Joey Manley: Are webcomics … out of date?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?
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 This time, he’s saying that webcomics are the outdated formula, and the future is the iPad.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?