Emoticons predate the internet, and humorous internet memes have tended to include both graphic and written elements, from All Your Base Are Belong to Us to the O RLY? owl to the 900 pound gorilla, LOLcats.
It was only a short distance from these grassroots picture/word mashups to crowdsourced internet comics. Perhaps the most interesting are the so-called "Rage Comics" that, like most of these memes, began on 4chan.org and are now most visible on social news sites like reddit.com, the most famous of which is the "FFFFFFUUUUUU..." comic. (Though really one particular template, it now appears as a synecdoche for all Rage Comics).
The phenomenon is interesting in at least a couple of ways. First, because it spawned websites like ragemaker.com where a complete novice could put together a web comic in a matter of minutes. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the practice spawned a number of pre-drawn 'rage faces' to use in stock comic situations. Much of the humor of these comics comes from the (re-)use of these images, many of which are well drawn and of high emotional impact.
I don't know a great deal about recent analysis of comics, so I'm sure I've missed out on the relevant discussions within industry and academe. That said, I fully expect that many professional comics artists will reject the grassroots as artless, amateur and juvenile. Most of them are. But after all, one of the most basic aims of comics art is to be topical, personal and funny, and the reason memes like these Rage Comics persist is that many of the best of them are topical, personal and very funny indeed. If you don't believe me, look at some of the tops from reddit.
Still don't agree?
I wouldn't be surprised to find the stable of pre-drawn faces and other comics furniture to expand over time, making the job of the amateur writer more a work of stage setting than one of drawing. Doubtless many will lament the downside. But then, one of the most popular, funny and trenchant internet comics, XKCD, is itself composed of stick figures and barely drawn back- and foregrounds. Humor doesn't require visual complexity or originality. Perhaps one can lament its absence, but these grassroots comics wouldn't exist but for the simplicity of production, mediated by the comics production engines.
Hat tip to Spain's El País and their recent story on the Forever Alone Rage Comic meme for getting me going.