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THE TOP ONLINE COMICS
There are the heroes of the web, and then there are the superheroes. Shift.com takes a look at the best digital comics.

| Apr.08.2002 |

You remember. The slick, glossy cover crinkled slightly as you flipped it open. The coarse paper inside, with its bold drawings, felt inky on your fingers. You saved your change, begged, borrowed or stole from your parents to get the last few quarters, and then you ran off to the store, only to stand in front of the comics rack for twenty minutes, deliberating: Should I spend my precious money on The Incredible Hulk or Wonder Woman? Spider-Man or Moebius? V for Vendetta or Pirate Corp$?

Years later the internet came along and comic-art guru Scott McCloud published Reinventing Comics. The indie revolution, which started back in 1984 with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, found new life on the web. Now there are literally thousands of self-published comics online. Some challenge the traditional comic story-telling rules, while others embrace them in the new medium. Either way, kiss your crinkling covers goodbye -- Shift.com looks at the best comics on the web.

innovative

01 OPI8.COM
Beautiful, haunting art and a truly unique vision in diary-style monthly comics. No animation or interactivity, but the experiments with narrative flow and the original art put it at the top of the list.

02 DEMIAN5
Demian5's When I Am King takes advantage of the medium to its fullest, integrating Photoshopping, Flash animation, and clever HTML navigation to take you through its unique story. May offend people with gentler sensibilities with its barrage of little penises, but Demian5's sexual neuroses are actually charming. Hey, only a few very gifted people can make animal love adorable.

03 BRAMBLE TOWN
Non-linear hypertext storytelling through the comic art form. It works well, mostly because there is one narrative stream per character, making it easy to ground yourself. Don't get too excited about solving the mystery, though. Part two and three aren't online yet.

04 BRUCE HAMMOND
Bruce Hammond animates his daily political cartoons in Flash, taking full advantage of the web's capabilities.

05 DRENCULTURE'S LITTLE MERMAID
Okay, so the text slow fade movie-credit-emulation gimmick has been done to death. But here it looks good. A beautiful retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen classic.

one shots/complete stories

01 SMALLSTORIESONLINE
Some serials, some one-shots with a sense of humour so sharp you could poke your eye out. Fav quotes (oh, there are so many!): 1) "Um, who eats the shit of the fly?" 2) "That's when I came up with this spiritual proverb: 'All kids are fucks'." 3) "I better be Hugh Hefner in my next life or Buddha's getting a call from my lawyer." Derek Kirk is a god.

02 TEDDY
Winner of the weird/extreme best website award in the 2002 SXSW Festival, Teddy is the story of a casual sex relationship gone sour. The juxtaposition of the images and text, which seem at first to be unrelated but are linked through themes, is disturbing and jarring, but ultimately touching.

03 LEISURETOWN
Must-see comic featuring photographs of real-live bendy toys in everyday environments. Wonder: Where does he get these toy supermarkets, buses, office buildings and urinals? How come they look so real? How come those itsy-bitsy toy surge-protectors have working lights? Then wonder: Oh, Okay. I get it. So where does he get life-sized bendy-toys to take pictures of around normal-sized surge-protectors? Then wonder: Is this why I always fall for celebrity fakes? Fav quote: "SO I THINK ROBERT HEINEKEN IS MY FAVORITE SCI-FI AUTHOR WHO'S ALSO A BEER"

04 CROWPSEY
Great, original art that can only be described as scratchy and itchy at the same time. A kid with a crow in his eye who spends an entire episode trying to buy silly-putty. Then he gets really angry because, well, there's a crow in his eye.

daily or weekly strips

01 BEE COMIX
Hitchcock's Rear Window meets Daniel Clowes' Ghost World. Funky Bespectacled Girl takes on Murdering Photographer. Start from the beginning and let the suspense build -- then get pissed that the strip ain't finished.

02 THE ALL NEW BOBBINS SHOW
This is one of my favourite strips, about a bunch of kids in their late-twenties/early-thirties, who are all capable of spouting Friends/Seinfeld/Douglas-Coupland-style dialogue. The art is fresh, computery but cartoony, and the writing's clever. Sample:
"Shelley, Holly has gone mad and needs sense talking to her. You used to be her best friend. Do your duty."
"Don't make her do it, Tim. Holly will kill her. Kill her in a sexy way."
I am going to recycle that last sentence until I die (in a sexy way).


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...con't

03 SLUGGY FREELANCE
An oldie but a goodie. From rec.arts.comics.misc: "Hell, that's the only online comic I know of (well, other than the
McCloud! chess one), thanks to the notoriety it gained here." Some great dialogue makes this one a keeper.

04 STORY MINUTE
Carol Lay could rename her inventive and consistently amusing Salon.com strip Isn't It Ironic. But why would she, since... the strip... already has a name.

05 ADAM AND ANDY
James Asal's strip about gay life in Miami is funny and sometimes touching and proves that you don't have to be a superhero to wear tight-fitting clothes and be buff as all hell.

06 ELF LIFE
When most people think elves, they think tall, beautiful and wise or small, nimble and friendly. Not so in Elf Life -- these are some angry elves, boy. (Okay, let's just call them "complicated.") The storyline's complex too -- if you start now, you've got to read two years' worth of elvish-soap-opera capers to catch up -- but if epic sword & sorcery's your bag, there's lotsa fighting and yelling, humour, magic quests and romance to keep you entertained along the way.

pay collections/portals

01 CROSSGEN
Crossgen's recently-launched (and now Mac-compatible) ComicsOnTheWeb site plans to have over 20,000 pages online by 2005. The cost is only a dollar a month, and for that you get access to spiffy Flashified versions of all their print comics. The titles fall under the muscle-bound heroes/scantily-clad fitness model epic adventure classification, but even if that's not your drug of choice, it's worth heading over for the large number of free titles and the spiffy, slick interface.

02 WOW COMICS
Hundreds of professional-quality indie comics for less than you paid when you were a kid. What's that, Billy? Forty-five cents for a comic? Cheaper than a couple of gobstoppers.

03 MODERN TALES
$2.95/month for access to twenty-six comics by thirty creators, including Scott Kurtz (of PvP fame) and Lea Hernandez, whose past credits include Cathedral Child and Rumble Girls for Image Comics. Free comics also available.

04 UNBOUND COMICS
Edgy independent comics for $1.50, graphic novels for $5.75. Put Acrobat Reader to use.

free collections/portals

01 MARVEL'S DOTCOMICS
With dozens and dozens of their top titles online for free (about six months behind newsstands, of course), a nice interface (although we coulda' done without the ads, guys) and a great download/viewing tool for registered users, Marvel has done good. It's clobbering time, true believers.

02 alt.binaries.pictures.comics
Okay, so there's copyright infringement going on like crazy in every alt.binaries newsgroup, but if you're willing to turn a blind eye to that, stroll on over to alt.binaries.pictures.comics to find full comics (everything to the most recent Amazing Spider-Man, to old issues of Groo, to classic Jack Kirby) posted every day.

03 BENCH COMICS
This site looks really impressive until you notice that most of the strips, comics and Flash animations and games say "coming soon." However, if you're into more traditional comics, there are some things worth checking out: The Circle Weave is a good fantasy epic; in Abby's Menagerie a young woman goes to the zoo and gets transported across continents to learn that killing animals is bad; Outsider has some really slick art; and Bounty Girl is the token sexist, uber-exploitative strip (no pun intended) that no authoritative guide to comics could be without.

etc For hundreds more online comics, visit Wahoo, the Online Comic Artist Directory (for anime), Komikwerks, and ModernPulp.

reference

01 SCOTT MCCLOUD
Scott McCloud is too young to be a granddaddy of anything, really, but due to his seminal works Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics, he's universally recognized as the top dog in the comics theory department. Visit his site to see his continuing explorations into the possibilities of online comics and his own personal top 10 list.

02 SEQUENTIAL TART
E-zine about the comics industry, paying special tribute to the women who've influenced the medium.

03 MAKE YOUR OWN
You're probably thinking by now, "Wow, that looks like fun, I want to be a very-rich-web-comic creator too!" Well, we here at Shift.com are looking out for you. Stroll on over to BlueMonkeyComics.com and learn yourself how to make one of them online cartoon picture thingy-ma-jiggers. And then sit back and wait for the cash to roll in. (And the sex. Did we mention all the sex you get?)

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Mark Moyes is the online editor for Shift.com.