Commentary: On Reading an Archive

When I review a series for magazines or websites often I have to catch up on the whole comic. Fortunately, with Comic Rocket the archive of a webcomic is available to me in a simple to access location. I’m able to absorb the whole package in just a few sittings and get my article together fast. Of course, going through the content quickly has disadvantages and advantages.

The clearest disadvantage is the flow of time. Depending on the frequency of the updates, many ongoing stories by their own episodic nature use the pauses as part of the narrative. It’s as if the author is breaking between thoughts just as the days pass between pages. This may be done on purpose to control the story flow or it may be a complete accident. You see this latter point in print comics by the likes of Chris Claremont. Try reading some of the early new Uncanny X-Men graphic novels; from issue to issue there is not always a smooth transition. When I read a whole story at once my reading pace may not match the author’s intended reveal and this can dull the impact of certain moments.

Then there’s timeliness and art appreciation. If a webcomic started in 2007 it’s often difficult to put my head back into the zeitgeist and some jokes fall flat or issues of the day seem as outdated as Green Day. Meanwhile with the art, I sometimes find myself giving equal weight to the beginning of a series rather than taking the package as an evolving whole. The latest update should be the most important statement. But I didn’t get to go along for the ride. There is no sense as a reader of evolving with the artist over time and instead you just watch the flower grow like a time lapse film.

But for me, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. You don’t have to wait for updates and with completed works you know how far you’re going to go. You get to have the entire story—or chapter, volume, etc.—in one place, at one time. I’m an impatient person at best. Shows like Lost or Fringe on TV with weekly continuation of their over-arching mystery drive me nuts. With print comics I wait for the trade on titles like Unwritten so I can experience a whole story at once. In the archives of webcomics, there’s no waiting in suspense for the next page: A particularly important moment of development is completed as you read it, not the following Monday after the weekend. If the story has momentum you get to read it to completion, resolving any hanging plot-lines—and this is especially true of stories that the creator has completed before uploading.

So, what do I do about reviewing an ongoing series? I read up till the end of course. And where I stop? That’s what I treat as the ending. Usually I’ll try to at least find the finish of a chapter or some other endpoint. As for gag-a-day or one panel strips, that’s a whole other discussion for another day.

I’m not sure if I get a better experience reading all my comics in as few sittings as possible, but both the job and my personal nature necessitate it. As I continue adding new serials to my comics list on Comic Rocket, we’ll see if my personal stack plays out differently than my review strips.