Stuff's guide to web comics
Say comics and most people think newspapers. That's fair enough, because until the internet came along, that was pretty much the only place you'd find them.
But with the rise of the internet, things have changed. Now anyone can start a web comic, attract a global following and challenge the dominance of established cartoonists, all without leaving their bedroom.
Unfortunately, this means this a huge amount of - to put it kindly - thoroughly mediocre content has found its way online.
We've sorted through the internet's web comics so you don't have to. Here are some of our favourites.
Probably the most popular webcomic in existence at the moment, Penny Arcade is the big boy of the scene and the king of video game commentary. While it sometimes strays from being entirely family friendly, the biting wit of writer Jerry Holkins and the astounding art of Mike Krahulik make it a favourite of the webcomics community.
Another big hitter, and favourite of Garfield creator Jim Davis, PVP is very much in the tradition of a daily newspaper comic. Except it's about geeks, for geeks. That means jokes about video games, Lord of the Rings, and that geek staple coffee. Strips are up like clockwork five days a week, and it has been running almost nonstop for ten years. Creator Scott Kurtz has also managed to make PvP into a monthly paper comic published by Image comics.
A creator who attempted to get away from his own artistic limitations, Randall Munroe crafted an entire strip from stick men. Focussing on mathematics, physics and romance, XKCD comics are utterly geeky and wonderfully funny.
Kris Straub's outer space strip about an art museum starship has space pirates, time travel, evil aliens (and some very cute ones), dimension hopping, and general hilarity. Daily, and always worth a read.
Perry Bible Fellowship
Unfortunately now on hiatus, PBF has a similar dark and surreal humour to the Far Side. Creator Nicholas Gurewitch has printed two volumes of his oddly hilarious strips that are sure to bewilder and amuse.
Jorge Cham's long-lived strip about the perils of academia, PhD (stands for Piled Higher and Deeper) will resonate with anyone who has ever sat down and attempted to start a thesis, or had a deadly brush with a supervisor.
Kaja and Phil Foglio have been working in comedic fantasy and sci-fi for over thirty years. They decided to take their fantasy humour piece Girl Genius entirely online, for free. A wonderful all ages story about mad scientists, clockwork tanks, air ships and madness. Beautifully illustrated, full of typical Foglio zaniness, and Agatha Heterodyne makes a wonderful heroine.
The Adventures of Dr. McNinja
He's a ninja doctor with a gorilla for a secretary, a ward who's a twelve- year-old Mexican gun fighter, and is good friends with a resurrected vampire Ben Franklin. It contains your weekly dose of awesome in every single strip.
Quite possibly the most beautiful comic on the internet right now, and consequently rarely updated, Lackadaisy Cats tells the story of a band of bootlegging cats in a feline-filled version of prohibition era St. Louis. Zany slapstick, mob heists and flappers abound, in a gorgeously rendered sepia world.
MORE ON WEB COMICS
Traditionally comic strips have been a notoriously hard market to break into.
For decades, syndication in American newspapers was the ultimate - but practically unattainable - goal for many artists who dedicated themselves to the four-panel game.
With the inherent freedoms of the Internet, anyone who can afford a website and wield a scanner now has the ability to show their scratchings to the world.
This has revolutionised the comics industry. From humble beginnings and with the help of a number of pioneers, Web comics have grown into a medium to be respected in their own right.
While some stick to the traditional four panels, gag a day style found in most newspapers (eg www.sinfest.net), many artists have used the artistic freedom inherent in the Internet to express themselves in ways not usually accepted by syndication groups.
8-bit Theatre (www.nuklearpower.com) and Diesel Sweeties (dieselsweeties.com) have both made progress in using pixel artwork - drawing the comics by colouring in pixels onscreen instead of scanning in paper originals. The former has taken art from the original Final Fantasy video game from 1990 and modified it for its own plot, while the latter uses original pixel art.
Artist Scott McCloud heavily influenced the development of the Web comics genre in his book "Understanding Comics", in which he discusses the idea of the "infinite canvas" as Web comics are not limited by page space as their printer brethren are.