The golden age of webcomics

Dwindling attention spans and a hunger for immediate punchlines mean webcomics are flourishing – and they have plenty to teach us about what the internet finds funny. We talk to artists Alex Norris, Sarah Andersen and Reza Farazmand to find out more

Anyone who remembers the era of Flash games, or the heyday of web series Salad Fingers and sites such as rathergood.com, can attest that the internet was a pretty bizarre place 15+ years ago. “It was random,” says Alex Norris, creator of Webcomic Name – a three-panel comic that ends, no matter what the subject, with the punchline, ‘oh no.’

“The internet was like, ‘oh cool, we can be weird here’. Normally things have to make sense and have a reason for existing, because that’s why people commission them. On the internet, things can just exist for no reason.”

Norris, who’s been making comics for nearly ten years, has followed the evolution of online humour with interest. They say they’ve noticed a move from out-and-out oddness to an emphasis on relatability, and now a more recent focus on jokes around politics. “It went from being, ‘oh no, isn’t it annoying when you step in a puddle and your socks get wet?’ to ‘isn’t it awful that there’s institutional racism and the president of the US is trying to cause an insurrection?’ It’s a lot more apocalyptic, which is interesting,” they tell CR. “The conversation has really changed from first world problems to being like, ‘everything is on fire.’ It’s definitely harder to make humour in some ways, but I like the challenge.”

Top: Cover of Comics for a Strange World by Reza Farazmand; Above: Sunshine by Alex Norris

Norris tried various approaches to webcomics before alighting on their ‘oh no’ Webcomic Name format in 2016, and they describes its repetitive nature as a kind of parody of internet trends in themselves – which sees memes, jokes and imagery endlessly recycled in pursuit of laughs. They remember webcomics of the time as being very much focused on relatable humour – making jokes out of annoyances that are mostly insignificant but take up a lot of brain space.

“There were loads of people making jokes about the smallest details of your life, but I feel like people plumbed that well very quickly and it was getting more and more niche,” they explain. “Once someone’s done a comic about the fact that your headphones get tangled in your pocket, or you procrastinate, or your cat is annoying you while you’re trying to work, they started making the same comics over and over again.”

JUNIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Milton Keynes