Joey Manley: Are webcomics … out of date?

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?

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 This time, he’s saying that webcomics are the outdated formula, and the future is the iPad.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?

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About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on July 26, 2010, in The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. Manley’s argument is flawed because he assumes Webcomics are a medium created by and exclusively for comic geeks when actually, go back ten or twelve years when you saw the genesis of webcomics as we know it the fact remains that it was the opposite.

    Many people in the UK who started reading Real Life, Sluggy Freelance, Mac Hall and MegaTokyo did so because they were freely availible and were part of pop culture at the time rather than out of any actual alternative to paper comics. I think you’ll find the exposure to comics of the average webcomics fan circa 2000 will probably have been the Beano or Dandy when they were in their early teens.

    2000AD has cult status and has inspired a legion of new British writers and artists but the bottom line is that it was niche and always will be niche. People can quote or describe Judge Dredd in the UK without ever reading any of the comics.

    Thus, you simply cannot explain the huge uptick that Webcomics enjoyed in the last decade and by extension you cannot expect these legions of MegaTokyo and Penny Arcade fans to suddenly start reading DC or Marvel comics simply because they’re easier to buy on iPad, iPhone or even Android.

    Rather the real danger for *everyone* in Western comics will be the conversion of Manga, already insanely popular in Europe, from paper to digital forms. Many kids from the UK to Poland read Fruits Basket or Bleach rather than X-Men or Spiderman and its those series they’ll be crying out for rather than anything Marvel can produce and they know it.

    Webcomics though will continue as usual and in fact people will start to adapt webcomic sites to be displayed on the browsers of these mobile devices. Because another fact of this rock-paper-scissors game of mobile app development is that touch apps distributed from app stores trump traditional centralised in house (i.e. Nokia) apps but web apps interactive via HTML5 and other technologies will always trump mobile apps.

    This is why webcomics will not only survive but thrive in the long run.

  2. I think he’s right in that nothing note-worthy has happened in webcomics since Girl Genius made the move to digital.

    I also think he’s right in how stale things have become, drowning in a sea of manga-lite and pop culture gag strips.

    And he’s also right about the print publishers getting off their asses and moving quickly on a new distribution method whereas webcomcikers have all been, mostly unsuccessfully, trying to copy PvP right down to the page layout in the hopes of also copying it’s success.

    I don’t think the iPad is the future. It’s not in every house and probably never will be. And unless people have become less porn and free things-addicted, I doubt it will become a favored method of getting your computing done.

    • On the other hand, one should never underestimate the sheep-like nature of human beings. The iPad may well become the main method of computing even though it contains nothing of value and controls your use of it.

      • Oh I’m definitely not doubting the popularity of the iPad so far and even tablets in general but what I am doubting is the background and demographic of the average webcomic reader. More Generation X than hardcore Marvel fan in my view.

  3. What does he mean webcomics aren’t breaking new ground? Isn’t having your 6 year old brother write your webcomic for you, considered breaking new ground?

    I’m just not sure people want there comics to break new ground. My favorite comic book of the moment is a Vertigo book called Sweet Tooth, by Jeff Lemire. However, all the people at my comic shop can talk about is the next giant Marvel or DC event. Or the latest reinvention of The Avengers.

    I really don’t understand why webcomic creators feel that we need 20 inferior Penny Arcade clones. Yet, I also don’t understand why Marvel feels that we need 15 different Deadpool books.

  4. but you can read webcomics from the i pad and they are free, most of dc /marvel comics seems to be more expensive compared to their printed counter parts,

  5. I never cared for comics growing up, I was too busy with regular book kinda books that I let the comic kinds pass by. I’ve never set foot in a comic shop in my life. I like webcomics because they’re free, and not just free in that I don’t pay for them, free in every aspect. There are webcomics about anything and for anybody. It might be hard to sift through the crappy ones and find the gems out there but if you ask around you’ll be surprised by what you find. A friend was telling me over facebook that he was bored. I asked if he liked webcomics and he said “yeah, I know all the good ones.” He only knew PA, xkcd, and cyanide and happiness. I recommended The Meek, Rice Boy, Dead Winter, and Octopus Pie. I blew his mind.

    It sounds more like Joey Manley got excited about an idea, and when it didn’t carry him all the way to the mystical big rock candy mountain of comics he decided that it wasn’t any good after all. Now he jumps up and down for the shiny new iPad thinking it will deliver us to the promise land? Not seeing any reason to listen to someone who thinks like this. Yeah, setting your hopes to ridiculous levels and taking everyone for their word when they envision what the future will hold and of course you’ll be let down in the end.

  6. Having just an hour ago noodled with the alpha build of the Belfry webcomics iPad app, I am absolutely not at all worried about webcomics keeping up in the iPad era.

  7. Joey isn’t finding webcomics exciting anymore because he is burning out, not because people aren’t doing anything exciting anymore.

    Girl Genius going digital was the last craziness he thinks of?
    What about XKCD releasing its book in creative commons, or XKCD at all? What about how incredibly fast Kate Beaton and Hark A Vagrant have grown?

    As far as Zuda shutting down, in disruption terms, Zuda was always a way for big comic companies to defend themselves against webcomics. They were scared of webcomics and wanted to protect their core business by getting into the webcomics business themselves, but without really understanding it. As such, it was doomed from the beginning, though I know many people enjoyed it.

  8. Are “app-comics” the wave of the future?
    I say yes, once an app can be ported between every system and viewed on every device including a thumb drive or SD Card. They aren’t right now.

    Furthermore Comixoligy, Panelfly, and all the others have only been able to pull this off by going straight to the big 3 along with those indies who’ve done a great job at brand management to re-distribute comics with a built in wide audience. I own an iPad and have every comic app that exists, other than the Zuda stuff I haven’t seen anything created specifically for the digital marketplace never printed on paper.

    I personally know several comic creators who’s works have been accepted by Comixology as something they want to release “eventually” but put safely several rungs down the ladder waiting in line while the big 3 comics are chopped up, processed, and released with a frenzy that can’t be kept up with.

    The big 3 didn’t choose the iPad, it was the iPad (and it’s app creators) who chose the big 3 and went after their product for a new distribution model.

    Until a single individual, or small indie creative team, can release an app comic (without advanced coding knowledge) there won’t be a “marketplace” or future to speak of.

  9. Grey and I are perfect examples of the generation who were just turning 16 in 1999/2000, who didn’t have proper broadband access at home (remember broadband penetration in many parts of the West didn’t start climbing until after 2002 odd) and were starting to be carried along this new wave of cultural renaissaince. We didn’t read comics, our nerdy aspects stretched to console and PC gaming (LAN Parties) and possibly Games Workshop and we were really eager to see what the web had to offer.
    -
    Thats why webcomics caught our imagination and still hold it today and as much as Joey pontificates about this, the bottom line is that the comic geeks are the minority.

  10. I don’t know. What kind of ‘omg crazy leaps’ are webcomics artists supposed to be taking? What kind of risk? With books like ‘how to make webcomics’, artists are understanding the way money comes out of webcomics, and they’re sticking to the formula. Zuda left webcomics because large corporations don’t generally think it’s a good business practice to give things away for free. Besides, the whole platform for zuda was flawed– successful webcomics happen largely because readers form a relationship with the artist. Blog posts, twitter, all those other fancy things really help with making a community, and Zuda never really encouraged conversation, other than posting ‘nice!’ comments.

    I agree with W George anyway. People love free things. This is why webcomics are successful.

    NOW. That’s not to say ipad comics won’t be a good business. I think a lot of the print people that are afraid of the web, will take that route. And I don’t blame them, because at least you can charge people for content, in it. Nobody expects things on the ipad to be free like they do on the web.

    I don’t think webcomics will die, just because it’s such a good breeding grounds for new ideas and new things… And because it’s so easy to make things for the web, and just put them out there.

  11. I can’t think of a single thing that seemed amazing and exciting to me ten years ago that doesn’t seem less amazing and exciting now.

  12. Everyone reads webcomics. It’s a quick, cheap and regular source of entertainment for people on their lunch breaks, late at night or when they have a few minutes to spare.

    I hope that iPad comics do make money but I’m not stressing over it one way or another.

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