A Web 1.0 Comic in 2023

By | Thursday, November 02, 2023 Leave a Comment
The cartoonist Grover (who I don't think has any connection to the Sesame Street character of the same name) posted a comic called Hamburglar Goes to Hell recently. It's about how the Hamburglar -- yes, the one from McDonald's -- is sent to Hell for stealing so many hamburgers, but in learning that the whole thing is big scam, escapes, destroys the evil clown, and creates a beautiful and healthy utopia. The adventure is a wonderful kind of bat-shit crazy, and immediately reminded me of the internet circa the late 1990s and early 2000s when people would just throw random stuff online and half of it made no sense but was really just an exercise in creativity for the sake of it.

Grover came to my attention late last year. He had submitted his Deeply Dave webcomic for an Eisner Award and, as one of the judges, I read through it and recommended it be one of the formal nominees. It was an interesting story and utilized a lot of elements that you don't see as often as I'd like in webcomics... music, animation, infinite scroll... all the things that webcomics can take advantage of that print comics cannot. Hamburgler Goes to Hell utilizes the same features but has a more "out there" type of story. Clearly there's nothing preventing this type of story from being made any more, so why do we see so few of them these days?

In a word: capitalism.

See, while webcomics existed pretty much with the start of the world wide web, it wasn't really until 2005 that people started seeing webcomics as a viable commercial endeavor. There were certainly webcomics that were turning a profit before then, but they were largely considered outliers or exceptions. Between 2005-2010, there was a shift from seeing webcomics as "something to do in your spare time that might earn a little extra money" to "something you could legitimately do as a profession." And along with that, creators took up strategies and tactics that others had proven could work. Which, by and large, meant: give the comic away for free on the internet and then sell printed copies and/or ancillary items to actually make money.

That makes complete sense, of course, but that also means that anything a creator might do with their webcomic that is unique to webcomics (i.e. music, animation, infinite scroll, etc.) needs to be removed for the print edition and is therefore unnecessary extra work. If you create the webcomic so that it just drops easily into a printed book format, you can spend less time creating the thing that actually makes money and, theoretically, use that 'extra' time creating something else that also makes money. That makes 1000% sense. But that also means that people who do want to just do something for the creativity of it, for the fun of it, for the absurdity or it, get pushed to the side. They're not exactly gatekept out, but they're not exactly welcomed either.

Turns out that Grover recognizes that and is very deliberately trying to work against it. On their public statement about deleting their social media accounts, they state...
It’s not that we don’t want attention. We desperately crave attention.

We just don’t want to grovel at the feet of a corporate algorithm to get it.

Not everything about social media is bad, and we have nothing against our friends who use it. We just don’t want it anymore.

There was a time when the internet felt less like a crappy shopping mall, and more like a new frontier for creativity.

Can we re-ignite that feeling? Can we turn nostalgia for the early internet into a vision of the future?

Can we build a community of Deleters, who create pure, personalized websites and link to each other? Can we start a movement?


Or maybe this is a terrible idea and we will all die in obscurity.
I'm not sure if it's a terrible idea or not. I'm here for it, but I'm not exactly known for backing the winning horse. And we'll all die in obscurity regardless. But I'm here for it, and would love to see more comics like this again. Not for the nostalgia, but just for some basic anti-consumerist creativity.
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