Comic book stories are finding a new home at WEBTOON

WEBTOON is a growing media platform that is now appealing to traditional comic book readers

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Rhett Bloom/DC Fandom

“Batman: Wayne Family Adventures” is a comic series collaboration between DC Comics and WEBTOON which debuted its first episode on September 8, 2021. Episodes follow characters such as Batman, Nightwing, Batgirl and Robin in their “slice of life” adventures.

by KT Devera , Contributor

At San Diego State University, comic books have made their way into the curriculum. Taught under the College of Arts and Letters, these offered courses highlight a movement toward examining visual storytelling. What was once seen as elementary writing, is now seen as well-respected literature. 

Lead faculty member of the Center for Comics Studies, English Professor Bill Nericcio, teaches Comics and History 157 as a gateway for students who normally do not enjoy literature.

“Reading comics means you have to have the skill set of a literary critic, of an art historian, of a historian and of pop culture, and that’s a difficult mix,” said Nericcio. 

While printed books may not be as popular as they used to be, comic book stories are continually growing every day with the help of digital media. WEBTOON is a great example of this. 

Unlike other comic reading platforms such as DC Comics Infinite, Marvel Unlimited or Comixology, this South Korean digital platform features original vertical-scrolling content from creators all over the world. Since its founding in 2004 and its U.S. debut in 2014, WEBTOON has become a global phenomenon, averaging over 82 million monthly active users. They even have joint projects with the big two comic publishers, DC Comics and Marvel Comics. 

“Eternals: The 500 Year War” is a comic series collaboration between Marvel Comics and WEBTOON which debuted its first episode on January 20, 2022. Episodes follow the Eternals in their past encounters against the Deviants while also interacting with different human cultures throughout time. (Marvel / WEBTOON)

Big corporations are known to collaborate with other brands through strategic advertising to reach audiences that they normally may not have. Just a little over a year ago on Sep. 8, 2021, the first WEBTOON episode of “Batman: Wayne Family Adventures” was released as DC’s first title on the distributing site. 

Over the course of 51 episodes written by CRC Payne and art done by StarBite aka Rhett Bloom, DC has found a lot of success. As of this publication date, 56.5 million users viewed the series and 1.1 million of them have subscribed. They also have an overall rating of 9.78 out of 10 stars. “Batman: Wayne Family Adventures’” subscriber count had even managed to surpass the monthly sales of “Batman, Detective Comics” and “Batman: Urban Legends.”

WEBTOON accounts are free for readers. This broadens access for fans who may not have the ability to read comics due to the paywalls of other services. Being digital also allows for translations to be provided easier for global readers to connect them through their various backgrounds. 

“I like the idea of comics being a gateway drug because in the United States, people associate comics with children and teenagers,” said Nericcio. “That’s not the case in Japan or Italy, where graphic narrative and sequential art comics are held with greater respect. For example, with the manga from Japan or the fumetto in France, the tradition for high-level sophisticated graphic storytelling is huge.”

The building of various avenues for others to get involved in comic book culture expands following and fosters stronger communities; these are some of the main goals set by DC headquarters. 

Besides the obvious change from horizontal to vertical reading, the art style itself captures readers and also detaches from conventional American comic book art styles. Switching from harsh line work, heavy sketches and complicated inking to a simpler cartoon aesthetic helps those surveying the characters project parts of themselves into these superheroes. StarBite shows that there is beauty in characters not always having eight-pack abs and sheds a positive light on the world by using colors that help develop feelings of joy and hopefulness.

The written aspects, in addition to the artistic content of these comics, make them stand out from the standard comics found at stores. These new DC stories (told in episodes rather than issues like traditional comic books) are shorter and more lighthearted than typical storylines. It provides an easy transition for fans to learn more about the lore of the “Bat-Family” and become more invested. The emphasis on the everyday lives of these heroes, well-known and unfamiliar, provides a breath of fresh air for avid readers who are saturated with gore and other psychological thriller-related plotlines. 

Payne reminds readers of why audiences love these heroes in the first place. They are elevated versions of ourselves that we all aspire to be. Not because our idols are faultless, rather it is because they make every effort, even without superpowers, to rise above them. 

Chloe Verove, a first year speech language and hearing sciences major, is a casual comic book reader who says that “Vixen: NYC,” has stood out to her in particular compared to the other DC follow up WEBTOON series.

“Vixen: NYC” is a comic series collaboration between DC Comics and WEBTOON which debuted its first episode on May 26, 2022. Episodes follow Mari Jiwe as she begins college in New York City while also having to deal with “magical powers” given to her by her ancestral totem. (Manou Azumi / DC Fandom)

“‘Vixen: NYC’ is about a girl who is in college so it is easy to relate to-other than the whole superhero portion,” Verove said. “She is very connected to her family, which I think is super sweet; and she is exploring how she doesn’t need her little magic totem to actually access her powers, which is also very cool. That’s why I’m just a little more drawn to that one.”

DC has noted the additional attention WEBTOON has brought them and has since added to their distributor’s presence with three new titles: “Vixen: NYC,” “Zatanna & The Ripper” and “Red Hood: Outlaws.” Following DC’s accomplishments, other comic publishers such as Marvel and Archie have released their own WEBTOON collaborations titled “Eternals: The 500 Year War” and “Archie Comics: Big Ethel Energy.” 

The comic book industry is constantly evolving to fit the mass market. Whether WEBTOON will be a leader in this new era of consumerism will be left to be seen. However the turnout will be, fans everywhere will be the shaping force, ready and eager to read.