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17 Webcomic Diaries That Let You Peek Inside Other People’s Lives

While some people love peering into the lives of other via reality TV, I’m hooked on diary webcomics. I can’t help myself. If they’re the sexy neighbor who likes to get dressed in front of a window, I’m the kid across the street with the binoculars. Over the years, I’ve found a wide variety of autobiographical webcomics that include tales of post-collegiate self-discovery, quiet family life, love stories, workplace antics, daily gags and slowly burning sagas. If you’ve been jonesing to sneak a peek into someone else’s life, check out 17 diary webcomics that may help you scratch that voyeuristic itch.

1. American Elf by James Kochalka

American Elf is the great granddaddy of diary webcomics, and one of the many reasons why James Kochalka is awesome enough to be the first ever Cartoonist Laureate. In four colorful panels, Kochalka captures the small moments of his daily life, from mundane moments with his two sons to his wife’s miscarriage. There’s a fearlessness to Kochalka’s comic — he’ll include something as simple as cooking dinner or as personal as blowing up at his family.

A year ago, Kochalka noticed that American Elf wasn’t on Top Shelf’s list of 2011 releases, and he began to wonder if he could quit doing his diary comic at the end of the year. But at the end of December, he posted a comic, saying “But…how can I? Comics ain’t easy… But maybe I’ll quit when I die.”

Erika Moen’s occasionally NSFW webcomic ended in December 2009, but there isn’t another comic I’ve reread as voraciously. DAR is a phenomenal and surprising chronicle of a young woman’s evolving identity. When we first meet Moen, she’s a college student, coming into her own as an artist and just starting to identify as gay. Through a series of heartwarming and profane comics, she battles depression, has an on-again-off-again relationship with the wrong girl, moves from office work to becoming a professional artist and eventually falls in love with a boy — whom she happened to meet through her comics. Most of all, we get to hang out with a woman who is awesomely sex-positive and loves a good fart joke (and, thanks to the miracle of the Internet, we don’t even have to smell it).

3. So Far Apart by Rene Engström and Rasmus Gran

Rene Engström rocketed to webcomics fame with her soap operatic romance Anders Loves Maria, but her own romantic life is far less melodramatic. She dates fellow cartoonist Rasmus Gran, who, unfortunately, lives on the other end of Sweden. How do two cartoonists cope with a long-distance relationship? Each week, Engström and Gran each post their own diary comic, a series of love letters for the Internet age. But these aren’t odes to the color of each other’s eyes or accounts of long, longing train rides.

When the couple is apart, the comics serve as a brief glimpse into each person’s life, the ordinary moments they chose to share with each other — and the rest of the world. When they’re together, they do what normal couples do: they bicker; they handle jealousies; they reflect on the joys and small disappointments of their time together. It’s an grown-up love story stripped of the cartoon bluebirds. What’s really fascinating about So Far Apart, though, is seeing where Engström and Gran’s comics line up and where they don’t. Sometimes, even when they’re together, they’re still far apart, if only inside their heads.

4. Lucky by Gabrielle Bell

Gabrielle Bell’s New York is filled with bedbugs, low-paying jobs and passive-aggressive roommates, but it also contains people who get together to discuss Carl Jung and friends who will nick tacky tchotchkes from snobby party hostesses. There’s something magical about the Brooklyn in Bell’s Lucky, and something magical, too, about Bell’s understated style, which sometimes goes off on wild flights of fancy. Every few months, I go back and reread her San Diego Comic-Con diary, guest starring Michel Gondry and Ariel Schrag.

5. Museum of Mistakes (formerly The Fart Party) by Julia Wertz

Julia Wertz insists that she doesn’t have a webcomic, and I might be more inclined to believe her if she didn’t update so regularly. Museum of Mistakes is the successor to Wertz’s marvelous, boozy The Fart Party comics. After the events of her book Drinking at the Movies (which opens with Wertz regaining consciousness in a laundromat, in her pajamas after a heavy night of boozing), Wertz got sober, but didn’t lose her sharp edge. She’s still trading barbs with her mother, eating craploads of junk food and reminiscing about her misspent childhood as an aspiring Ewok. The only difference is that she’s trying to tone down her misanthropy, and she now has nightmares about relapsing. It has me itching to read Wertz’s next print comic, which was probably her plan all along.

6. Stop Paying Attention by Lucy Knisley

I hesitated to include Stop Paying Attention on this list, because Lucy Knisley’s comic collection isn’t so much a diary as a series of essays. But each installment is intensely personal, with Knisley meditating on some aspect of her life: leaving Chicago, breaking up with her boyfriend, even catching a cold. Knisley isn’t content to merely relate her own experiences, though. Instead, she stretches out, looking for some wider connection to the outside world. A visit to a haunted house turns into a short dissertation on the value of fear — and why the real world is so much scarier than the monsters in the movies. Her 27th birthday is an opportunity to reflect on what different age categories really mean. A tower defense game turns into a metaphor for breaking off a relationship. Knisley has a strong sense of structure and an incredible visual vocabulary, one that makes even her comics about Twilight breathtaking. She also did a truly lovely entry for Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” Project.

7. Today Nothing Happened by Shazzbaa Bennett

Where so many cartoonists are sarcastic and self-loathing, Shazzbaa Bennett is a ray of geeky sunshine. She started her comic journal Today Nothing Happened as a school project at the Savannah College of Arts and Design, but she’s continued it well after graduation. While the early comics offered a peek inside the life of a SCAD student and all of the amazingness that entails (Introduction to Game Design? Sign me up!), TNH has evolved into a celebration of the post-collegiate life. Rather than bemoaning her lot when she moves back home and takes a job at Target, Shazzbaa tackles everything with a tenacious optimism. And, as she gradually takes her first steps into adulthood — learning how to drive, getting her first apartment, taking on freelance gigs — it seems like her due reward.

Plus, if you’re looking for a comic that features long-distance D&D games or discusses the finer points of My Little Pony, Shazzbaa’s your girl. TNH is sadly ending later this year, but Shazzbaa won’t disappear from the Internet. She’s also running her own fantasy webcomic, Runewriters.

8. Action Athena by Athena Currier

While Shazzbaa makes post-collegiate positivity seem effortless, Action Athena shows how challenging that positivity can be. When Athena Currier moves back to the Twin Cities after college, she shows up bright-eyed and ready to take on the world. But when her barista jobs turn out to be unstable and she has to deal with a long-term illness, it proves hard to keep her comic avatar cheering. Still Currier has a knack for focusing on the things she loves — long bike rides, funny friends and, of course, making comics. And she’s starting to realize that figuring out how to deal with life’s curveballs are part of growing up, too.

9. Ellerbisms by Marc Ellerby

When Marc Ellerby launched Ellerbisms, it, like a lot of diary comics, traced the meanderings of the young artist as a wage slave. It took a personal, rather than artistic, transition for Ellerbisms to find its focus. Ellerby starts dating Anna, a fiery, comics-loving Swedish girl, and Ellerbisms transformed into a love a story. Ellerbisms completed in 2010, but you can still watch Marc fall for Anna in the archives.

10. The Everyday by Adam Cadwell

Ellerbisms has a brother comic in Adam Cadwell’s The Everyday; they even end around the same time. The Everyday never quite found the narrative hook Ellerbisms did, it has plenty of its own charms, especially when it features Little Adam, Cadwell’s adorable floating superego.

11. EmiTown by Emi Lenox

You may have seen the collection of Emi Lenox’s EmiTown published by Image, but she also publishes her sketchbook diary online. Unlike most journal comics, EmiTown focuses more on cartooning than capturing daily life, and I always get the impression that I’m reading Lenox’s visual laboratory. After a lengthy hiatus, it appears Lenox is updating the site again. Hurrah!

12. Dharbin! by Dustin Harbin

Dustin Harbin originally started doing diary comics as nothing more than an exercise, and his early Dharbin comics resemble the sketchy hourly comics some folks draw for 24-Hour Comic Day. Eventually, however, they grew into polished, complete units of webcartooning. After a year, Harbin grew tired of the daily navel-gazing, but by then he’d been bitten by the autobiographical comics bug and still updates when he thinks his day is sufficiently interesting.

13. I think you’re sauceome by Sarah Becan

Tired of hating her body, Sarah Becan started I think you’re sauceome with two goals in mind: one, to become healthier, and two, to be kinder to herself. She started tracking what she ate in her comic’s sidebar (real food, no diet garbage) and exercising more, all the time wondering why she equated thinness with self-worth. As time has gone on, Sauceome has come to reflect Becan’s evolving notion of health (both physical and psychological), and treated food not as the foe, but as something to be celebrated and enjoyed in all of its delicious forms — especially if that food is sushi.

14. Johnny Wander by Yuko Ota and Ananth Panagariya

I’d like to take a vacation to Yuko Ota and Ananth Panagariya’s apartment. If Johnny Wander is any indication, it’s a magical land covered in cat hair where everything is adorable all the time. And sometimes, for no reason, everyone starts drawing dragons and dinosaur skeletons.

15. Wasted Talent by Angela Melick

While other cartoonists are toiling away at day jobs, Angela Melick is living her dream as an engineer. Wasted Talent is a rare right-brained look at a left-brained profession, and Melick proves that engineers are as goofy as any pack of art students — just in their own obsessive way. Melick always makes me wish that more people would share their workspaces in comics form.

16. Kid With Experience by Jess Fink

If you’ve seen Jess Fink’s Victorian robot porn comic Chester 5000 XYV (NSFW, if you didn’t get that from the description), then you know that she has a demented but sweet sense of humor. Kid With Experience lets us see how that humor plays out in real life. And fortunately, Finks friends and family are similarly silly.

17. Overcompensating by Jeffrey Rowland

Overcompensating isn’t precisely a diary comic, because nothing in it is precisely true. (Unless Rowland really owns a zombie cat, which would be awesome.) But the events in Overcompensating are more than tangentially related to Wigu creator and TopatoCo founder Jeffrey Rowland’s life. You just have to imagine that they take place in an alternate universe where monkeys are allowed to be really terrible doctors and all businesses are at the mercy of the Better Business Burro.

What are your favorite autobio/diary webcomics?

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