day they’re published. So I guess it’s not good enough to be simultaneous; they have to appear on the web before they ever appear in print. If they ever appear in print.

Okay, but I still don’t have a good have a good idea of what a webcomic is. What does a webcomic look like?

Well, again, there’s really no constraints as to what a webcomic might look like, so webcomics come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, though most try to look like newspaper comic strips to some extent, and most of the rest look like comic book pages. PVP is about the goings-on in the offices of a gaming magazine, and essentially looks like it would fit right in in your local newspaper. Penny Arcade, a commentary on video games so wildly popular it’s become a franchise spawning its own gaming conventions, uses substantially taller panels. Ctrl+Alt+Del, a comic about a group of gamers and the subject of a very vocal section of the Internet that hates its guts, arranges its panels in a 2×2 grid. Questionable Content, which can probably be best described as a snarkier Friends, uses four panels stacked one on top of the other. And plenty of other webcomics don’t use a consistent style at all, especially the more memetic or editorial-cartoony ones like the even more wildly popular xkcd. Most webcomics in the comic-book tradition, like the aforementioned Girl Genius, post a single page each time they update, though the lack of constraints the format provides means that some, like The Order of the Stick, can be more flexible with the format when circumstances warrant. And then there are comics with even weirder formats.

Scott McCloud, a comic writer and artist who revolutionized the way people saw the medium in the early 90s when he created Understanding Comics, wrote a sequel, Reinventing Comics, in 2000 where, among other things, he suggested that the freedom the Internet and computers in general provide from the constraints of the page could allow comics artists to sprawl out indefinitely, allowing comics to take whatever shape might seem natural, even in three dimensions, an idea he somewhat inadvertently gave the name of the “infinite canvas”. So far such ideas have mostly been limited to gimmicky works where the idea is part of the point, with limited application in other works, partly because it’s harder to make money when your work isn’t serialized, and there’s a lot less reason to use the infinite canvas when it is serialized, leaving the infinite canvas to those who have free time and are more concerned about “purity” than anything else. Nonetheless, there are certainly a goodly number of interesting applications out there if you know where to look, and perhaps smartphones and tablets may make it more viable. For more traditional comic-book-style webcomics, McCloud suggested a half-page format that could fit within a monitor window to minimize scrolling.

I notice that a lot of these webcomics have to do with video games and other nerdy pursuits. Are there any webcomics a normal person might be interested in?

Yeah, that’s the thing about the Internet and technology in general: the first people to flock to something new will generally be geeks, nerds, geeknerds, and nerdgeeks. Unless it’s porn. But then, is there really a difference?

But yeah, nerds definitely seem to be over-represented in webcomics, even the ones that aren’t so obviously nerdy (Randall Munroe has a degree in physics and xkcd used to be infamous for its esoteric math jokes). Heck, many of the less nerdy gag-a-day strips have ended, though Kevin and Kell, a comic about a society of anthropomorphic animals made by a newspaper-comic veteran, is still going strong. Beyond that, a lot of the rest tend not to be for the faint of heart, whether it’s a comic about a sex freak (Least I Could Do) or a comic that just goes for as much shock value per comic as it can (Cyanide and Happiness).

I’d like to read a good story. What are some good comic-book-style webcomics out there?

There are three “long-form” webcomics in particular that tend to get praise heaped upon them for their stories, two of which we’ve already mentioned. Girl Genius, in addition to becoming a milestone for migrating from print comics to the web, tends to rack up a ton of awards; its steampunk – er, “gaslamp fantasy” – setting is utterly overrun by mad scientists. The Order of the Stick started out as a simple stick-figure comic riffing on what the Dungeons and Dragons rules must look like within the game world- and achieved enough popularity that way to start looking like the Penny Arcade of D&D – but eventually expanded that out into a truly epic fantasy story that I would be willing to put among the greats of the genre. Gunnerkrigg Court may look superficially like Harry Potter with a female protagonist, but it has its own themes and direction that give it a more mythological feel. All three are available in print, though I doubt you’ll find them at your local bookstore.

There are plenty of other good stories to be found among the world of webcomics as well; one of the deans of webcomics is Sluggy Freelance, which started out as a wacky anything-goes style comic, and never really stopped being such, but managed to turn its anything-goes nature into a huge sprawling plotline that now spans close to a decade and a half of material. Schlock Mercenary has been churning out its own brand of space opera every single day for over a decade now. And special mention should go to Homestuck, about a group of kids who begin playing a knockoff of The Sims – with a twist that leads them down a road beyond imagination, which has become a phenomenon that must be seen to be believed, and whose unique format defies description even as a webcomic.

Wait, all of those are incredibly nerdy too! Are there any story comics that aren’t sci-fi or fantasy?

Yeah, same problem as with the gag-a-day comics. Here’s the thing: a lot of the older, more successful webcomic creators tend to all know each other, as well as a number of more prominent webcomic bloggers, and they often tend to circlejerk around to work with each other and promote each other’s work, and since they tend to all be nerds, when they’re not promoting each other’s work they’re typically promoting stuff that’s equally nerdy. As a result, there’s a certain ecosystem of webcomics out there that tend to be more prominent than the others (which doesn’t necessarily correlate with popularity) and which tend to determine which comics occupy the next tier of prominence, and it’s very difficult for a non-nerdy webcomic to break into that logjam, especially when you consider that webcomics, as a whole, are still in many ways sort of a niche.

The closest things there are to a non-nerdy story-based webcomic – or really, the most prominent non-nerdy comics at all – are really more akin to soap-operatic newspaper strips that follow the ongoing trials and tribulations of a group of friends and the relationships between them, like Something Positive, Girls with Slingshots, and the aforementioned Questionable Content. But even those comics tend to have wacky elements that can border on the fantastic, to the point that QC has actually been described as sci-fi (though the other two aren’t really any weirder than, say, Dilbert). Then there’s Red String and Megatokyo, two manga-styled romance comics. But for the most part, it’s slim pickings if you’re not a nerd and want to add a true webcomic to your daily routine, though there are more than a few out there if you know where to look.

Aren’t all webcomics piles of utter bullcrap, often bordering on porn, created by egotistical d-bags with no one to stop them from publishing their monstrosities for the world to see?

It’s true that there are more than a few egotistical webcomics creators out there that rub people the wrong way, most prominently Scott Kurtz and Tim Buckley of PVP and Ctrl+Alt+Del respectively, but most webcomics creators seem to be genuinely interested in their fans, the world at large, and the development of the medium. The formation of a “webcomics community” may have formed a circlejerk that keeps the attention focused on certain kinds of work, but it’s also a mutually supportive place that seeks to elevate the standing and success of all involved, and it’s possible to become popular without it anyway, the same way anything else on the Internet becomes popular.

And while there are relatively few barriers to entry in webcomics, just as on the Internet as a whole, creating a webcomic is a bit more technically complex than creating something more textually oriented – the Internet is really more optimized for text than images, so the popularity of webcomics vis-a-vis more text-based fiction (webnovels?) is somewhat surprising if not mystifying. At the very least, you need someone with artistic skills, a useful art-making program like Adobe Illustrator (possibly along with expensive add-ons like a drawing tablet) or a good scanner, and the ability to upload images to a web site and stitch them together with hyperlinks in a coherent way. Between that and the general difficulty of making it in the crowded marketplace of the Internet, in my experience a webcomic generally needs to be pretty good in order to achieve the level of popularity necessary for success, so the cream does rise to the top. There are certainly plenty of crappy and porny webcomics, but also a number of truly worthy works, some of which I’ve named above, and which aren’t even that hard to find.

But if they were really that good, wouldn’t they have been published by a real comic publisher or syndicate?

Well, for one thing, a publisher or syndicate is a middleman who takes a cut of whatever money you make and often tries to exert control over your work, which has good and bad aspects. Perhaps that’s a tradeoff you’re willing to make when you compare it to the uncertainty that you’ll make one red cent off your comic online. But neither publishers nor syndicates are really all that good at it anymore; newspapers are dying, and while you can make some guaranteed money getting your strip syndicated, if your comic is really worthy you can get a larger, more devoted, and younger fanbase online. As for comic books, that market hasn’t been that big to begin with since at least the mid-90s, especially outside the big two superhero publishers, so if nothing else publishing your story online to start with can be a massive advertisement for potential readers, growing your potential fanbase exponentially, as the creators of Girl Genius can attest. So the creators of the best work might actually be better off on the web, regardless of their desire to make money. In other words? Webcomics are the future. Resistance is futile.

Okay, I’m interested. Where do I go if I want to learn more or discover more webcomics?

You can check out some of the webcomics I’ve reviewed, including some listed here, though keep in mind that I tend to be focused on my own enjoyment of a comic more than anything else and my tastes may not be the same as yours. At the least, be sure to read the full review and take my comments (especially some of my older reviews) with a grain of salt. There are some other webcomics critics out there, but you can probably count them on one hand; the dean of webcomics criticism is Eric Burns-White of Websnark, but these days he tends to post very rarely if at all, and even in his heyday he didn’t really “review” comics so much as comment on the ones he personally regularly read. Still, you can trawl through some of his older posts for some interesting insights. Really, the only other active, worthy webcomics critics I’m really aware of (aside from some occasional ventures on broader comics-focused sites) are Tangents and The Webcomic Overlook, both of which do engage in actual reviews of webcomics, though Tangents, like Websnark and myself, tends more often than not to go off on comics he’s already reading.

There are a number of other sites that aim to help you find webcomics you might enjoy, such as The Webcomic ListInk Outbreak or Just the First Frame. TopWebComics is the last bastion of what used to be a fairly big thing in webcomics, the ongoing popularity contest; while the big comics don’t need the publicity and so don’t partake in it, it’s still a good way to find some up-and-coming webcomics with a devoted enough fanbase.

I’m considering creating a webcomic. What should I do?

First, if you’re considering creating a webcomic for the fame or fortune, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. It is still incredibly difficult to make money on the Internet, with advertising rarely being a sufficient money stream by itself, and only a fraction of a fraction of webcomics are actually successful; by most counts, you’ll need a readership in the thousands before you can expect to see more than a trickle of money. The number of webcomics to make any sort of impact anywhere remotely resembling broader culture can probably be counted on one hand (namely, xkcd and Penny Arcade). Most webcomics attempt to make money through selling T-shirts, which generally means finding something memetic that people will lap up, with the comic itself struggling to become more than a thinly-disguised T-shirt advertisement. Selling print collections of the online comics is another popular monetary stream, though the availability of the comic free online kind of undercuts it. Still, it seems to be the main money stream for long-form, story-based comics, though it undercuts the whole idea of the infinite canvas. Since McCloud, the messianic promise of “micropayments” has hovered over webcomics and the Internet as a whole, and probably always will.

Second, the easiest way to set up a webcomic site is through something set up for the purpose. Webcomic hosts like Comic Genesis, the Duck and Webcomics Nation can give you everything you need to get going quickly, though they may not be the best choice for aspiring professionals, especially since they tend to attract works of mixed quality. Generally, the best comics on those sites leave when they really start going. Another approach is to use pre-boxed tools to build your own site; there are several plugins you can install on a WordPress site (like this one) to optimize it for webcomic publishing, ComicPress (and its sister Comic Easel) probably being the most well-known, though stripShow and Webcomic are options as well. Not having experience with any of these, I can’t tell you which is best. If you have programming knowledge or know a programmer, you could code your own site by hand, but that could very easily run into problems; I took a crash course in PHP and coded a fairly simple webcomic script when I dipped my own toe into webcomics for about a year and a half, but it doesn’t seem to work with modern versions of PHP and I can’t seem to get it to work.

Third, keep in mind that the setting of the web allows you to do a lot of things that aren’t really feasible in print, and not just making your comic any size you want. You can flesh out your comic beyond the comic itself with all sorts of metatextual information, such as cast descriptions and other aids to new readers, or hide exposition about the world or characters of your comic on separate pages so they don’t get in the way of the comic itself, or leave little notes alongside each installment of your comic that might include reminders of past events, comments on the action, or just whatever’s on your mind. It can help to see your webcomic as an entire web site of which the comic is only a part.

Finally, try to suck up as much knowledge as you can about how to do this; I can’t tell you everything you need to know, not least of the reasons why being I don’t have much experience at it myself. How to Make Webcomics, by four successful webcomic creators, is often considered the Bible for making a successful and profitable webcomic, though it definitely reflects the authors’ agendas and points of view, so take it with a grain of salt. There’s plenty of other advice out there on the web, including by webcomic creators themselves, reflecting that community I was talking about earlier. You might also want to check out McCloud’s books Understanding Comics and Making Comics, especially the online chapter of the latter all about webcomics.

Anything else?

Nothing leaps to mind. You might want to leave a comment on this page if you have any other questions, though. With the way webcomics continue to evolve, I’m sure most of this post will be obsolete within five years.

I’ve figured out why this streak is so much more challenging than the last one.

One problem I’ve realized I’ve had recently is that even my filler posts leave me stumped. If I don’t find anything going down the list of comics I’ve reviewed, my only real recourse is a metapost like this one.

You may be wondering why I don’t put up the Erfworld review, or some other post that’s been coming down the pike for a while, then. Well, the simple answer is that it’s sort of daunting how long it might take, long enough that it might not solve the problem for tonight. I have no idea how long it’ll actually take, but I doubt I could finish it tonight, and in fact I doubt I could finish it off in the near future.

Next week should be easier. The first College Football Rankings post comes out then, as does a couple of ambitious webcomics posts… and they’re not what you think.

Because when even the Webcomic Overlook – which NEVER comments on comics unless it’s to review them or they’re making actual news – is commenting on something, I have to join in.

(From xkcd. Click for full-sized big world out there.)

I think I’ve become more than a little fascinated with xkcd and its wild popularity that seems to transcend anything you might call a “webcomic”. (Questionable Content is over twice as popular as Homestuck? Who knew?)

When I originally reviewed it, I was wholly disappointed by it. I didn’t find it consistently funny or provide me enough of a reason to read it on a consistent basis. It was a meme factory with appeal to geeks and that was pretty much the core of its popularity. And while I still find it to be the vanilla ice cream of webcomics, something’s struck me about it as I’ve read other similar comics like Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. Namely, it has a certain heart that those other comics don’t.

Perhaps that’s a result of Randall Munroe’s idealism, which goes well above and beyond anything you’ll find in any other webcomic. Or perhaps xkcd, while it often tries to be funny, is not a humor comic. It is, rather, what I described it as in my original review: a “thought of the day”. Sometimes that thought will be a whole new way of organizing or seeing the world. Sometimes it’ll just be a casual slice of life. Sometimes it’ll be some musing on something making news in geekdom. Sometimes it’ll be a straight-up meme factory, more than once setting original compositions to the tune of existing songs. Sometimes it’ll be what SMBC calls “graph jokes“, often without the joke part.

And every once in a while it’ll blow you away completely with Randall’s grasp of the infinite canvas.

Usually this takes the form of some massive, poster-sized thing, be it his “maps of the Internet” (themselves showing a unique grasp of metaphor) or more generic measurements of scale. Recently, though, he’s taken advantage of other elements of his Internet setting to create unique experiences unlikely to even be replicated anywhere outside the Internet. It probably started with the fairly simple “Umwelt” comic, but now he’s combined the two forms of infinite canvas and created something so expansive that, even given his past work, you can’t help but wonder if he’s every bit as much a space alien as David Morgan-Mar. I almost get the sense that this is something where you’re not supposed to reach the edges, to maintain the illusion that Munroe has created a world as large and expansive as our own.

(Though Robert A. Howard? Rest assured that when Randall doesn’t provide something, his insanely dedicated fanbase will.)

I’m still not likely to take up xkcd on a regular basis. I’ve gone on record repeatedly that, typically, a webcomic needs one of two things to be successful, at least in my eyes: humor, or story. Darths and Droids wormed its way into my heart with innovation, doing something I hadn’t seen before. xkcd occasionally dabbles into humor or innovation, but not enough to keep me coming back; even its innovations don’t really strike my fancy, and its humor isn’t that funny. Still, I might give it another shot at some point down the line, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a newfound respect for the most popular webcomic on the Internet.

Pot, meet kettle.

(From Questionable Content. Click for full-sized fangirlism.)

For those of you wondering if Claire had some special quirk that would cause even her… whatever-the-hell-relation-the-guy-with-the-robot-hand has to her… to find her weird, wonder no longer.

Nope, it’s just the old “what would happen if you encountered yourself” trick rearing its ugly head, as Claire proves to be every bit as gaga over Hannelore’s dad as the other guy.

Now I can’t help but wonder if we’re going to be subjected to a week of repeating the same stuff we got when the other guy first showed up (maybe even to the word), or if we’re instead going to learn enough about Claire to realize how different the two are after all, or if the subject is just going to be dropped as a one-off gag.

At the very least, the lack of a robot hand suggests that Claire’s interest is far more academic, perhaps seeing Mr. Ellicott-Chatham more as a great scientist than a great inventor. Perhaps, instead of a repeat of the other guy’s first appearance, we’re going to get a repeat of one of Claire’s own establishing character moments, with a refocused target. That may hint that Claire may come out of it as a more interesting, potentially lasting character than the other guy.

And hey, if it keeps us from getting Yet More Marigold, I’m all for that.

(Hey, get off my case at forgetting the other guy’s name. It’s semi-late, I have a morning class, I can’t be bothered to look it up, I’m a little antsy about another comic going up, I’m just trying to continue The Streak, and yesterday’s Girl Genius post made me forget how long QC can be in height so now I’m just trying to fill out the page. Yes, that’s probably too many excuses.)

If I’m posting on Girl Genius of all things, you know I’m desperate to continue The Streak.

(From Girl Genius. Click for full-sized battering ram.)

Oh, Girl Genius, your mastery of puns is unmatched! Of the many, many jokes to be seen in webcomics over the past two days, surely this one has produced the most laughs, enough to power a living steampunk (oh I’m sorry, “gaslamp fantasy”) castle! Truly you will be seen as one of the greats in your command of webcomic humor, one whose secrets generations of cartoonists will only be able to hope to unlock!

Seriously, was there any point to this beyond making a lame, groan-inducing pun? Is there really any significance to the castle being attacked by a gigantic ram as opposed to a big block of wood other than “tee hee, you thought we meant it one way and we really meant it another!”

God, I’m spending too much time on a lame pun in a comic I don’t even read enough of to properly grasp what’s going on just because I’m trying to fill out the page so the comic image doesn’t spill over into the next post…