but Oscar said that all Art is quite useless

(cartoon seen at the yellowlight)

I’m going to speak to the point of this cartoon, and note that I’m speaking specifically at the concept of comic as product and leaving aside any fuzzy “cultural” arguments.

In a strictly utilitarian point of view, comics in general have not had much use. You can’t eat a comic (or at least you shouldn’t eat them), and comics serve no real purpose as any kind of tool. Without regard to content, comic books are useless masses of pressed pulp and globs of ink.
Comic books (or printed strips, etc…) as end product have no functional purpose, but they still have worth.

You see, comic books are physical objects. They cost money to produce; they take money to consume. In a physical economy, the simple cost of producing printed materials gives a kind of built-in worth to printed comics. Moreover, the fetishism of the object as “collectors item” lends a further degree of usefulness: the secondary financial benefit. Combine that with the fact that – if it came down to it – the ascetic could even burn the book for heat. This is value derived from the actual physical existence of an end product. Printed comics have intrinsic worth.

Webcomics, on the other hand, are a product firmly in the realm of the information economy. Comprised solely of digital information, webcomics have zero physical presence and are infinitely reproducible for no extra cost. Being so cheap to produce makes webcomics (as an end product) that much more difficult to monetize. Attempts to create a system of paid content (thus creating an implied “worth”) have been to a large extent unsuccessful. There are economic models emerging around the creation and display of webcomics but the money largely revolves around ancillary ventures. The webcomic-as-end-product exists solely as a beacon – a secondary use (at best) for the primary “product” of any webcomics venture. Economically speaking, the comic in and of itself is advertisement. Print advertisement has its collectors. But lacking a physical manifestation no one can collect any web advertisements. And no one collects webcomics.

So, again, there is no intrinsic worth in a webcomic. You can’t eat it (just try). It has no use, isolated from peripheral ventures. If you print it up to make collectible objects then it’s no longer a webcomic.

And that’s what this cartoon is saying. It’s not at all meant to be derogative, mind you. Rather it’s a celebration of the webcomic as ephemeral concern. Webcomics are not product, they are pure information. Unattached to physicality, webcomics are pure idea. Any worth to take out of them is derived solely by the end user (that’s you). And you get what you get purely from a cultural standpoint; from a utilitarian view webcomics are completely useless.



And that’s why I love them.


2 responses to “but Oscar said that all Art is quite useless

  1. I love how its like a flashing sign on the strip in Vegas that is advertising. . . nothing.

  2. Yes! Exactly! Thank you, Grant.
    All webcomics are essentially advertisement for the ancillary ventures, but the fact that it advertises nothing is especially true in this case. It ran on my site, where I have nothing to sell.

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