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A Personal Top Twenty
In Alphabetical Order. (It's hard enough to choose twenty without having to rank them.)

Here are some of my favorite English language webcartoonists from the last couple of years (i.e., cartoonists primarily getting their work out through the web). See the main links page for a list of other amazing artists "On the Radar" who might show up on this list in the future. These things are perilously subjective. I've made a serious effort to choose based on the comics themselves, but obviously, you'd get a radically different list depending on who you ask.

If you're new to webcomics, I hope you'll find these good starting points for exploring the scene, but please don't stop there. When you find an artist you like, be sure to check out their links pages too, and the links from those they link to. Sooner or later, you'll find your own favorites and start your own list. That's the way it works on the web and that's the way it always should.

[last updated July 2004]


[Disclaimers Ahoy!*]

Vera Brosgol
Vera Brosgol is one of three artists on this list from the six member Pants Press collective, but depending on which way the wind blows, I can imagine listing any of the six in my top twenty in the near future. All six are scary smart, scary talented, scary young, and their collective output was one of the most striking developments in webcomics last year. Brosgol had shown great gifts in both writing and art with Return to Sender (still in progress though a bit neglected these days) and with her razor sharp contribution to 2003's San Diego ashcan Wary Tales, but what really put her over the top for me personally was her color contribution to the upcoming Flight anthology—one of the best stories in a collection that's certain to be one of 2004's best books.

Patrick Farley
Farley's e-sheep.com is not the sort of site you want to look at for five minutes over coffee at work. Set aside an entire afternoon some weekend and dive into the archive dating all the way back to stories drawn in 1995. Always read a Patrick Farley story from beginning to the end. Wherever you think he's going by panel 10, he'll always surprise you by panel 75. The art ranges from hallucinogenic rainbow collages to cute-but-deadly anime to 3D orgasmatronic utopian raytracing. His straight hand drawn art has gotten better over the years (the earliest stuff looked pretty raw) but it's his storytelling and ideas that always win out in the end. His most recent story Spiders is the most complex yet—an alternate history of the war in Afghanistan that's already taken more turns than Mullholland Drive (the street, not the movie).

Demian 5
Swiss Artist Demian 5 made his debut with his inventive and hilarious wordless sex comedy When I Was King in 2001 (note to international cartoonists: Offering an English language version is easy if your characters never talk.) Demian has continued to develop a variety of cool strips at his site this year, some of them available to subscribers at a mere $3.00 per year. Demian is one of our most original voices -- a true web native and trailblazer.

Shaenon Garrity

(pronounced
"shay-nin")

Shaenon Garrity's online comic strip Narbonic has a homemade nerdy gag-a-day look that made me dismiss it early as just another clever little wannabe newspaper strip. Not that I ever said it to anybody, but for the sin of even thinking the strip was less than inspired, I hereby apologize. Through Narbonic, and her delightful scripts for other artists, Garrity is emerging as one of our best online humor writers. Her other features (all for subscription sites in the Modern Tales family) include "Sergio and L'il Mel" at Girlamatic (art by Vera Brosgol originally though Garrity is drawing it herself as I write this), "More Fun" at Graphic Smash (art by Robert Stevenson and Roger Langridge), and my favorite, the Thurberesque "TrunkTown" with independent comics master Tom Hart.

Cayetano Garza
Due to series of personal mishaps and challenges, Cat Garza nearly dropped off the map from inactivity in mid-late 2003. Fortunately, though, I was a lazy bastard last year when it came to updating this page, and by the time I got around it, this webcomics pioneer from South Texas was already back in the saddle at his subscription site Whimville turning out new trippy hand-drawn comics and photo collages on a regular basis. As Magic Inkwell's extensive archive can attest, Garza was one of the very first webcartoonists to understand what those glowing points of light on your screen are capable of and to push them to their absolute limits. Like Robert Crumb, Garza often falls victim to his own lacerating self-doubt, and, like Crumb, you wish he had an editor half the time—but then the rest of the time you're glad he doesn't. These are comics from the heart, soul, mind and gut of their creator. No filters.

D. Merlin Goodbrey
British web artist Daniel Merlin Goodbrey earns his middle name with one act of technological wizardry after another. His "Mr. Nile" weekly feature at Serializer showcases his wickedly inventive metacomics ideas to great effect, and the archive at e-merl.com includes some amazing work from the last few years. My favorite so far is "PoCom-UK-001", a collaborative multidirectional comic created for London's Institute of Contemporary Arts in July of 2003; a creation which comes tantalizingly close to earning the "infinite canvas" label, which has been so often used (and abused) since I featured it in the last chapter of my 2000 book Reiventing Comics. Making "PoCom" possible was a new coding environment created by Goodbrey called "The Tarquin Engine", a potentially revolutionary addition to our tool set which I hope to use myself in the near future. Although his stories are a bit fill-in-the-blanky (as are mine when I get in mad scientist mode) his inventions and discoveries more than make up for it. Easily our most ingenious creator to date.

[When a recent webcomics award had a category for "technical achievement" and Merlin didn't win, I wanted to break something.]


Kazu Kibuishi
Kazu Kibuishi's Copper stories are so beautifully drawn it hurts my hands to look at them. After a generation of rough innovative renegades, Kibuishi's animation-trained professionalism and breezy, nostalgia-tinted subjects may signal a change in the weather for webcomics—especially because he's not alone in that approach, as the upcoming Flight Anthology, edited by Kibuishi, demonstrates.

Derek Kirk Kim
When prompted by the subscription site Serializer to provide a biography for his strip "Half Empty", Derek Kirk Kim offered just one line: "Derek Kirk Kim hates." Apart from providing fodder for jokes (including another Serializer bio: "Vera Brosgol hates Derek Kirk Kim") it may have been at least half serious. Drawing has, by his own admission, always been a painful, labor-intensive process for this young Korean-American cartoonist and many of the best moments in his writing come from his relentlessly bleak view of his fellow man, and of himself. His absorbing graphic novella Same Difference (available at his new address lowbright.com and in a recent print collection) is arguably the best long work of fiction to emerge out of the webcomics scene so far.

James Kochalka
James Kochalka is a prime exponent of the online journal comics movement and currently its most interesting practitioner. Running an average of only four panels, many of his entries at his subscription site americanelf.com might best be described as domesticated visual haikus; bright minimalist impressions of his family's day to day existence. The webcomics community held its collective breath last year as we awaited the birth of Kochalka's first child and many subsequent strips have since featured life with little "Eli Ray". A mainstay of printed alternative comics, Kochalka took to webcomics' dayglo rgb palette like a duck to water and has turned out some delightfully garish imagery, especially on his raunchy Fancy Froglin' for Modern Tales.

Scott Kurtz
If every daily gag strip was as well written, drawn and paced as Scott Kurtz's rightfully popular PvP, I'd start buying the damned newspaper again. As with Narbonic, it took awhile for me to fully appreciate PvP due to its traditional format and set-up & delivery structure. I was busy looking for the next flashing, multi-directional, psychedelic mind-bender after all. But having gotten a laugh every morning from Kurtz's characters for the last several hundred days, I figure it's time to give the guy his due. (Me and about 80,000 other satisfied readers).

Jenn Manley Lee
The elegant Dicebox was the webcomics debut for Jenn Manley Lee, but by the time she'd launched it in late 2002, Manley Lee had been fully prepared to draw comics professionally for over a decade. Unfortunately, because she had no interest in the testosterone-pumped spandex world of mainstream superhero comics and didn't quite belong with the iconoclastic alternative scene either, her comics languished, unpublished until the web came along. Dicebox is an exquisitely drawn, intellectually challenging story of "itinerant female factory workers in space"—a genre all its own, without any slots set aside for it in the shelf space of your average comics shop. Fortunately, there's no such thing as "shelf space" in cyberspace, so we can all enjoy this uncategorizable gem every week now at Girlamatic.

Dylan Meconis
When penning Bite Me, her perfectly calibrated farce about Vampires in the French Revolution, Dylan Meconis comes across like an unholy union between Anne Rice and Douglas Adams. It's a remarkably successful comic with a loyal following, but, like many of her Pants Press cohorts, its clear that Meconis has a lot more up her sleeve in the long run, and other forays like her contributions to Wary Tales and the upcoming Flight show a creator with a restless imagination and wide range of stories to tell. Meconis' blog dispatches from Wesleyan occasionally feature essays that showcase a serious and dedicated writer in the making. Now if only comics can hang on to her...

Justine Shaw
Justine Shaw's moving, beautifully drawn Nowhere Girl had the distinction last year of being the first online comic ever nominated for an Eisner Award, and the nominating committee couldn't have chosen a better creator for the honor. Nowhere Girl is a coming of age/coming out story drenched in atmosphere and adolescent yearning. Shaw's terrific colors and attention to environments lends a strong sense of place to her panels. I'm also grateful as a reader for her impeccably-designed site with its screen-fitting pages, unobtrusive controls and the option of clicking anywhere on a page to advance to the next page. The fact that so many otherwise accomplished artists (including—*ahem*—a few on this very list) continue to cling to far less usable interfaces, in spite of Shaw's sterling example, is the source of many a irritated rant by yours truly—much to her embarrassment, I'm sure, since never a more humble artist walked the Earth. (Well, besides Chris Ware anyway).

R. Stevens
Manhattan Avant Garde cartoonist Jerry Moriarty once said of Nancy creator Ernie Bushmiller: "Bushmiller created a kind of humor that didn't have to be funny. I believe that there's a formula of Hume, Humor and Humest. Ernie Bushmiller and I are Hume." Today, if there's one webcartoonist who has mastered the fine art of "Hume" it would have to be R. Stevens. Stevens' Diesel Sweeties panels are often funny, but not in the traditional gag strip style. Rather, they carry some benign ionized current of funny energy, rippling through every oversized pixel, delivered each morning in a short burst of, of... Hume... straight to the cerebral cortex of Stevens' addicted daily readers. Do we laugh? Sometimes. But that's not the point. We need our fix.

Tycho & Gabe
On the other hand, humor in the hands of Jerry "Tycho" Holkins and Mike "Gabe" Krahulik is strictly a blood sport. While their assaults on others have produced some memorable laughs (yes, including this one), there's a special kind of precision-guided cruelty reserved for the strip's own protagonists and their catalog of obsessions, ticks, phobias and failings (sometimes accomplished with nothing more than a facial expression or a short piece of warped syntax). With the possible exception of Moe the Bartender, Tycho and Gabe remain uncontested in the ancient black art of spinning malice into gold.

Jason Turner
Like Charles Schulz, Jason Turner's art is so simple—even sloppy at first glance—yet so utterly Alive, it almost defies analysis. The Vancouver-based artist has an uncanny ability to convey a sense of place, time, and most of all, with collaborator Manien Bothma, the rhythm and texture of falling in love. As a tidal wave of manga-trained readers crashes on webcomics' shores in the next few years, strong, human-centered storytelling like Turner's could play an important role in helping the next generation have the confidence to tell their own stories simply, directly and effectively.

Jen Wang
When the Pants Press artists started getting widespread acclaim at a stage when many careers of my generation hadn't even begun yet, I wondered if such early success might have its downsides. If you had thousands of dedicated fans clamoring for more of a strip you began drawing in high school, for example, how hard would it be to explore new directions without feeling like you were leaving your loyal readers behind? Obscurity—I self-servingly reasoned—might have helped strengthen my generation's resolve to better ourselves in our early years. Fortunately, I was utterly wrong, at least in the case of cartoonists like Jen Wang. Facing that exact dilemma recently, Wang patiently explained to her fans that while she still cared for the characters in her impressive maiden voyage Strings of Fate it was time to move on and tackle other artistic challenges as well. This, she's done with great style in the last year, including an excellent 24-hour comic, her contribution to Wary Tales, and this recent gem. But like several of her peers, Wang's first break-out work may be her story in the upcoming Flight anthology—a radical departure in style that's sure to raise a few eyebrows.

Drew Weing

(rhymes with "dying")

In the weeks following the launch of the alternative-themed subscription site Serializer, a lot of posters on comics messageboards commented that the break-out talent of the site was almost certainly Drew Weing and his new feature Pup. Weing's response was a dejected: "Oh, crap." One look at Weing's labor-intensive style (such as in my favorite, "Pup Contemplates the Heat Death of the Universe") and it's easy to see why. "Hey, Michaelangelo, loved that ceiling you did for us! Could you paint six more next week?" Before Pup, the young SCAD graduate was best known for his pretty good diary strip The Journal Comic, but with Pup, everybody's expectations were raised so far that Weing has been struggling ever since to live up to the hype. So, pity the poor soul; his capacity to disappoint is at an all-time high—though he has yet to do so.

Tracy White
Although Tracy White's comics at Traced.com might be mistakenly lumped in with the journal comics movement, her hyperlinked chalkboard graffiti memoirs stand alone. Although Tracy ostensibly stars in her own stories, the real focus is the region and era she grew up in. With an almost scientific zeal, White catalogs every detail she can remember about the objects and creatures that surrounded her during her awkward adolescent years. Imagine little Charlie Darwin, riding in the back of the Galapagos School Bus, furiously taking notes and doodling pictures of the chaos around him—that's Tracy White. (Also available is White's new comic Babblefish at Serializer).

Jim Zubkavich
I liked Makeshift Miracle when I first read it in weekly installments at Modern Tales. But when it was done, I went back and read the whole thing and loved it. One of the web's first complete graphic novels—a melancholy, enchantingly drawn meditation on imagination and yearning with that rarest of accomplishments in our field, a good ending! Check out his Zubkavision page for updates on current and future projects.
Still great (i.e., on previous years' lists): Tristan Farnon (currently offline), the brilliant and twisted Ethan Persoff, The innovative Jasen Lex, Charlie Parker's legendary Argon Zark, David Gaddis' beautiful Piercing, Steve Conley's Astounding Space Thrills, Cointel.de, Gareth Hinds' TheComic.com, Brent Wood's Brambletown, Roger Langridge's Hotel Fred, Vicki Wong and Jason Little's BeeComix.com.
*Disclaimer #1: The webcomics community (at least the artsy-fartsy part of it that I'm interested in) is still small enough that most of us have met each other at some point or another. A few of the names on this list, like Patrick Farley and Cat Garza, have become good friends over time; but with the exception of Jenn Manley Lee (who I've known since the early '80s), my respect for these cartoonists' work came well before any meaningful personal contact—in fact it was usually the reason I sought them out in the first place.

*Disclaimer #2: As of this writing, Farley, Zubkavich and Garrity all have at least one substantial story for sale using micropayments provided by BitPass, a company I'm closely identified with (I'm one of their advisors and a long time proponent of the ideas behind micropayments generally); and a few others have also dabbled in the system (such as with the Pants Press Wary Tales anthology). Needless to say, I lobbied to get them to try the system because I already loved their work, and there are plenty of BitPass-enabled comics not on the list, but still... Full disclosure and all that.

*Disclaimer #3: Four of the people on the list (Farley, Goodbrey, Manley-Lee and White) just agreed to team up with me to split costs and get a booth at San Diego 2004 together. More details on that venture soon. It's not a company or anything it seems worth mentioning here.