Although I’m a kid of the Nineties, I never actually got into comic books like so many other geeks my age (though I still became a fan of Batman and the rest of the DC Universe through cartoons and movies). For most of my childhood, the only comic I ever read consistently was Calvin and Hobbes. But in my college years, I was introduced to webcomics, which I absorb with the same passion as other geeks might delve into traditional comics.
So here are my favorite webcomics to date.
5. Penny Arcade
As has been said before, Penny Arcade is the original webcomic. The one so many others have tried to imitate in the hope of glimpsing a shadow of its Olympian triumph. Written by Jerry Holkins and illustrated by Mike Krahulik, PA delves into the world of their alter egos, Tycho and Gabe, as they discuss video games, pop culture, geekdom, and whatever else tickles their fancy. What sets this franchise apart from other gamer comics is the partnership between Holkins and Krahulik, translating into a hilarious friendship between their characters, and giving us great dialogue with some highly evocative artwork. I wasn’t a gamer when I started reading the comic, but after I became one, my love for it only deepened.
Penny Arcade updates every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Back when I was in college, I was introduced to another part of geek life: tabletop roleplaying games. It started with the Star Wars RPG, and from there went into Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, and Eclipse Phase. With that kind of background, of course I’d be drawn to a comic like Darths & Droids, which takes stills from every Star Wars film and adds dialogue to turn an epic saga into an extended campaign between a very odd group of friends. But truth be told, I love it for all the jabs it takes at Star Wars and RPGs in general. And I really like the new ways it interprets characters like Qui-Gon Jinn and Anakin Skywalker. Their take on Chancellor Valorum and General Grievous are so wonderfully over-the-top that it’s hard not to like them in spite of their original movie dialogue. The writers for Darths & Droids know Star Wars and RPG mechanics inside and out, producing a very colorful but consistent tale.
Darths & Droids updates every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday.
Math and science can seem intimidating to the general public, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be a little bit fun. And since I was raised with a healthy respect for math and science, I get a lot of fun out of xkcd by former NASA roboticist Randall Munroe. Yes, sometimes his comics are just a list of endless calculations or puns based on a high-level physics equation or make sense only if you understand Linux programming. But there’s also a lot of heart and self-deprecation, and playful jabs at more well-known concepts. And in some strips, Munroe’s comic gets personal and oddly touching, especially when it comes to romance and optimism.
xkcd updates every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For additional reading, Munroe’s “What If?” segment updates every Tuesday.
I’ve written a few articles and reviews on the subject of the Singularity and its expression in fiction. But even while a webcomic like Dresden Codak goes into it, I find I can’t stay mad at it. The story and artwork are just too damn good. While the protagonist Kim is a devout Singularitarian, she’s also fallible, likable, and on a search for answers about her past and the dark world in which she lives. Aaron Diaz takes dry science and breathes passion and color into it with amazing artwork, setting his characters against breathtaking landscapes and cities.
Dresden Codak updates on an approximately monthly basis.
Most people I know are fans of the Harry Potter books. But when it comes to the genre of Magical British Boarding School Fiction, I’ve always preferred a quirky but meaningful saga called Gunnerkrigg Court. Written and illustrated by Tom Siddell, the comic follows Antimony “Annie” Carver, a brilliant but aloof student who tries to fit in while having an absurd knack for befriending “etheric beings” and unraveling mysteries inside the Court. The setting is a well thought-out blend of magic and technology, blending robots with nature spirits, or magic spells with engineering. This theme carries over to Annie’s friendship with Kat. These two dynamic heroines provide as much wit and feeling in their relationship as any other webcomic duo (a more lighthearted Tycho and Gabe, if you will). The saga starts out small, but has become more intricate and wide-reaching of late, giving weight to every character’s action and dialogue.
Gunnerkrigg Court updates every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
I wanted to make this a Top 10 list, but these are about the only webcomics I truly follow with a passion. I will, however, give an honorable mention to The Trenches, The Intrepid Girlbot, and the Snowflame comic by Julie Sydor. If you have any webcomics you’d like to recommend for review, let me know in the comments below.