Web comics are an integral part of cyber life. Profane, funny, sadistic and inspirational at the same time, Pheroze L. Vincent finds out why they tick

It's a silent revolution. Web comics have been taking modern offices, universities and almost any online work place by storm with their wit, sarcasm and alternative insights. There are innumerable such comics online today and a few of them are even commercially viable. These include “xkcd”, “Ctrl+Alt+Del”, “Questionable Content”, “PhD” and many others.

“xkcd”'s creator Randall Munroe, a former NASA contractor, describes it as a comic of “romance, sarcasm, math and language”. The comic, which has a loyal geek following, has funny observations of daily life with references to theorems and space research.

There are others like “PhD” that are based on the idiosyncrasies of university life. “PhD”, which stands for Piled Higher and Deeper, also appears in the Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University and Caltech newspapers. It has been linked to The Washington Post and USA Today's websites.

The creator of “PhD”, Jorge Cham, gives talks on the ‘power of procrastinating', full time, in universities in the US. “PhD” has all the varsity stereotypes: the bookworm engineering student, the closet-geek college sweetheart, the lazy varsity bird who's been there forever, the activist social scientist, the plagiarising professor and so on.

While most web comics are stick art, many of them have distinct genres of art like fumetti, pixel art, and photo manipulation. Joey Comeau and Emily Horne's “A Softer World”, for example, is made by photography overlaid with strips of typewriter-style text.

Comics like “Married to the Sea” and “Monkey Fluids” use Victorian illustrations. So popular have they become that Indian comic artist Saad Akhtar, who creates “Fly, You Fools”, wants to do comics with Mughal illustrations.

“Fly, You Fools” is a hit with its sarcastic take on daily life, newsmakers and popular culture. Saad Akhtar uses photos, of random people, manipulated to look like a comic figures. The nameless characters recur in different settings, taking their trip on the hypocrisy of modern living.

Online for about one and a half years now, “Fly, You Fools” is in your face. There is profanity, but it isn't cruel. Saad, who lives in Delhi, does his comics on the weekend and by Monday he's a harmless design manager at naukri.com .

Eric Monster Millikin's comics, like “Fetus-X”, have bright colours with swirling and spiralling brushwork. The haunting images and Milikin's scathing attacks on Catholicism and George W. Bush have earned him the wrath of censors and the tag of a sociopath. Unlike the sanitised comics in the mainstream, most web comics are liberal with profanity, violence and are blunt, almost cruel, while handling sensitive issues.

“Savita Bhabhi” is India's first pornographic cartoon. Based on the sexual escapades of a married woman, it was firewalled by the Government on June 3, 2009. The ban drew caustic responses online and in print, the most publicised one being by Pritish Nandy, in a national daily. Another popular controversial comic is “Cyanide and Happiness”. This stick art strip was started in December 2004 by 16-year-old Kris Wilson. “Cyanide…” is full of dark humour and cynicism and often deals brutally with themes like paedophilia and disability.

Web comics have become such a hit because they have something for everyone. “Penny Arcade”, “PvP”, and “Looking for Group” are for gamers, “Megatokyo” for anime fans, “Girl Genius”, “Saturnalia” for science fiction fans, “Boy Meets Boy” is gay themed. And, they're free. “The wonders of RSSing (Rich Site Summary) web comics is a big plus compared to reading offline ones,” says Ranjana Ninan, a software consultant. RSS allows you to retrieve the latest content from the sites you are interested in. You save time by not needing to visit each site individually.Ranjana adds “Many artists find it convenient to distil their opinions about a topic in a web comic. So, web comics can be a sounding board for thoughts that can be expressed instantly, have a far reaching audience thanks to the Internet.”

Besides, anyone can create them. Censorship is almost non-existent and as Saad Akhtar puts it, “Censorship brings in huge amounts of publicity when it comes. Government bans never hurt any site like they're supposed to.” Most people hadn't heard of Savita Bhabhi until she was banned.

Saad has a comic take on the moral police. A comment on his site reads: “Sorry if they (the comics) offend your sensibilities. But please don't fatwa me. I'm not even from Denmark.”

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