Monthly Archives: July 2010
For those of you who tuned in for the discussion on Joey Manley and his views on webcomics getting leapfrogged by publishers on adopting key iPad app technology, Brigid Alverson at Robot 6 has weighed in on the matter herself. Her response includes observations coming from some small publishers and the folks at Comixology, who posted at Manley’s original article:
Manley gets right away that these devices are a digital newsstand bringing DC and Marvel comics to a new audience, and he thinks the publishers could be doing a better job of repackaging them, but his main point is that the big, clumsy comics companies of yesteryear are doing the best job of exploiting this new platform. Of course, that’s because they have ComiXology to do the tech work for them; DC and Marvel are really just supplying content, and in this case, it’s mostly content that has already been published in other forms.
In the comments, SLG’s Dan Vado complains that indy comics are getting swept aside:
This is pretty much dead on. Comixology has all but stopped converting SLG titles in favor of, their words, “higher volume” sellers.
UPDATE: ComXology’s David Steinberger responds to Vado and the others in the same comment thread, saying that they remain committed to indie publishers:
To be clear, we’re dedicated to the indie market, and are investing a ton of our resources to make the access to our platform more equitable. We took the opportunities that we created with this platform, and now we’re catching up to being able to continue to get great books from all publishers.
In the end, Alverson advocates a sort of “guerilla movement” of webcomic creators working in the iPad/Android environment. (I imagine the controversial Webcomic App would hopefully be the first of many salvos).
In that context, Adams’s suggestion that creators use the web as a portal to the iPad is an interesting one; the problem with having all your content come through a single corporate gateway is that it tends to be pretty bland and commercialized. I’d love to see some guerilla webcomickers create an underground indy comics scene for the iPad and Android, using ComicZeal to bypass the iTunes store. The problem is the eternal one: Money for freedom, as monetizing a PDF is a lot harder than collecting a check from Apple for your iTunes app. Still, comics people are creative people, and I’m hoping that when I finally spring for an iPad, I’ll be able to read more than repackaged Batman comics on its big, beautiful screen.
Valerie D’Orazio of Occasional Superheroine ponders the question on her blog as well, which leads to a very lively discussion in the comments section.
Chris: Seems like the same thing happened with underground Comix, back in the day. The big companies are able to work like a machine–and not only a machine, but an organic machine, sort of like the Borg, which can adapt new technologies relatively quickly to continue their domination. Webcomic artists haven’t necessarily been able to adapt to the business side of making a living off their art… some, like Erik Shoenek, weren’t even able to shoulder the demands of crafting a narrative strip day after day, week after week. The big WCs that really WORK, too, seem to have become more and more like businesses, little cottage comic industries all their own. I wonder if they’ll just become a part of the bigger comics community, with another revolution in the future?
Jamie Noguchi: Webcomics are far from dead. First Second and Tor are two great examples of dead tree publishers who are experimenting fairly successfully with web delivered comics. Kickstarter is providing new tools for webcomics to monetize. Dark Horse is still dipping their toes in the webcomics waters (go AXE COP). The fact that ComicCon has a webcomic alley is fairly significant.
There’s a lot of innovation still out there. It may be small. It may not be in the forefront. But webcomics continue to evolve.
(Full disclosure: The Webcomic Overlook blog is mentioned in both the Robot 6 and Occasional Superheroine posts.)
UNRELATED PENNY ARCADE SHOUT-OUT: I somehow missed this article earlier this week, but I just noticed that the Penny Arcade guys (including Robert Khoo) got a bit of a shout-out at Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog during the week of Comic Con. It’s short and a bit of a puff piece, but it’s still a good read:
The partners were sitting at their table on Sunday afternoon, signing autographs for a seemingly endless stream of fans. They regarded our old media press badge warily and pointed to their business manager as their speaking representative. Holkins and Krahulik prefer to deal with their art and fans, and they leave the marketing and business functions to Robert Khoo, who signed on eight years ago. It’s a harmonious relationship.
Khoo began life as a market strategist. He was also a fan of comic books, so he offered to quit his job and work for Penny Arcade gratis. He was absolutely confident that he could increase Penny Arcade’s popularity across different spectrums of readers, and he was successful. He changed the revenue model from donations to an ad-driven one and was able to land Microsoft as their first advertiser. Things started to fall into place after that he said, and for other webcomic artists as well. “We’ve helped pave the way to legitimize the medium,” said Khoo.
The slow, painful deaths of local papers has created some very interesting reactions within people in the webcomic community. Some webcomic creators seem to take a sadistic glee with how things are going. But where’s the democratic response? Ryan Pagelow is the creator of the Pressed webcomic. He’s also a newspaper photographer, a writer, and a print cartoonist. He has a few things to say about the newspaper business as it struggles to stay relevant in the digital age.
Three months ago, Joey Manley — founder and publisher of Modern Tales webcomic site — wrote a piece on his blog called “The Death of Webcomics?” His take: nothing great is coming out of the webcomics field anymore:
I have been thinking about webcomics, though. I’ve been thinking about how less interesting to me the field is now than it was when I started working in it, almost ten years ago. This is not to say that the webcomics themselves are less interesting: far from it. Generally, there are far more great webcomics — and the great ones have raised their game to a far higher level — than was the case ten years ago. No question. When it comes to quality, availability, usability, and awesomeness, webcomics today, the actual webcomics, are much better than they were ten years ago.
But when it comes to the field as a whole, the excitement I used to feel about webcomics-as-a-movement? Eh. I dunno. Things have started to settle down. I don’t see the crazy innovative risk-taking, the sense that anything might happen, and would happen, and if you blinked you might miss it. That feeling that we could go strange new places with this medium, and invent unthinkable new things, just isn’t there. Webcomics have become solid, professional, well-written, beautifully drawn, and, um, well, normal.
That’s what we wanted. Right?
Then why do I find it so hard to remember to read them with any regularity these days?
Now, he comes back with a new post: “Leapfrog: Direct Market Giants Dominate the New Digital Comics Scene.” This time, he’s saying that webcomics are the outdated formula, and the future is the iPad.
Ten years ago (give or take a few), webcomics were taking maximum advantage of the new comics distribution opportunities afforded by the web, while Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and all the others completely missed the boat. The only decent comics reading experience, in the early days of the web, came from small, scrappy artists and entrepreneurs. The big companies gave us nothing. What happened as a result? A few huge successes, plus a thousand earnest, often talented creators with dayjobs, have come to define the webcomics scene. The entrenched players stayed away, so new voices had a chance to thrive.
On my iPad, the best comics reading experience, bar none, is not from small, scrappy innovators. It’s from the big companies, via Comixology’s apps (the “Comics” one, which includes DC and a lot of other familiar publishers, and the “Marvel” one, which is exactly the same application, but limited in content to Marvel comics only). The deal is this: you buy “issues” of printed comic books, which have been repurposed and re-engineered to be read more easily on the device. Comixology has done a better job than most in the re-engineering department, with intuitive navigation, a “guided view” that puts other comics readers to shame, and a smart and savvy editorial vibe.
The point I want to underline, though, is that the big publishers, and the old-school properties, are where all the action is in the iPad digital comics scene. Webcomic entrepreneurs have been as clumsy in taking advantage of this new platform, have seemed (to this observer, anyway) to be as stuck in their ways, as entrenched and established and slow-moving, as print comics publishers were back in the early days of webcomics. That’s something I never would have expected. That’s leapfrog.
Honestly, I’d be the first to yell “Hogwash!” at all this, but there is a very big point in Manley’s favor: Zuda Comics disappearing from the online world entirely. You’d think that if DC Comics and the parent Time Warner Company thought there was any future in webcomics, they’d be in it for the long run … but, nope, they decided that the iPad was the future. Maybe the whole AOL merger left a bitter taste in Time Warner’s mouth, after all.
So what do you, the viewers at home, think? Is the era of the webcomic over?
So San Diego Comic Con is over, and life goes on. I didn’t go, what with our budget being tight and me not really being a convention-goer in general. I have, though, been following quite diligently online, with Todd VanDerWerff’s coverage at the AV Club being my main source. (#Notatcomiccon nation, unite!)
So what was the biggest story coming out of the San Diego Comic Con? This: “Is Comic Con even for comics anymore?” The answer is no, no it is not. My wife, who is not a huge comic fan but is a die-hard Glee fan (or “Gleek,” if you will), had her faith temporary shaken when she realized the Glee crew were at the Comic Con. “Does this mean Glee is for nerds?” she asked me witheringly. She needn’t have worried. There are panels devoted to Community, Sons of Anarchy, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, after all.
There’s a bit of the “nerds getting kicked out their own club by the cool kids” vibe going on, which, perhaps, is the natural order of things. “Know your role and shut your mouth,” as the Rock used to say. But, you know, the fact that this entire spectacle blossomed from the tiny kernel of comic fandom should tell you at least one thing: comic fans are a passionate bunch. Outside of Comic Con, look how much energy we spent reverse engineering Wonder Woman’s new outfit, or how we sneered at JMS for having Superman walk the Earth, or how we geeked out over the new Scott Pilgrim book.
If we lose the spiritual core of Comic Con, I guess us comic fans will have to slink back into the shadows and await the smaller cons, while poring over comic sites, blogs … and, yes, webcomics. While not as prevalent as gaming webcomics, webcomics about comics do exist. I’ve covered them before — the now defunct Year One (reviewed here), No Pink Ponies (reviewed here), and Let’s Be Friends Again (reviewed here). And now we get Comic Critics, written by Sean Whitmore and illustrated by Brandon Hanvey. The comic centers around some of the most irritable, snobby, and unpleasant people in the world: people who review comics.
The Sugarshock-o-meter struck true Friday night as Cameron Stewart of Sin Titulo (reviewed here) won the Eisner for Best Digital Comic, beating out Power Out, The Guns of Shadow Valley, Bayou, and The Abominable Charles Christopher. Congratulations to Cameron Stewart and the Transmission-X collective!
Yes, you, Mr. or Ms. Internet Surfer!
Going to the San Diego Comic Con? ARE you at the San Diego Comic Con? Are you actually wasting your time browsing your iPad when you could, you know, head down to soak in the wisdom at “Rob Liefeld: Designing Iconic Characters”?
Never mind, never mind. I’m not here to judge.
So, are you confused and angered by the sign that says, “Webcomics”?
“What does it mean?” you ask, furiously smashing at anything that moves.
Fear not, noobs. The Webcomic Overlook has got your back.
I’ve put together a list of Fun Facts About Webcomics. Pretty much all of this was stolen from Wikipedia, though a good portion of it was more or less made up. Be prepared to impress the fat dude dressed up as Faye Valentine with your mad webcomic knowledge!
(Actual “knowledge” unverifiable. Consult with a webcomic professional before operating.)
FUN FACTS ABOUT WEBCOMICS
- According to Merriam-Webster’s “Words that were completely made up list, Volume 2,” a webcomic is “a comic published primarily on the Internet.” This definition is woefully undescriptive, as it includes nothing about video games or two guys sitting on the couch.
- I should point out, by the way, that some webcomic creators and bloggers dislike the term “webcomic.” I think it might be racist.
- A webcomic is illustrated. Except when it’s not. Also, it consists of more than one panel. Except when it’s not. And it’s composed of static images. Except when it’s not. Huh. You know that gallery of Ansel Adams photos? Probably a webcomic.
- But one thing we can all agree on is that they’re about video games.
- The very, very first webcomic was Witches & Stitches, which started in 1985 and was published on CompuServe. I imagine between the modem dial-up (with its melodious boot-up sound), the slow image loading, low computer memory, and the primitive DOS interface, reading a single panel of Witches & Stitches took something like three hours.
- Witches & Stitches was written by Eric Monster Milikin, who was apparently once an embalmer and a dissectionist. But really, what other career options are open for you when your middle name is “Monster”?
- Another early webcomic was Where the Buffalo Roam, written by Hans Bjordahl. He is now Mr. Cranky from the website Mr. Cranky Rates The Movies. Just what the world needs: another critic. Hey, if you’re going to criticize something, why don’t you write your own damn movie already!
- Argon Zark!, published in 1995, is often called “the first true Web comic” because the comic features actual webs.
- Sluggy Freelance (which, oddly enough, does not star a slug) was published in 1997, back when a bunny with a switchblade was still a pretty novel idea before Hot Topic shirt makers drove the whole scary-but-cute thing into the ground.
- A year later, Penny Arcade and PvP ushered in the era of the video game comics, because gamers apparently couldn’t be bothered to pry their eyes from their MMORPG just to read a friggin’ comic.
- There really isn’t much difference between comic strips and gag-a-day webcomics, except with the latter it’s apparently OK to ruin a joke by being needlessly vulgar.
- In 2000, Scott McCloud suggested that webcomics use “the infinite canvas.” That dream may become a reality once the Large Hadron Collider discovers the Higgs boson. We will also likely be sucked into a black hole, too, which means we may not be alive to fully appreciate the infinite canvas for all its delicate nuances.
- Despite making revenue from T-shirt sales, don’t call webcomic creators “T-shirt salesmen.” It’s a very reductive and offensive title. Sometimes they sell caps and babydolls, too.
- Randall Munroe’s xkcd became the most popular webcomic ever, giving potential creators the false hope that all you need to succeed in webcomics is a physics degree and a short-term contract at NASA.
- Some of the most popular webcomic creators — like Kate Beaton, Cameron Stewart, and Karl Kerschl — are Canadian, so refrain from any remarks about “bacon-eating Francophones” when you’re near.
- No one knows how many webcomics there are, but the Wikipedia article estimates roughly 18,000 webcomics. They say that if you stack every panel of every webcomic side to side, you are close to discovering the Higgs boson.
- There are so many webcomics that no two people will ever have the same Top Ten Favorite Webcomics lists. But you will catch hell from xkcd fans if you don’t include it on your list. Oh, you will catch hell.
- In 2009, Zuda’s High Moon won the Harvey Awards, which was the first time ever an award went to a comic about a two-eyed word balloon.
- There are rumors that there were comics on Zudacomics.com if you waited a few minutes to watch the two-eyed word balloon, but such a thing is likely an urban legend since there’s no evidence available online.
- TV’s Wil Wheaton is one of the top celebrity endorsers of webcomics. Way to aim high, webcomic types.
Despite my gruff and incredibly manly exterior, the Webcomic Overlook is, in reality, a big softie. I am big on cute. I get weak at the knees over kittens and puppies. This may be why I am a sucker for Diana Nock’s adorable webcomic with the unbelievably precious title, The Intrepid Girlbot.