Webcomics: Formatting & Publishing

Sequential art has been a part of storytelling for as long as history. However, as the codex—or traditional book—layout became more prominent. Sequential art began to take on more of a blocked structure typically read in “Z” formation within a book, now known as the modern comic book. The movement shifted sequential art away from long canvases such as scrolls and tapestries like Bayeux Tapestry to fit inside a physical and easily accessible book. Nevertheless, the scroll has been reimagined and is now more prominent than ever in the digital era for e-books.

While the traditional format for a comic book is still prevalent in western comics and is accepted across multiple platforms without issue, the scroll or vertical strip has shot the comic market back into mainstream media. This makes it one of the most popular formats for webcomics, thanks to companies like Naver Corp, which founded Webtoon in 2004.

Now, even though novels can usually be straightforward to modify, comics are not. Determining the format of your book is often one of the first steps before creating your story since not every platform can support every format yet. Despite the current scroll format popularity, it is often recommended to begin publishing a story in the traditional “Z” block panel. This is because it is claimed to be easier to modify by artists into the scroll paneling format versus vice versa; however, opinions vary. An example can be shown by Carly Usdin’s choice to release a digital issue of her comic Heavy Vinyl in 2017 before the serialized comic in 2019.

The Serialized Webcomic vs The Comic Issue

Two out of the three most common digital publication options for online comics are known for serializing webcomics as episodes that are initially released weekly. The third option for publishing currently relates more to traditional publishing than digital. It markets digital comics primarily as issues, or volumes, with the idea of possibly having multiple issues. The current formatting options also imply a more traditional background—the lack of the scroll formatting option.


Beginning with Webtoon, as one of the pioneers of the scroll format, the platform is easily available as both a website and an app to the public for free. There are two major sections on the forum that can determine pay and usually quality—Webtoon Originals and Webtoon Canvas, previously known as the discover page. Webtoon allows everyone to freely post a comic, in any format, following the size constraints of the platform if it falls in line with the community guidelines on Canvas. Webtoon has only recently initiated a way for creators who have achieved a certain amount of foot traffic to receive funds through an ad revenue service. However, “there is no guarantee that members will receive net ad revenue as a result of their participation in the program.” Consequently, implying that the only guaranteed pay is for featured authors and artists on the Webtoon Originals section of the platform. A status that is only achievable when the company reaches out to the selected creator.


Tapas, previously known as Tapastic, is an “open publishing platform” much like Webtoon. However, making money on the platform is seemingly a much easier feat than its main competitor. The platform hosts both novels and webcomics in multiple panel formats in both free to read and premium. Both sections have opportunities to make money. The former through advertisements or donations from readers called ink. There is even a yearly event called Inksgiving around Thanksgiving to increase support from readers. Donations or tips like this are often motivated by authors on the “free to read” section because ad revenue does not pay much. Last year a user even noted that:

for Tapas, I have about 2.4k subs and 43.5 k views, and I have only earned 0.71$ in total in ad revenue alone in the past six months. — so, like most people say, don’t get excited too much or don’t expect too much on ad revenue.

(“How Much Do You Earn from Your Webtoons/Novels?” 2021)

To have a story placed in the Premium section, one just has to submit a form that pitches the story to studiotapas@tapasmedia.co, which is effectively easier than simply being noticed. Additionally, as of last year, Kakao Entertainment has purchased Tapas and Radish, a dedicated serialized story platform. It now also hosts the top 27 webcomics available on Tapas. Thus, signifying a potential merger between platforms or an increased opportunity for readership across multiple outlets, inherently demonstrating a future increase in foot traffic for revenue.

ComiXology & Kindle

Now, as of February 2022, ComiXology has merged with Amazon, making the webcomic format increasingly available on Kindle for purchase and sale. A few selected comics have even become available on Kindle Unlimited, one of the largest self-publishing platforms on the market. However, rather than the company allowing all comics to be placed on Kindle Unlimited, there is now ComiXology Unlimited. Comics can now be placed on Kindle Unlimited through KDP and on ComiXology Unlimited after acceptance of “nomination,” which can be submitted via email to support@comixology.com. However, neither sub-platform currently appears to accept the scroll paneling format and opts for the traditional “Z” block paneling for paging through an e-book. This can be noted by Usdin’s comic, Heavy Vinyl, layout on ComiXology Unlimited vs. her layout on Tapas. Now, despite having separate sections, all comics are viewable and readable on the Kindle app. However, sadly navigation or discovering a comic for readers can be difficult. Establishing a readership may be slow at first because of the new merger, despite an easier chance of revenue.

Even though each platform currently has its difficulties and obstacles to monetary gains, there are a variety of benefits as well as the potential for growth for both creators and publishers.

The Magic of Web Comics

Image of Wesley Ralph

Web comics are a wonderful example of how digital publishing can reach beyond just delivering black-and-white text to readers and exemplifies the digital realm’s near-limitless possibilities. While web comics started out as an obscure moon orbiting the planet of digital publishing, content creators have since colonized it into a little world of their own.

Web Comic History

Modern web comics predate the world wide web. Eric Monster Millikin, a pioneer internet artist and social activist, laid claim to the first web comic: a parody of the Wizard of Oz called “Witches in Stitches” that he self-published on a CompuServe server in 1985. However, Hanz Bjordahl’s Where the Buffalo Roam was the first thing resembling what we would call a web comic today.

The world’s love for comics created a desire to share them in any way possible. The creation of the internet – the ultimate sharing tool – caused the slow trickle of comics to become a flood. David Farley’s gag strip, Doctor Fun, was the first regularly updated internet comic with its own website in 1993.  

In The Verge Cat Ferguson said,  “…in those early days, webcomics were some of the most influential pieces of the early-ish internet — vibrant and weird. They formed followings, which became communities, which became culture.” Internet comics became their own culture and have helped shape the world of internet humor, as well as art, to this day.

Like video games, message boards, and social media, web comics have become a cornerstone of the internet.

Web Comics, a New Frontier

Garrity mentions that web comic authors “began to colonize [the internet] with comics, mostly black-and-white, newspaper-style strips.” However, digital screens are capable of more than mimicking paper. 

A web comic’s real magic lies in the things that cannot be done in traditional print. Garrity notes an important moment in 1995 that would alter the course of web comic history: 

Well do I remember sitting in front of my uncle’s modem-enabled computer in 1995, waiting half an hour for each page of Charley Parker’s full-color, animation-embedded, visually experimental Argon Zark! to load. Story-wise, Argon Zark! is geeky simplicity itself… But Parker was playing with flashy and imaginative visual ideas when most webcartoonists were still drawing basic art with BASIC gags. 

Web comics boomed in the late ‘90s as pioneering artists began to explore the medium. 

How Web Comics Direct Our Gaze

With traditional print comics, and even simply drawn web comics, there is nothing stopping the readers from looking at the “wrong” spot in the comic. Sure, authors can draw your gaze; but with digital screens, artists can direct your gaze.

The Team Fortress 2 web comic is an excellent example of how a comic can direct a reader’s gaze. When readers open up the first panel of a comic it seems simplistic; the art is bare, and maybe only half of the digital panel is filled. A simple command along the bottom of the screen changes the game: “Click image or use space bar to advance.”

The TF comics only display what the authors want the reader to see at any given point. Clicking reveals extra panels on some pages of the comic. The comic also allows writers to present real-time modifications of what is already in a given panel at any time; one character’s expression may change, or a new drawing may supersede the current panel. Furthermore, an entirely new drawing may overlay what was already on the screen. 

The author never has to fear that a reader will be confused by the arrangement of panels on a page if the grids themselves appear in the correct order. Timing is an important aspect of comedy, and Team Fortress comics strive for a lot of humor. Punchlines in a web comic retain the power to surprise an audience much more reliably than a print comic. 

Many web comics also insert animations within their panels to great effect. An excellent example is the Mr. Lovenstein comic, “Pushy.” Sure, an author can convey button-mashing in other ways, but the best way to convey the joke is by simply having the character within the comic mash the button repeatedly; the comic only gets funnier the more that readers watch it—which is only possible on a digital screen. 

The Shapes and Sizes of Web Comics

Web comics are not bound by traditional size constraints required of print comics. Traditional comics require strips to fit into certain sizes and shapes that xkcd consistently resists. The comic, “I’m Sorry,” has a completely different shape than “How Old,” which has a completely different form than “Earth Orbital Diagram.” Randall Munroe is confined only by his imagination when it comes to the size and shape of his comic. 

LINE Webtoon is another popular website, and application, for reading web comics that approaches the shaping of comics from an interesting angle. What Webtoon offers is the equivalent of selling comics as scrolls since grids in comics confuse readers all the time. Panels run vertically, and readers progress through the comics by scrolling from the top to the bottom of comic pages. In an article from Medium, Webtoon explains that: 

The transition from flipping through pages to scrolling down a monitor screen has given more freedom to readers in terms of story tempo and flow. Absence of grid freed the genre of cartoon from the limitations of layout and gave authors more space to experiment with each panel. 

Authors can extend the comic-reading experience and add tension to comics; tempo and flow become tools of the trade on Webtoon rather than the liabilities of more traditional formats.  

Web Comics Allow Reader Interaction

Users have a unique amount of interaction with authors that is impossible in print publications. An excellent example is SrGrafo who comments on Reddit posts with quickly drawn comics that act as jokes or puns on the subject at hand.

Another example of user interaction is Existential Comics, a strip thatalways has specific and obscure references to philosophers. At the end of each comic there are links to information about the philosophers that streamline the process of learning what the joke means for readers not philosophically inclined. 

Cyanide and Happiness takes a fun spin on things and has a section on its website called “Random Comic Generator” that is based on their physical card game Joking Hazard, but allows for a heightened level of interactivity. The generator is a work of art by an author in comic format; a huge part of why it is art is the quick and simple user interaction. A button takes up significantly less space than Joking Hazard and its expansions. 

Web comics helped create the internet culture that we have today. They have taken comics and removed many of the traditional constraints associated with the medium. Digital Publishing allows authors to experiment with timing, tension, animation, and even direct citations in ways that traditional print comics only dream about.